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.

business development, Uncategorized

Best Rejection Ever?!?!

Do you ever get that feeling? That one where, despite all your best attempts otherwise, you just can’t hate the person who rejected you?

Maybe it was the girl next door whom you’d been crushing on since age 6. Maybe it was that boss who declined to transfer you, because you were so integral to the projects at hand. Whatever it was, we’ve all been there.

Rejected. Turned down. Heard, “I can’t that night, I’m washing my hair.”

And while rejections may sting, there are some things you can do when delivering a rejections to still maintain a sense of decency and respect.

The Setup

As a freelance writer it’s up to me to source my own work. I have to go out and hustle. I have to spread my name far and wide, like dandelion seeds scattered in the wind, and hope that they land somewhere fertile where they can grow. It’s on me to cultivate opportunities, make them work, and bring them in when they’re ready, so that I can keep paying the bills and planning for the future.

One element of that is applying for some jobs in my industry. Content creation, content management, and the like. I’d love to have 2 or 3 firms with whom I’m a regular contributor, perhaps working a set # of (less-than-full-time) hours each week or month.

One of those came across my radar recently from BizLibrary. I hadn’t heard of them before, so I read their website and liked what they do. Creating content for them could be right up my alley, so I applied.

The Action

Immediately (using an autoresponder, as all good companies should do) I got a response. “Thanks for your interest. We’ll be in touch!” (Paraphrased, of course, but you get the idea.) Based on my history with job applications, I prepared for a long, quiet wait.

I full expected at least 2 weeks to pass before ever hearing from BizLibrary again. This seems to be the modern experience, doesn’t it? You apply, you wait, you wait, you wait, and if you’re lucky the recruiter will get back to you in about a month. Well past the time you’ve given up and moved on to the next opportunity.

And that’s if you’re lucky! Most of the time those applications seem to go nowhere, and you’re left wondering at the existentialistic meaninglessness of shouting into the void. You wait for a response, you hope, you pray and…

Nothing.

But this time was different.

The Response

The day after I submitted the application, I got another message from BizLibrary. A response! Whaaaaat? So soon? Must be they need more information, I thought. But when I read it, I realized they’d made their decision already. In one day.

In case you didn’t see that, let me emphasize. THE DAY AFTER I submitted that application I got a response. Not a month later. Not a fortnight. Not a week.

ONE.

DAY.

DECISION.

I’m so impressed with this action that I’m going to post the whole response here:

Hi Stephan,

Thank you for your application to BizLibrary’s Content Writer/Editor role. After reviewing your work and experience, we’ve made the decision to not move forward at this time. I hope you don’t mind if we reach out to you in the future when a position opens up that may be a good fit.

We appreciate your interest in BizLibrary and wish you success in your job search.

Best,

The BizLibrary Recruiting Team

Where’s that [LOVE] emoji?

The Reaction

Okay, so why am I so enamored with this response? Why am I writing about it, and proclaiming my “loser”-ness for you all to see? Well, I have 2 big takeaways from this that I think many more could benefit from.

1. Decide Quickly

This came in the day after I had submitted the application. This means that they didn’t sit around waiting for two weeks to look all those who’d applied in bunches. They reviewed quickly, and they decided quickly.

Frankly, this speaks to a well-honed process. We can argue whether that’s “good” or “bad” later. But, the point is that BizLibrary has their process, they followed it, and they did what works for them.

What good would waiting do? You’ve got a set of criteria that you’re going to follow, you know what you’re looking for, make the decision and move forward.

2. Communicate Quickly and Clearly

Not only did BizLibrary decide quickly, they responded quickly. Frankly, all they had to do was push a button to send me an automated e-mail. That doesn’t take a lot of work. Plus they didn’t try to blow smoke up my butt and pretend that I’m an awesome candidate, and they really wish they could, but, gee, something else just kind of got in the way. You do hear that when people “don’t want to hurt feelings.” You know what? Being lied to actually hurts more than the truth. And we can see it. It’s not fun.

BizLibrary, on the other hand, told me the truth.

It demonstrates a lot of respect on their end. Respect for me, as an applicant. Respect for me, as a potential advocate for them. (See? I’m doing it now!) Respect for their other candidates, too, who will receive their own quick decisions and communications about their own applications.

I admire that.

I take it to heart. I’ve been guilty of the other method, of lamely waiting to see if that vendor goes away. I got some bids for subcontract work once, and rather than giving those vendors the respect that BizLibrary showed me, I just let them languish without even so much as a “Hey, I’m going with someone else.”

That’s my bad, and seeing how much better it could be is telling me I can’t do that any more. I won’t.

From now on, I’ll communicate quickly and clearly when I’ve made a decision.

Props to BizLibrary for being honest, up-front, good people. I may not agree with their decision, but I whole-heartedly endorse how they told me about it.

The Aftermath

Now, all that said, I do wish the hiring process was different. I wish there were more phone calls and fewer paper rejections. I wish there was more time taken and less use of software to screen for just the right key phrases. I wish there was more dialogue and less one-directionality. More feedback.

I wish there were more temp-to-perm jobs, where you did something for a month and if it didn’t work out, you move on. No harm, no foul, no bad marks on your resume because you’re now labeled as a “job-hopper”.

I wish there were more part-time jobs, in which people could practice or try something for 10 hours a week, or some small # of contributions each time. Then, employers would be able to fill smaller needs with skilled candidates who want to contribute in a specific way, rather than having to either: ask someone unqualified who’s already on the team to take on more, or go without until there’s actually enough work to justify a whole position.

Yes, some of those “wishful” positions may exist and are called “internships”. Why aren’t they more ubiquitous? And why do we treat interns like dung when they’re there, if we really are interested in helping them to understand what it’s like to be a part of our workforce in whatever capacity we’ve got available?

I recognize that this essay isn’t going to spark a revolution in the workplace. The current environment is a legacy holdover from the good old days. Those conventions around “work” are part of a bigger conversation, a cultural mindset that we all learned due to the primacy of the the assembly line model of employment for a hundred years. We’re not going to change this battleship with just one tugboat.

But, I’m willing to gas up this Scuffy here, and see what I can do. How about you?

The Take-Away

Sorry for getting a little off-topic there with that miniature rant. I really just wanted to say, when you’re rejecting someone, be more like BizLibrary.

Follow your criteria, and then communicate quickly. Your applicants are asking you out on a date. Clearly you’ve got qualities which are attractive to them. Be respectful, and treat them like the people that they are in your response. Everyone will be better off when you do.

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.