The Hard Thing About Hard Feedback

When you’re a founder, you take a lot of feedback on different things. It doesn’t quite get annoying, that’s not the right word for it. So what is it like?

Sometimes it’s helpful because you see something new (rarely).

Sometimes it’s just another new data point.

Sometimes it’s frustrating because you know it’s something you should be doing but you’re not (often).

Talking to people is an essential part of your job. You can’t run away from them.

You’re talking to investors, employees, directors, customers, and everyone else. What are you going to do when people tell you your idea sucks?

How do you deal with that?

You don’t. You thank them for their feedback and you move on.

The hard part is knowing what to conclude from people’s feedback.

Some things to consider:

  • Listen
  • Assume people want to help you. The fact that they’re giving you advice means that they care about your success. So don’t take is an as attack.
  • Be aware of how it’s making you react. Are you getting upset? Are you getting frustrated? Are you getting excited? Those are all okay. But it’s worth being aware so that you don’t let those emotions blind you and make you do something or respond in a way that you shouldn’t.
  • One data point is not enough. You have to do additional research and talk to more people.

What is a 404 Page?

Okay, quick lesson. When you go to a link on the web, or visit a site on the web, you’re telling a server somewhere to send you a page. A server is basically the same thing as a site. For example, when you go to twitter.com you’re telling the Twitter server that you want to see their home page.

Every time you talk to a server, it’s called a request. The server then sends you back a page as a response. That whole system of communication is called HTTP (which is why the full URL is http://twitter.com). It’s like this:

  • You: I want the page at twitter.com
  • Twitter’s Server: OK! Got it for you.

or

  • You: I want the page at twitter.com/person-who-doesnt-exist
  • Twitter’s Server: Uhhhh, what? I don’t know who that is. Sorry there’s no page for you.

Each response is sent to you with a status code. Status codes are three numbers like 200, 404, 500, and 301. Normally you don’t see the status code, because it’s something your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer *shudder*, or whatever) hides from you.

404 — means not found. Basically, you’re looking for a page but the web application you’re talking to has no idea what you’re talking about. This is almost always what happens when you try to load some random page that doesn’t exist, like www.google.com/sdflkjasdflwjks

What are some other important status codes?

There are literally dozens of status codes, but only a handful of really important ones:

200 — means OK, you got your page and everything’s good. Like when you visit www.google.com.

301 — means permanent redirect. This happens a lot without you realizing it. For example, when you go to facebook.com, you’re actually redirected to www.facebook.com, so your first request gets a 301 response telling your browser to www.facebook.com, which then gives your browser a 200 OK Status.

401 — means unauthorized. That happens when you try to load a page that exists, but you’re not allowed to. Like if it’s an admin page that you shouldn’t be able to access.

500 — means internal server error. Basically the application itself fucked up somehow. This is usually code error somewhere. They often look the same to you as a user, but there’s a major difference from the developers perspective.

There’s tons of others, but the basic rule is:

  • 1xx means informational (I’ve never actually seen this though, so don’t worry about what it means)
  • 2xx means success
  • 3xx means redirection
  • 4xx means a browser error — like you’re trying to load a page that doesn’t exist or you shouldn’t access. Basically it’s your fault usually.
  • 5xx means a server error — like the developer fucked up somehow.

Don’t worry, you’re not expected to memorize any of them. There’s a whole list of them all and what they mean on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HTTP_status_codes) in case you’re interested. Again, don’t try to memorize them. Did all of this make sense? Ok, good. Otherwise, post a question below.

P.S. Want to see some awesome 404 pages? Here are some of our favorites:

What is your favorite 404 page? Leave an image or link down below in the comment.

Entrepreneur.com Names One Month in 10 Startups to Watch at Social Media Week

Entrepreneur.com Names One Month in 10 Startups to Watch at Social Media Week

SMW 2015 New York CityThis week more than 70,000 people will come together to join in a global conversation at Social Media Week (SMW) a week-long conversation hosted across six continents, and connecting more than 1 million people around the globe.

As part of this conference, One Month will take the live stage in an event hosted by Entrepreneur.com as one of ten featured startups to watch on Tuesday, February 24th.

We’re stoked to be a part of the feature event, and event more excited for what Social Media Week represents — a global conversation around connected humanity, and what it means today to live, work, and play. We’re also teaching live master classes from their highline stages — and we have discount passes for people in our community who want to attend (see details below).

Social Media Week 2015: Upward Mobility and The Rise of The Connected Class

“We’re living in a time of unprecedented human connectivity. The world is changing and evolving at an extraordinary pace. Together we must work to gain deeper understanding of how we can achieve more in a future where more than 6 billion people on the planet will connect to each other.”

The connected class is “an emerging subset of our global society defined by those with access and connectivity,” as SMW explains, which today includes approximately 3 billion people in the world. This figure will change as our global citizens rapidly join the online conversation, with projections that 6 billion people will be online by 2022.

What does this mean for us, and for the future of connected humanity? How will technology impact the way that we live, work, and create? When 75 percent of the global population is interconnected, how will the world be (re)organized, disrupted, and shifted? Will business still function the same (probably not), and will our urban environments look the same?

With speakers from Martha Stewart to Pete Cashmore to the Revered Jesse Jackson, the event also includes jousting drones, roaming robots, and other surprises. Join us in person (or watch online)!

An Event to Globally Connect — Join the Online and Offline Conversations

The conversations are centered around the following themes, as described on the SMW website:

LIVE: “How will our ability to connect, share and exchange information with many more human beings positively impact our daily lives, our habits and our connection to humanity? Where will we look for trusted sources of information, and how will public opinion continue to shape those standards? How will data and personalization of information change the way we look at online identities and privacy?”

WORK: “What will the future of work look like and in what ways will we become more productive and efficient? What opportunities are available to entrepreneurs to build products and services for 6 billion connected citizens? How will the identities of brands continue to evolve and direct the consumer journey to find and connect with their products and services?”

CREATE: “How will ideas spread in an increasingly connected world, rapidly transforming ideas from small beginnings to epic scale? What will different cultures learn from each other, and how will those lessons lead to new ideas, inventions and innovations and empower us to achieve more? How will our ease in communications, no longer limited by time or distance, allow for improved collaboration?”

Join us at SMW — We’re Teaching Masterclasses and Taking the Main Stage!

If you’re a fan of One Month and you want to join us in person, we’ll be teaching Master Classes and attending the following events:

  • We’re being featured as one of ten startups to watch (Tuesday, February 24th 5pm-7pm).
  • Mattan is speaking on Wednesday the 25th at 12pm in a masterclass on Growth Hacking
  • Chris is speaking on Friday the 27th at a 1:30pm in a masterclass on PFNP
  • There’s also an opening party on Monday night!

One Month Friends and Community Discount Passes

We also get to invite you to join us with discount passes. If you’re in New York, or you want to watch the live streams online, take 20% off with either an Insider Pass or a Campus Pass discount, and we’ll see you there!

25 Essential Books on Storytelling, Copywriting, and Marketing to Read

25 storytelling books

How do you teach yourself about storytelling? Why is it that some copywriters seem to nail it, while others flounder?

These were the questions I asked myself when I started first started my CAD drafting job in architecture. Fresh out of graduate school, far too many dollars in debt, and stuck behind the drafting table, I listened as clients and ideas moved in and out of the office.

I started to notice the same patterns happening over and over again: I saw brilliant designers and creative urban planners come up with strategies for re-designing cities — tools to change the ways buildings breathed and moved, how people interacted, how our public park systems worked — and I saw those ideas crushed, time and time again, under a lack of understanding.

The same things kept happening: during the presentation, ideas weren’t communicated in a way that resonated.

The same things kept happening: during the presentation with the client, the city, or the public agency, the ideas weren’t communicated in a way that resonated — and persuaded. Some people would get caught up in tiny details; others would miss the big picture. Sometimes a great idea got buried under the weight of myopic details.

In addition, your audience has different styles of decision-making. Some leaders make decisions immediately, swept up in ideas and willing to go along. Other leaders need to ruminate and process. Some folks want to believe that they’ve been the ones to come up with the idea.

The art of persuasion and conversation is its own art, its own field.

Knowing how to explain your idea in a way that is compelling, clear, and persuades others to adopt it (and give you money for it!) is no easy task.Tired designers kept arriving at brilliant solutions, and then faced the challenge of explaining themselves. Communication is the art of getting your ideas heard, shared, understood, and adopted. Designing and communicating are separate, but highly related fields.

I began to research communication, persuasion, and storytelling.

Over the past eight years, I’ve read more than 100 books on storytelling, persuasion, copywriting, content marketing, and designing presentations. From Edward Tufte’s books on information design to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, to the neuroscience behind storytelling. This year, I’ve compiled the top 26 books that I think every leader, communicator, thought leader and business owner should read.

This year, if you want to get better at communicating your visions, positioning yourself as a thought leader, and sharing your work in the world, you’ll need to elevate your storytelling, copywriting, and persuasion skills.

“If I ask you to think about something, you can decide not to. But if I make you feel something? Now I have your attention.” — Lisa Cron

If you want to up your game and grow your business, elevate your platform, or become a better storyteller — read these books. 

BOOKS ON PERSUASION + COMMUNICATION: 

1: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. Influence is a science — it’s not magic; and Cialdini outlines six principles for how people relate to each other, socially, and why tools like reciprocity, scarcity, and liking affect how we interact with each other. It’s also delightfully fun to read.

2: HBR On Communication, by Harvard Business Review.  I haven’t picked up an HBR series book I haven’t liked — dense, packed with the latest research, yet distilled into essential tips, Harvard Business Review’s “10 Must Reads” lives up to its name. With essays on persuasion, influence, and understanding conversational style, I learned more about understanding gender dynamics and understanding leadership styles in 40 pages than I have browsing hundreds of internet click-bait links.

3: The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster, and Win More Business. Stories might seem simple, but understanding how to do them effectively is a skill to master. Maxwell and Dickman show examples of storytelling across every industry, outlining five basic components — passion, a hero, an antagonist, a moment of awareness, and transformation — that form the critical elements of a persuasive story, pitch, or speech.

4: Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Destined to be a classic. How do people become online influencers? They do more than provide content: they establish valuable relationships, reputations, and utilize media to build trust relationships as leaders and agents in an increasingly interconnected, complex world.

5: How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ― Dale Carnegie.

“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.” ― Robert B. Cialdini

BOOKS ON WRITING:

As a writer, my favorite books on writing lean towards the introspective, the habit-building, and the people who devote time to this craft. Here are my favorites:

6: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Want to tap into your inner voice? Julia Cameron leads a 12-week program that takes you through all the feelings you have while becoming a maker, a creative, an artist. Yes, you’ll get frustrated. Yes, you’ll get mad. Yes, stuff from your childhood will surface up. Cameron is here to guide you — and to remind you to play, because play is the outlet and source of creativity. Her “Artist Dates” remind me that exploring the world and documenting my thoughts is exactly what I should be taking time to do.

7: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. What holds us back? Ourselves, of course. This pithy and succinct book details the enemy that we all deal with — inner resistance. Resistance shows up in every form, from convincing to conniving to flattering to maddening. How do you overcome Resistance? Simple: show up and work, bit by bit, day by day. Great on a shelf for a little reminder every few days.

“If you find yourself asking yourself “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?”, chances are you are.” ― Steven Pressfield

8: Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. Here are three quotes from this book by legendary Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” — “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury

9: Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. A book on writing and life, and all the zany-crazy-personality quirks in between. Fluttering between self-deprecation and frank honesty, Lamott tells the story of the difficulty of writing and getting out of our own way. Humorous at times and painful at others, I have owned this book for more than 10 years and refer to it readily whenever I experience my own writers’ block.

10: Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro. Practical, wise, clever, and funny, Shapiro takes her 20-odd years as a writer and a teacher and tells the story of what it’s like to write. Each chapter is a new essay, a piece of advice, a glimmer into what she’s done. Wise and brilliant.

11: On Writing, by Stephen King. Writers writing about writing is so wonderful — you see their tools, ideas, and childhood and work, all mixed together in a story well told. Stephen King doesn’t disappoint.

12: Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon. This book is about making things, just making them — and about sharing them. It’s time that you promoted yourself in a way that’s authentic and normal to you, and that’s related more to you sharing the work that you’re making (however discomfortable) than it does being a master promoter.

“But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.” — Austin Kleon

STORYTELLING:

13: Resonate, by Nancy Duarte. This book is a foundation for designing visual presentations that have emotional clarity and pull. She diagrams (beautifully!) the Hero’s Journey and the structure of moving speeches, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Bill Clinton. I’ve read and re-read this book dozens of times and keep a copy at my desk for close reference.

14: Winning the Story Wars, by Jonah Sachs. A lot of books on storytelling are stuffy and academic; this is not. Sachs shows how mass media and brands are failing to tell great stories, and why it’s now a race for businesses to reconnect with the vital ingredients of storytelling — or risk being left in the dust. This book is a clear look at how marketing, business, and storytelling are all tied together.

15: Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey. A seminal work on storytelling, Campbell created the Hero’s Journey, which dissects the structure of great mythologies across religions, contexts, and time. Each Hero has a call to action and proceeds around the mythological clock (or circle) through a number of steps on an adventure from the known world to the unknown world.

16: Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron. “The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence”—Lisa Cron maps out how storytelling works and why we’re wired to listen closely, from hook to structure to finale. Stories ignite our brains in predictable patterns, and knowing the science behind why storytelling works will change your writing faster than any other writing advice might.

17: Improving Your Storytelling, by Doug Lipman. This book looks at the oral history of storytelling and places stories in the context within which they were born. I learned exercises of imagination, detail, and adding environmental cues from this book — and even dabbled in understanding the stand-up, performative aspects of storytelling (whereas most of the other books in this list are focused on narrative and written stories).

18: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall.  Humans spend as much as four hours a day in lands of make-believe (if not more). We make up fantasies, read novels, enjoy plays, and live in dream-lands most of the time. Gottschall combines neuroscience, psychology, and storytelling to explain what it means to be a human animal — and what stories have to do with instincts, decision making, survival, and behavior change.

19: A Million Miles in A Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. How do you live a successful story? How does a life become more than a set of random experiences, many of which you don’t seem to have any control over? Donald Miller sets out to write a book about stories, and realizes that his life isn’t very interesting — and doesn’t follow the narrative structure of a story. In this tale, he decides to make his life worth telling, and reveals how story structure works, one lesson at a time.

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
― Donald Miller

MARKETING + UNDERSTANDING MEDIA:

20: Tested Advertising Methods, by John Caples. A primer on all things copywriting and advertising. Originally published in 1978, this book is still a standout example of how to write great copy, headlines, and advertisements. He breaks down the components of advertisements and why some ads sell three times as much as other ads. This is one of the most useful books on advertising, and, if you’re a copywriter, content marketer, or sales person — you’re in the business of writing headlines every day.

21: Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene M. Schwartz.Did you know that there’s an urban legend about an elusive book known for it’s legendary advertising copy? Apparently it’s considered a special gift bestowed upon newbie marketers and copywriters. It’s in such demand that this book retails for $300 or more with used copies, and sometimes can be found for over $900 on Amazon! Called one of the best books in advertising and recommended by most of the top internet marketers out there today, it digs into the art and mastery of great copywriting. It’s not formulaic — it’s an evolving art, and one that you have to pay attention to and constantly adapt in order to do well.

22: Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday. Blogs, tweets, and social media distort the news like never before. A single malicious rumor can cost a company millions. Products, celebrities, attention? It’s all a game. Ryan Holiday, Marketing Director for American Apparel, takes you behind the spin cycle of creating news, and shows how he consistently and deliberately changed the news cycle and created stories in his favor. Eye-opening and sometimes disgusting, it’s best to know what you’re getting into in today’s media landscape.

23: New Rules for A New Economy: Kevin Kelly. Kevin Kelly, editor of Wired, wrote this book in 1999 — and I still pick it up and re-read it. Offering wisdom about the changing connected world, Kelly suggests that communication is what drives change. Today, connectivity is everything, and “success flows primarily from understanding networks, and networks have their own rules.” He details ten principles of the connected economy and how they play out in business, economics, and life.

24: Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Considered the father of advertising and a guru of branding, marketing and product management, Trout brings together elements of psychology and user experience to show how to describe things to the people that matter to your business–your customers. It’s not how you understand what you do; it’s how well you explain it to others, in a way that stands out.

25: Oglivy on Advertising. One of the premier advertising and sales books of all times. Oglivy is a genius. “Ogilvy’s writing is captivating. His work, legendary. His ideas, timeless.” I’ve only begun to dig into the genius in this book, and fully expect to have it dog-eared, flagged, marked, highlighted, and re-read multiple times over.

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.” ― David Ogilvy

BONUS — FAVORITE FICTION + NARRATIVE NON-FICTION BOOKS:

I think all great writers need to be great readers. If you’re feeling stuck on technical books, or like banging your head against the subway door when you’re heading home from work late, then toss the technical books to the side and pick up a great fiction book. The point of a story is to become absorbed in it, and we can pick up great habits by reading good works. (Although a few of the books above, like A Million Miles, Bird by Bird, Still Writing, and On Writing read like narratives).

Some of my recent favorites in fiction and narrative non-fiction are:

  • Americanah
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • Bend, Not Break
  • Brave New World
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Ender’s Game
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Fear Project
  • The Glass Castle
  • The Kite Runner
  • Life of Pi
  • The Longest Way Home
  • The Signature of All Things
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
  • The Year Without Pants

10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer

“Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.”

— Paul Graham

The sun’s been down for hours and you are alone with a warm drink next to your laptop. You’re burning the midnight oil again in the back room, building your online business, and you know you need to put another post up on your blog, but you’re just not sure what, exactly, to write about.

The struggle of building your business and hustling on the side is that you don’t always have the time and luxury to write whenever you want, and while the idea of editors, proofreading, and revising your essays sounds great-you need to write something and write it now.

For people working a full-time job during the day, juggling families, and responding to other demands, having ample time to fill notebooks, draft, and re-write sounds like a pipe dream.

How can you quickly improve your writing?

What tools are there beyond grammar and spellchecker to make sure you’re doing your best work? In the world of online and email communication, writing powerful copy makes all the difference.

Sometimes we need tactical, specific, and immediately useful tips to make our writing better. Most writing tips, for me, always seem to feel good — and then I struggle with the actual writing and re-writing. How do you transform the writing tips of Stephen King, Stephen Pressfield, Seth Godin, and Ray Bradbury (amazing storytellers, all) into actionable outcomes?

Here are 10 of my favorite strategies that help when you’re self-editing, scrambling to make ends meet, and holding both a beer and a coffee in your hands while trying to write-and want to do your best work.

1. Start with a story.

Begin your piece with a fable that illustrates your point and shows the reader what it is that you’re talking about. Develop a scene and a scenario where people can nod their heads and say, yes, I see, that happens to me. I can picture myself doing that.

Despite how useful facts and lists are, stories are what resonate. We’re pulled into the grip of a helicopter crash, and most of us can’t look away when we see bright lights or hear loud noises. It’s the pull of the story and the unknown that captures our attention. Stories are memorable, and we can tell and re-tell them; they are, in fact, how we wire information into our brains.

Great writers on the web today hook readers in with stories, creating fictional (or narrative non-fictional) scenes with detail, specificity, and color.

Here are two great examples:

DANIELLE LAPORTE, ON MANAGING & LOVING MONEY:

“No one ever taught me how to manage money. My folks were young and working, Catholic High School didn’t give me any tips, and I skipped college. So that left me and my Visa card, which mysteriously showed up in the mail on my nineteenth birthday. I promptly went shopping that weekend. And the next weekend.”

If you look closely, the post is actually about a book launch, but the first paragraph isn’t about the book, the author, or the call-to-action at the end of the post. It’s a relatable, tangible story that outlines the problem all to common to many people: the problem of managing money, and the story of what happened when she got her first free credit card.

And a second example:

Caleb Wojcik, on The Metrics You Should Measure:

“You know the rush. A guest post you’ve written goes live on a huge site, you finally launch the product you’ve been working on for months, or an older article of yours gets Gizmodo’d. You watch your traffic spike and you can’t peel yourself away from the analytics for the whole day.

‘Look at all those visitors!’ you yell to your significant other as they feign interest.”

This post is about what you measure when you’re evaluating your blog, website, traffic, or product. The introductory story, however, is about that feeling you get when you see a post of yours go live, hit the charts, or make the rounds in Twitter-and the way your significant other may or may not be involved in your online business.

You can also use this strategically in personal emails. For example, rather than jumping to the question you’re dying to ask, you can start out with a quick story (or set the scene for where you are). This situates the reader (on the other end, perhaps in some place far different than where you are) within the framework of your life. Like Instagram but with words, you can give a little snippet of your life through language:

For example, change typical emails that begin:

“Hey Ryan, how are you? Hope you’re well.”

To a quick setting of the scene-showing where you are and what’s in your life:

“Hey Ryan,The other day, I was walking through the streets of San Francisco and grumbling about the never-ending fog. I realized that the city was like a refrigerator. Now that I’m in New York, I miss the air-conditioning and I also miss many of my friends like you dearly. It reminded me to email you and say hello. I hope you’re well.”

In both blog posts and in emails, using stories helps you illustrate your point and takes general advice and makes it something the reader can see and feel.

2. Start with a question.

Much of life, and blog posts, are paradoxes, not answers. Starting with the answer first can be terrifying (and worse, inaccurate or incomplete).

We revisit the same ideas over and over again not because we’ve conclusively decided, but because each topic is worth thousands of conversations. We need the reminders, we meditate on the ideas, and we each have our own flavor and take on the issue. In a recent New York Times Opinion piece about the suffering in Syria, the author opens the essay with a question that haunts human philosophy:

Does the torrent of suffering ever abate — and can one possibly find any point in suffering?”

You don’t need to answer the question to write a great story or essay. Begin with a question, and add your thoughts.

3. Play with the use of first, second, and third person narrative.

First person is filled with “I” statements — great when you know the author, or you have a relationship with the person doing the writing. Second person uses “you” all the time — and can be a wonderful tool for creating empathy and describing a scene that you want the reader to inhabit — but can become bossy quickly with excessive use. Third person focuses on the scene or the action from an anonymous observer within the room.

Most of the time, we don’t actually care about the writer. Your reader wants to know exactly how the writing affects him or her-and whether or not the reading is going to matter to them specifically Right from the start, you should paint a picture of the person or scene and show the action happening.

While first-person can be a tremendous tool as a writer, many bloggers (myself included) are often far too liberal in writing our experiences. Luckily, there’s a quick way to fix this: write the post you would normally write, and then edit selectively to remove the “I” from a couple of paragraphs.

Take a paragraph that looks like this, for example:

“I was tired and hungry from a long day and the rain was beating down on my bike helmet. I didn’t want to work anymore-I was completely exhausted and ready to hit the hay. But I knew how important it was to continue to get this project out the door-it was my first real project as an entrepreneur, and delivering it mattered.”

And turn it into this (reducing the use of I statements-but still narrative):

“The rain beat down on my bike helmet. It was a long and tiring day. Sometimes it feels better to hit the bed instead of continuing to work-but I wanted to impress my newest client. Getting projects out the door on time is critical for first-time entrepreneurs. It was important to deliver, and deliver well.”

You’ll know when removing the first person is great when the paragraph stands on its own without the use of the first person narrative.

Take this post by Chase Reeves on “How Much You Should Be In Your Business?” — the opening sentence is focused on the reader (the second person). For the sake of contrast, I’ll rewrite the opener in two different ways as a point of comparison.

Original (Second Person): “You’re here because you want to create a business that supports you. You want to build something that earns and affords you the life you aim for.”

First Person: “The more important thing to my business is creating something that supports me-something that affords me the life I want and creates earnings I can live off of.”

Third Person: “It’s clear why building a business is critical — it’s a form of support. It’s a source of earnings and creates a desirable lifestyle.”

To me, the original (second person) option is the most powerful-it connects with the reader, has them nodding yes, that’s my vision, and sets the parameters for the post. The first person version makes me wonder why I care about their business, and the third person feels dry and impersonal.

If you’ve written something and you know the content is good-but it’s not resonating in the way that you want-try re-writing it from a different point of view. That might be the trick to creating the snappy writing you want.

4. Talk it through.

Start with the communication vehicle you’re most comfortable with. Most people get stuck writing because they haven’t done it enough. They haven’t sat at the computer and made writing a habit, and each time they do eventually get to the screen, they agonize over each word choice and sentence until they’ve beaten the poor essay to death, 500 words and 2 bottles of wine later, declaring, “I’ll never write again, no, not me!”

If you’re stuck on writing, chat with a friend and use voice recorder, or stomp around your office or hallway and talk things out. Much of great conversation and thinking is done while moving-why should we sit and expect the great ideas to pour out of us once we’ve relegated our bodies to stillness? Start talking, start recording, and go for a walk. Many a mile I’ve walked with an earphone in my ear and a voice recorder on, pretending to talk to someone else while I’m actually just talking to myself.

5. Write the outcome you want first-by beginning with the ending.

Start with the ending, and the desired action. Sometimes the posts I write are creative, lyrical, poetic, and exploratory-that’s fine. Other times, I want something, and I want something specific. Perhaps it’s a donation to charity water, or a sign-up to my latest writing workshop. Each time, I think carefully and specifically about the person who will be reading the essay, and the end of the piece, and what action I want them to take.

Step one: write the desired outcome. Before writing your post, write the action or outcome that you want people to do. How do you want them to take action?

For example, a desired outcome might be getting people to sign up and enroll for One Month’s Content Marketing class. So, I begin by writing this outcome down:

Ryan goes to the website, reads my post, and nods. Yes, he’s working through all these problems I’m articulating. He really wants something to help him with building his audience and online business. Why does he click on the opt-in at the end? Something is really compelling — he clicks because he feels like the author completely understands the frustrations he’s having. He feels like his issue has been heard. So, here’s what I’ll write at the end: Want to get better at building your audience and writing content that actually gets shared? Sign up for One Month Content Marketing.

Step two: Outline the puzzle pieces (usually I use post it notes across my desk) that create a story framework that will lead to this desired outcome:

  • Start with a story-introduction that elucidates the situation or pain point;
  • Add in background information and expert details;
  • Create the framework for a solution to the problem with suggested steps;
  • End with a call to action and final solution (your recommended solution).

6. Write about things you know.

Write about things that seem incredibly obvious to you (and that you’re perhaps overlooking). Describe how you do things, and how you sort your day. Pay attention to the questions people ask you at conferences, in email, and during dinner conversations for clues to what people want to know. Surprisingly, people are incredibly different and what you do may be novel to someone else.

7. Be incredibly specific.

Clichés and abstract thinking are painful to read and prevalent across every type of writing. The solution to clichés is to get incredibly specific-start detailing the scene and describe who is doing what, where you are, and what is happening. Examples are more powerful than anecdotes.

For example:

“It was grueling, and I was exhausted. I’d never worked so hard in my life.”

Can be turned into something much more specific, with details about who, what, where, when, and why:

“My arms were quivering and shaking; in retrospect, doing a 26-mile run the day before writing my launch essay was probably not the best strategy. I could barely keep my fingers above my keyboard.”

8. After you’ve written your essay, go back and delete the first and the last paragraph.

After you’ve written your post or essay, go back and delete the first and last paragraph. The body usually contains the most of the “meat” of the post, and many writers amble on too long in the introductions and conclusions. Try deleting it and shortening it to make it sweet and punchy.

9. Mimic great writers you like.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re stuck, use Evernote to copy and trace patterns that you like. I like to save out great essays and drafts from my favorite writers, print them, and then highlight them to study how people write effectively. Behind the words that you enjoy the most are patterns and clues to great writing.

For example:

  • Email headings: Pay attention to what you click on in emails-what were the five emails you opened first today? What did the headlines say? Jot those down. Circle words that felt great. Were they long or short? What made you want to click? Take one you like and flip it around to become something that works for your business, idea, or model.
  • Start with a bang. Use powerful ledes. Not sure what a lede is? (It’s the bullet or grab at the beginning of a story, made clear in the first paragraph) — skim 5 opening paragraphs of the New York Times with a highlighter and see what you like about each one. Convert it to your own style.
  • End with a boom. Wrap up the writing with a punchy statement, a leading question, or a call to action. If you’ve deleted your first and last paragraphs, perhaps there was one sticky statement you wanted to keep-perhaps distilling that into one sentence will do the trick.

10. Write less and link more.

Find examples and point to them. It’s perfectly okay to not reinvent the wheel — it can be equally valuable to curate great content or showcase your process of discovery if it’s lead you to a great outcome or conclusion.

Here are three relevant articles on how to be a better writer:

In todays’ world of digital and fractured communication, writing is more essential than almost any other skill-when you get better at writing, you get better at everything.

Writing isn’t just a tool for communication — it’s a tool for creative generation and unlocking what’s within your mind. It’s a tool for discovery, search, synthesis and re-wiring. Writing regularly is not just a means to create content, but is itself a tool to generate ideas and crystalize ideas. Whenever you can, use a notebook, use Evernote, google docs, or another system to capture your ideas and practice collecting (and imagining) ideas.

The more you write, the easier it gets, just like any other habit.

When I first began writing, it could take me 6 to 8 hours to write a short post. Today, I can start and finish a post in under an hour if I’ve been thinking about it during the week. Writing has gotten easier to do because I keep it up as a habit. I use writing and sketching regularly as a means to generate ideas. My notes become stories, my stories become paragraphs, my thinking wanders over the page, and then I pour content into the computer.

But when you’re pressed for time-or you’re stuck in the here and now of needing to write a post, having someone to tell you that “practice” and “consistency” are the best tools to get better at writing doesn’t help you with the post that you’ve got to find a way to write — right now.

9 Mistakes You’re Probably Making When Sending Email

How many hours a day do you spend writing emails?

We love it, we hate it — we can’t stop using it. Many of us spend a quarter of our working days in email, writing to each other, moving projects forward, connecting to new people.

Email is a form of everyday writing — and if you’re writing poorly, in a rush, or you don’t know how to compose your message for maximum impact, you can end up losing business, friends, or missing out on opportunities.

For all the hacks there are in email efficiency, sometimes we forget to hack ourselves — and use our words more cleverly to get what we want.

Here are 9 mistakes you might be making in email — and how to fix them.

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

The best time to build any relationship is before you need something, not waiting until the moment you need something. A friend of mine gets into the habit of sending five thoughtful emails each Sunday night to check in with people who he likes, admires, or thinks of. An email might look like a quick note of congratulations or a touch point to say hi:

“Hey, saw some great news about you — just wanted to say congratulations! I love watching what you’re up to through my various news feeds, and I wanted to send a note to say how much I hope you’re doing well.”

It’s a great way to remember to reach out to folks you want to be in touch with, and an actionable way of practicing gratitude.

2. Forgetting that there’s a person on the other side of your email.

Just as you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command, often those little niceties in the intro and end of a message can go a long way. Social cues aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases in communication. Start by saying hi, comment on someone’s latest achievements, and wish the other person well.

“Hey stranger! It’s been a long time. If Facebook’s telling me the scoop, it looks like you had an eventful Spring…congrats on all of your successes!”

3. Using the first person too much

Many emails — and essays — are written exclusively in first person. Shift the focus to the recipient and consider what they want, need, or would like to hear. After writing an email, scan it quickly for how many times you use the word “I.” See if you can edit some of them out.

For example: “I’m teaching a new writer’s workshop this Spring, and I want help sharing the program. I think you’d be interested in it” (all “I” statements) can be turned into:

“Hey, Leslie. A while back we chatted about ways to improve your writing skills — and it seems you might like this writing workshop for creatives that just launched. Enjoy taking a look and let me know if this is what you were looking for.”

4. Sending the email at the wrong time

Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.

Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately. If you’re cleaning up your inbox during your scheduled time, fire off the messages that are urgent and consider sending messages in the morning.

Scheduling emails to be sent in 24 or 48 hours gives you (and your clients) space to breathe between nonurgent projects, and it also sets up a rhythm of communication whereby your client no longer expects you to reply instantaneously. The more structure and parameter you give to the form of your messaging, the easier it is for the client to learn what to expect. You can either train someone to expect instantaneous answers at all times, or to learn the rhythm that’s best for you and your business.

Then, in the case of an emergency, if the client emails and you need to solve the problem straight away, you can send a quick message late in the evening or on a weekend. In this scenario, you become the hero to your client.

5. Sending to too many people

More recipients in the “To” field does not mean that you’ll necessarily get more answers. In the age of digital marketing, people who blast messages in broadcast form without understanding who is in the “to” line can erode their chances of a message being opened.

A perfect email is one that’s sent to exactly who it needs to go to, with a specified desired outcome.

The more specific you can be about who you ask, the better. Asking everyone in your network is bound to get you a bunch of silence in our over-connected world, or unsubscribes and un-follows across your various platforms. It’s better to ask three people who are very well equipped to answer your query than 15 people who aren’t interested at all.

The more specific you can get about who should be receiving the message, the better. One direct ask that results in a yes is better than asking 50 people who don’t respond (and spamming their inboxes).

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email

Do your homework on the recipient. One great tool to glean fast information about who you’re talking to is Rapportive, a sidebar that lets you see the latest public posts (and a picture) of the person you’re communicating to.

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages

If you’re waiting for an important message from someone, the time spent waiting for a delivery can seem interminable. If there’s a long delay in sending an item that’s highly anticipated or expected, or you’ve experienced a few hiccups — send a one-liner email to update your receiver on the status of the project. You’ll know that you need to send a quick note when you start to get anxious about not delivering or they seem to be a bit flippant.

Here’s some sample copy for you to use:

“Hey, friend. Just wanted to send a quick update about the delivery of our proposal. We’re set to get you something by next Friday, but we might be a few days early. Talk to you next week! Let me know if you have any questions in the meantime.”

“Hey, friend. I know we touched base last month and I’ve been far too slow in getting back to you. I’m still working through the pile on my plate, but I should have something in the next 2–3 weeks. Didn’t want to keep you guessing! Talk soon.”

8. Making messages too long

Depending on the nature of the message, emails can vary from a few words to thousands of words. The longer the email, the less likely that someone will read the entire thing. Long emails generally mean that a larger strategy, framework, or document might be in order.

Some companies shift to using four-sentence emails and linking to longer pieces of work through Google Documents, Asana, or Basecamp (or other project management software). Here at One Month, we use Asana for project management and Slack for internal messaging, so email is never a nuisance in getting internal messages relayed.

9. Using email exclusively

Efficiency does not necessarily mean one single system. Often, redundancy in communication can be extremely helpful, as each tool (video, chat, email, Skype) adds a layer of human nuance back into the correspondence that’s happening.

Laura Roeder’s digital marketing team is distributed across multiple countries, and in order to stay in touch (and in concert with each other), they focus on “over-communication,” through the use of multiple tools at once.

Now, let’s talk about four ways to focus on writing better emails:

Tell sticky stories

Everything makes more sense with an illustration. Highlight and example, illustrate an ideal customer avatar, or tell a specific instance of a problem you had. Setting the context and the stage (that seems obvious to you, the writer), makes it easier for people to understand the pain point, the context, and the reason why you’re writing. When people can see your story — who you are, where you come from, why you’re doing what you’re doing — it’s easier for them to become a part of it.

Use the four-sentence, one-link rule

Keep your email to under four sentences (or five!). Focus on the pain point or problem you’re solving. Limit yourself to only one link. If you have to, make that link a document.

Be responsive and reflective

Observe how others communicate and adapt your style to meet them midway. Customize your communication by mirroring the style of a received message. Does someone send short messages with formal addresses? Respond in style.

Bookmark emails that you love with Evernote

Use the vast number of emails in front of you (and in your inbox) as clues to great messaging. Watch what emails you open first and are most excited about. Create a few folders in your mailbox system for great introductions, sample short messages, and thank-you notes that you like. Keep these for future use if you’re ever in a bind. In any art, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — and paying attention to great writers (and what we personally enjoy) is a great way to get started.

Email is our number one form of communication, which means that everyone is a writer.The most powerful thing you can do in both your personal and business life is learn how to write well and tell great stories. Messages that persuade, content that converts, and language that inspires action are critical for getting what you want.

When you improve the way you write and learn how to design better messages, you will resonate with the reader, improve share-ability, and increase the bottom line.

Next week our Content Marketing class launches — are you on the list to find out when it opens?

What about you? What email mistakes do you see people making all the time that you wish they would fix? What’s the greatest email you’ve ever received?

How Bloomberg Exec Susan Kish Learned To Code

It was a normal Tuesday.

Susan Kish was sitting on the 29th floor of her building, looking over Manhattan, when she got mad. She was in a meeting with young man named Mattan Griffel (before he founded the company now called One Month), and they were talking about his experience in teaching himself how to code. He was building a class to teach other young entrepreneurs how to code, and something snapped.

“Why is it that everyone assumes young people are the only ones who want to learn to code?” she asked.

Kish is the Head of Cross Platform Initiatives at Bloomberg LP, and she manages a strategic portfolio of projects across new products, sales, finance, and media. Yet she found that she wasn’t able to have strategic conversations with the technology teams in terms of media and project scheduling. So, she challenged Mattan, our CEO, to teach her how to code.

“If you can teach me, you can teach anyone,” she explained in her 2013 TED main stage talk.

The last time she coded, however, it was in BASIC: with little green tapes, hand-held, when she was a young child. “I am the definition of a digital immigrant. I am also a mother, a super-commuter, a former banker, and an executive,” she said, “and my schedule does not allow me to sign up for biweekly classes downtown.”

So what did it take to get this busy executive to learn code?

She signed up for lessons with Mattan online, once a week. She said it was frustrating, at times — she threw her hands up in the air, sometimes stalled for a week or two.

After a few months, however, she started to get the hang of it. She learned that “coding” means having the command of at least 5 languages, no easy task. It also requires a problem-solving mentality, a keen sense of aesthetic, and a sharp eye for grammar and punctuation.

Taking coding classes improved her mental clarity, her ability to focus, and reminded her of just how precise and dedicated her technology teams are when designing new prototypes and building out projects.

She found that learning to code and the act of coding itself delivered an extreme joy of accomplishment. Coding is the future, and not learning to code was akin to taking a huge professional risk: “In the professional world of tomorrow,” she said, “you have to know two things: you have to know the basics of business, and the basics of coding. Without both, you are taking an enormous risk. And if you start with the technology side, you have a tremendous advantage.”

Learning to code helped her reboot her computer, it lets her understand the jokes and allusions in team work sessions, and she can walk into meetings with other senior execs and speak knowledgeably about timelines, costs, and prices. Knowing technology is a tremendous advantage in the business world of tomorrow, she says.

Learn the language of technology and build a better business.

We all need to learn to code. Watch her TED Talk here.