Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Direct e-mail: Lessons from the slush pile

It wasn't that long ago that permission-based e-mail marketing became all the rage. But now, after a few years of responding to free offers, book bonuses, and the like, I get a billion jillion e-mails from people. And you probably do too.

Like many people, I sign up with a specific e-mail address reserved for this kind of stuff. I check it every couple of months or so, open a few of them, and do a mass delete for the rest. And it fascinates me to see which ones I do and don't open out of the hundreds that are waiting for me.

Let's start with the ones I never open:

False urgency: If you use capital letters, exclamation points, or time limits, I will never ever click your message. For exactly the same reason I don't hang out with people who shout in my ear. Messages like "Rich, will I see you TODAY?" and "You HAVE to check this offer out" all go through the trap door immediately.

False intimacy: I realize you have my name. I gave it to you when I signed up for your list. But that doesn't mean splattering it all over your subject lines is going to impress me. "Rich, get my e-mail about tomorrow?" "What's your plan for 2011, Rich?" Look, we haven't even met, and here you go asking me all these personal questions.

It is even worse, of course, when you use the name from my credit card order. The only time I am ever called "Richard" is when my wife is mad at me about something.

Guessing games: I really don't have time to play "ha-ha, made you look!" So if you have cute e-mail titles like "Read this fast, Rich" (there you go with the "Rich" again ...) or "I'm totally convinced," you have to get in line behind a few hundred other e-mails that are willing to tell me what they are talking about.

Now let's look at the lucky few e-mails I do open:

You offer me something of value: One e-mail I did open had a subject line of "Want to meet Zig Ziglar?" Yes, I would. He is a legend, and being in his 80s, who knows how much longer he'll be working the speaking circuit. The workshop was too far away and too expensive for me, but at least I did click through a couple of levels to explore it. You offered me something cool and very specific, and I checked it out.

I like you: For example, I recently connected with a fellow speaker on Facebook named Al Borowski, based in my former hometown of Pittsburgh. I really liked his schtick, and his messages are pretty high-content, so I'm happy to see what new things he has to say in his e-mails.

You have a track record: My good friend and colleague Carolyn Healey, publisher of customer support industry portal site SupportIndustry.com, has an incredible radar for high-content articles on trends in the industry. Her content helps my business, so I have always read her weekly newsletter cover to cover (and still do). That's why her stuff gets delivered to my personal e-mail, not my "slush" e-mail.

It is tougher than ever to get your message through in today's ultra-high-bandwidth environment. To sum up what works for me: Offer value. Be likeable. Be genuine. Be specific. Amp down the urgency. And please don't call me Richard.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The best book ever on entrepreneurship

There are lots of books out there on starting your own business. Most of them are bubbly, optimistic - and ultimately pointless. Finally, one has come along that really gives you the straight scoop on starting and running a successful business.

My good friend Carol Roth is no wannabe entrepreneur consultant. She has helped businesses raise over a billion dollars in capital, shows up regularly on cable news channels like MSNBC and Fox Business, and has reviewed over 1000 business plans for clients. She will soon be featured in a new cable reality show on business startups. Above all she is smart, funny, and takes no prisoners.

Her new book The Entrepreneur Equation isn't a warm, fuzzy tome on the joys of entrepreneurship. Instead, she breaks down the hard truths of starting your business: the capital you will need, the hours you will have to put in, the personal strengths it requires, and the realities of starting up in what she describes as the worst competitive environment ever. And you will be laughing as you read every page. Carol, who fashions herself in the book's introduction as Lucy Van Pelt from the comic strip Peanuts, combines a caustic wit with a razor-sharp insight on what makes successful businesses tick.

But don't think this book is simply a needed dose of castor oil. More accurately, it is - as she describes it - a screening interview that will make sure you succeed. Her own proprietary consulting formula, which goes by the acronym FIRED-UP (Finances, Inspiration, Reponsibilities, Experience, Dedication, and Unbridled Passion), boils the mechanics of starting a business into the basics everyone really should be thinking of: Do I have the drive, the capital, the experience, the crazyness to pull this off? No bland chapters on how to write your business plan here.

As I was talking with Carol a few weeks ago about this book launch, it got me thinking about my own business startup. I've been on my own for the better part of 15 years, and make a very nice living writing for people and being a public speaker. And everything she says really resonates with me and my own situation. I started with enough capital, I knew my market, knew what I was doing, and was very good at it. But above all, I was and still am crazy. I can stay up to 5 AM finishing one client, and then get up at 5 AM for another. I can get off the phone after losing a lucrative five-year contract bid, shrug, and get back to work. (And react much the same way after winning a similar one last year.) I keep learning and re-inventing myself. All because I know how badly the guy on the other side of the mirror wants to live the life I lead.

But back to Carol. This is the launch week for her book, and I am honored to be a part of it. If you buy her new book this week through her web site here, you will get some great bonuses, ranging from video media coaching to a chance to win a free coaching session from me - or, better yet, her. Purchase multiple copies, and you will even get a realistic Carol Roth doll made by a major toymaker (and one of her clients), the only business author I've ever seen with her own action figure.

In closing, don't just take my word for Carol's fresh approach to starting a business - watch this video and you will see exactly what I mean. And then go buy her book. Enjoy!