Little Red Hearts

“You’ll use this every day in your adult life.” Remember that from school? Math (true), science (yeah), note taking (big yep), history (oh yeah) …. We even had a few Junior Achievement classes: writing checks and account balancing, doing our taxes, and touch typing (big yeah). Heck, one guy who taught us how to visualize our futures by designing our own business card (I won five dollars!).

One thing that wasn’t on this list was drawing little hearts on my papers. While I don’t draw them every day, I do find I’m using them more often than expected these days.

My first developmental editor used a green pen to edit everyone’s work. Her philosophy? Red is a punitive color, left over from our school days (though most of my kids’ papers come home in a rainbow of colors thanks to the gel pen craze). But I use a red pen to show the love.

Continue reading

Lessons from the carline: Use the written word to give your message authority

The written word is very persuasive in making (or breaking) your authority. It can shore up or undermine your entrepreneurial story, your sales pages, and your expertise.

I use LinkedIn ProFinder to do a lot of client prospecting. While it’s a “new” platform without the history of Upwork and Fiverr, it has a level of authority simply by affiliation with a long-established, professional networking site.

Not all prospects feel that authority, though. Many see ProFinder as just another Upwork or Fiverr. As a result, I turn down and “lose” a lot bids to potential clients who expect to pay $500 for an entire 20-page website makeover, or want me to write three 750-word blog posts a week for $75.

Go on, ask me why my prices are so high

I like it when someone asks me why my prices are so “high.” I can break free of the “eleven tweet” sized space ProFinder allows for a proposal response. I can expand on my original proposal and really write it out. I can show both my experience and the experience of other writers to support why writing “takes so long,” and a growing portfolio that shows what I can do. I even sometimes do “test writing” at my standard rates — head to head competitions don’t worry me.

But overall, I don’t mind losing “tire kickers” and folks looking to pay content mill prices. Content mill writing isn’t what I “crank out.” I take the time to learn about the prospect and project, then share my expertise and position myself as an authority with my proposals and follow-on meetings.

I didn’t sign up to be “the bad guy”

I noticed how well the well-positioned written word helps while working the carline at a local middle school. We volunteers held umbrellas on rainy days, secured and released seatbelts, opened and closed doors, hauled trombones out of trunks, and tried to keep things moving, safely.

But we also got stuck with being “the bad guys” on tardiness… until I decided I’d had enough. Continue reading

How do you solve a problem like burrito? Hurricane Irma edition.

(Note: I hope everyone affected by the recent storms are well or on their way to recovery! We only dealt with superficial damage and have most utilities back. PS: If you have extra water and canned goods, don’t attempt to return them to the store, they may be discarded. Give them to local charities and food banks.)

I moved to Florida more than 20 years ago, shortly after Hurricane Andrew. Andrew had hit my new neighborhood with tornadoes that skipped hither and yon, destroying homes seemingly at random. Back then, weather alerts were broadcast solely over TV and radio. Very few people had weather radios. My earliest storm memory is of getting a phone call from my mother, telling me to get into a safer room immediately. I moved, turning the TV to The Weather Channel. Commercials exhorting people to come visit beautiful Sunny Florida played, while red banners warning of tornadoes and dangerous lightning streamed across the bottom of the screen.

I’ve been through dozens of “live fire storm drills” over the years, as the storms missed over and over again (or nearly so), refining my approach to storm prep and recovery as I go. As of today, my worst storm remains Wilma, a direct hit that came barrelling through shortly after I closed on a new-to-me home. I’ve added and discarded plans and supplies, and have a pretty tight and effective routine down at this point.

While helping friends post-mortem their storm prep after Irma, I laid out my lists and plans and how they changed as my house, family, and budget grew, and realized something: My approach to storms is the same as my approach to other issues. I solve it “like a burrito” following my beans, cheese, and tortilla model.

I break down Hurricane Season prep like this: Continue reading

I’m 17% less likely to go back, but I’ll be back.

I took the car for an oil change at a chain that’s been expanding their services. They’re trying to make up for these darn new fangled cars that don’t need an oil change every 3,000 miles; oil changes are probably nearly a loss leader.

The assistant manager, Bran, unconvincingly informed me that my spark plugs were at 17%. He added that I should really consider getting the plugs and wires changed for only another $129.95 (after a 10% on the spot discount). I don’t think he really expected to sell anyone spark plugs that day.

If your upsell is an oopsell … you’re doing it wrong

I’ve had five or six timing belts break on me — so I’m all about preventive maintenance. And $129.95 is not a bad price (after discount) for spark plugs and wires. Plus, it may by getting to be about that time.

But his 17% number felt like completely random B.S. — as if someone had taken a message on how to upsell, and then erased all the steps to convincing the customer. What we ended up with was an employee throwing a scary sounding number at a customer and hoping it was enough. Not even a potential customer, but an actual customer, sitting in the waiting room, crankcase draining in an adjacent bay.

I don’t know what his return on his kind of “oopselling” is, but it can’t be good.

But this entire encounter got me thinking about work I’m doing for a home services company. Anyone can say “We can increase your widget value by XYZ” or “We can prevent the decline of ABC by XYZing this with our super awesome stuff”. For the most part, nearly everyone says that. How is anyone going to choose between similar-sounding fluff to pick the best provider of XYZ for their needs?

How you really need to persuade me

This makes the next step of persuading the potential customer to go beyond “What we can do” and into the “How we can do it.” Spark plug guy could have led by asking: Continue reading

I have a little list … of folks who will be skipped.

Some of my clients love to write. Some love to talk. All of them love their product, and deservedly so — they put out excellent products and services. They come to me because they need a little help telling other people about what they do and how they do it.

Conversations with Entrepreneurial Hearts

I love the interview part of the process. We sit, and we talk about their passion, their ideas, their drive. We get to the heart of their story and entrepreneurial dreams.

Then it’s time to tackle the research. What have they got, what does it look like, what do they want to do, what do they want me to do, with words, in what way …. all to make their story come alive? Do they want to reach their prospects right in their to-do lists, or help someone find a dream? Will they strive to strike a chord deep in their prospect’s intangibles?

Sometimes I get pretty well written original outpourings of entrepreneurial heart, complete with links, quotes, and long digressions that meander through their story. Usually writing that long isn’t ready for “prime time”. Pages of the history of their world through the creation of their big idea can simply overwhelm their prospects. My job, then, is to tease out the essentials and shape the right tone like a carver with hammer and chisels.

Sometimes I get an outline and some links and a request to “make some magic happen with words.” So I set out their dream on a potter’s wheel. Together we shape the look and feel of their sketch, transforming it to a warm-fired reality.

Once in a while, I’m starting a project a bit blind, before a good conversation can take place. These blind requests usually have been strained through the garlic press of LinkedIn ProFinder. If I’m lucky, I’ll at least get a few big globs of text I can then figure out what to do with.

Globby Text of Unknown Provenance

I learned how to spot plagiarism long ago and far away, in a land before Internet Time. It’s a pet peeve with me, probably because I was wrongly accused of it in grammar school (but the Kipling copier got an A+!!).

But just as there is a difference between the sound of typing random letters and typing actual words, there’s a cadence to writing. Even bad writing has a structure and flow, though it may stop and start. And a good editor can smooth out the rough spots.

Continue reading

From Good to Great: Tech Blog Post

An analysis of Designing your mobile game to flail: A look at the UX in PokémonGO.

There are a bunch of estimates out there on the web when you do a search on something along the lines of “How long should it take me to write [something]?”

Some people are talented enough to whip out first drafts like there’s no tomorrow. Some of us need to get the main idea down, then go back in and shore it up with some structure.

That was the case for this blog entry:

  • I knew a lot about the software programs I cited (several hundred hours of gameplay)
  • I had an idea of the improvement I wanted to make, after ruminating on it for several hours
  • Had about 20 minutes of free time to gabble into the phone dictation app

With that amount of research behind me, I was able to take the baseline idea and knowledge about the programs to build a solid article-style blog entry. Introduction, brief explanation of gameplay (breaking the game into capture and battling) and examples of previous software improvements over the life of the game. This structure provided two things: context for readers unfamiliar with the software, and some authority that I knew what I was talking about, gameplay and software wise.

The rough numbers on this article / blog entry

It finally took me about 5 hours to write and edit to complete and post 1,200 words. Factor in at least that amount for research and calculated gameplay, as well, a couple hours for the images, and you get 12-15 hours total, in an industry I’ve already got a couple dozen years experience in from a gameplay perspective. If I’d written this article a few months ago, it might have taken longer (I’ve had a lot of practice in the last few months creating content for various clients, which is in turn making my stuff better). Continue reading

Inside Baseball for Projects

I’ll be tutoring some teen and tween filmmakers this summer. I’ve put together a reading and watch list to give them new ideas, new perspectives, and help show them storytelling depth and structure.

As I reread the books on the list and rewatched the movies, something really caught my attention. At one point in The Secrets of Story:  Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers, Matt Bird said something succinct that captures how knowing how to use the parts you don’t usually “see” are vital to making good storytelling great:

“Structure is the ‘Inside Baseball’ of the writing world.”

It’s not just enough to have a good idea. You have to structure it, in story and layout, to make it reach your audience.

Two examples of telling and structuring the story of, say, Ghostbusters (1984), are in the movies Ghostbusters (1984) and Be Kind, Rewind.

The original Ghostbusters does this pretty well (as you’d expect of a major Hollywood movie). The plucky “homebrew” version of Ghostbusters our heroes film for Be Kind, Rewind does the best it can, but it looks just like any kid’s home-filmed version of a movie looks like: bad costumes, worse music, wrenching scene cuts. But the “homebrew” version is more popular than the original because it tells the story better, despite its “homebrew” flaws.

My twist on Brad’s quote above is this: “Infrastructure is the ‘Inside Baseball’ of the writing and project world.” If your story is that great, it doesn’t matter as much if it looks and “reads” like Ghostbusters (1984) or Ghostbusters: Be Kind, Rewind.

But most stories aren’t Ghostbusters great. So how your story, blog post, or novel looks and flows is important, as well.

When you’re in the throes of writing, you write how you know. Learned to type on a manual machine? Two spaces after a period. Five spaces at the start of a paragraph. Hard return (that funny reversed looking P thing) at the end of each line.

“Manual touch type” is fine until you need to change one little thing … and your formatting goes awry. Then it’s time to bring in a formatting expert to give it that “Hollywood style” polish and shine.


If you’ve just completed your magnum opus and formatting issues are driving you crazy, reach out to me for a quote to fix the funkiness

How do you solve a problem like burrito?

I always thought I’d grown up exposed to a rich tapestry of foodie delights, travelling an expansive journey of flavor and nuance expressed in the form of Mexican food.

When I started brown bagging it as an adult, I’d chat with a foodie coworker, comparing lunches and extolling the fine distinctions that made my lunch subtly different every day.

Her response was something along the lines of: “So basically, what you’re saying is that Mexican food is pretty much all beans, cheese, and tortillas.”

That take on it blew me away. I knew that I could taste the difference between pressure-cooked beans and beans slow simmered with a pork fat back. A sniff to diagnose something was over-seasoned with cumin. I could go on about appropriate dishes for farmer’s cheese instead of a sharp cheddar. Was it really all “just beans, cheese, and tortillas”?

Yes, and no.

There’s room for both interpretations. And if you get caught up in the cilantro chopping, or yellow onions versus white, you can starve to death. Or end up with a crap meal because you’ve wasted too much time on choices that might not matter all that much.

We face tons of choices every day. Maybe we’re starting to plan a project, or getting ready to release it … and it’s not quite right. So we triage and figure out what’s important, what could go either way, and what’s totally trivial but affordably nice to have. What’s worth it to focus on and what needs to be chucked overboard.

Her comment eventually brought me to a simple solution: solve your problems like a burrito.

Think of your task and tools and options that can get to your goal as if they were a grocery store full of food and a kitchen store full of implements. But it’s all jumbled up and you’ve never really made a burrito, so maybe you only have a vague idea how to just turn all the everything into a burrito. You know, a solved problem, a solid start or finish, to a project or deliverable.

So make a list. Break your problem or task down to the main parts of a good burrito.

The beans – Protein and starches that are veggie flavor – stuff that really needs to be there.

The cheese – A contrasting flavor that can also be used to contain some of the heat that may come from the beans.

And of course the tortilla – What brings it all together. It might be people or a process or software.

You can add other things that may need to be there, depending on your audience’s taste; lettuce, tomatoes, crema, salsa, limes, chicken, etc.

  1. What’s the main thing that needs to be part of the project? This makes up the beans of your burrito.
  2. What are the secondary things you need to support this project? This makes up the cheese and other ingredients of your burrito. Helps bring more flavor along and make it work together.
  3. How is it all held together? This is the tortilla for your burrito.

If you can pare it down to the essentials and put it together in a logical order, that’s a big step in the right direction. Drop me a line and see how I can help build your “burrito project”.

Basically What I’m Saying is I Suk at Launching

The whole concept of being a “tweakologer” came to me in a phone call with one of my phenomenally smart siblings. (We also decided that calling my students “tweakers” was a bad idea).

But the basic idea is this: I can help you take good ideas and make them better. A tweak here, a tweak there, pretty soon you’ve got a really awesome project!

It works the other way, too. If there’s a path to launch, I’ll lay it out. If there’s a path to awesome, I’ll work up a bid and work with you to make it even more fabulous. If your return on investment isn’t there, I’ll be frank about it.

Mostly I’ll collect here my take on things you can do (or I can help you do) to take your idea from good to great. Even if it took me a couple of years to finally launch my site.

Lorena, Chief Tweakologer
Tweak This, Not That
April 2017