Public Libraries: Patrons, Users, Customers, or Members. Does it matter?

MARKETING FOR PUBLIC LIBRARIES

Graphic source: Freepik.com

Do the names we use to refer to the people we serve matter?

It’s a question libraries are grappling with (or at least, should be) in an increasingly consumer-centric industry where libraries need to think and act like consumer brands.

Many libraries still shirk at the idea of sidling up to anything that looks like for-profit marketing. After all, libraries are institutions. They’re stalwarts. They hold the keys to information, collectible treasures, and one-of-a-kind documents. They’re steeped in free service and adding culture to communities.

Marketing adulterates libraries. Or does it?

It’s time to turn that idea on its head because not marketing libraries is far more of a disservice to communities than broadcasting introductions to library services, education, and information.

Because that’s what marketing really is. It’s not selling. It’s telling.

It’s not forcing things people don’t want. It’s showing them they can get to what they need.

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Salespeople close deals. They turn products and services into cash.

Libraries guide knowledge. They add power to resources by leading the charge in information literacy.

Libraries must market themselves.

In a time when generous benefactors are aging out of AARP and younger generations turn to Google searches and 1-click e-book downloads, they must show that value in new and relevant ways if they hope to stay funded, increase usage and services, and survive. Insisting that people know you’re there and what you have ignores reality.

The truth is, not everyone knows. And if they do, they have no idea how you’ve changed to accommodate the 21st century. Time to get the word out.

Have an honest conversation about who you serve

Understanding who you serve, and adopting a consistent and organization-wide term for them, will help personalize and frame thoughts and messages toward them.

Let’s break down the most common choices:

Patron

PatronWhile patron has been librarians’ preferred nom de rigueur—some will fortify troops to defend its use—it’s stuffy, dated, and, according to research by Joan Frye Williams, the people who use libraries don’t like it. Given the changing nature of libraries, where libraries kept and controlled information to the internet now pre-empting the library’s domain, it’s a highbrow term that feels exclusive. People don’t need us like they did and bristle at the librarian-knows-all positioning this reference alludes.

Try calling a 20-something a patron. It’s akin to Ma’am. Polite, maybe. But not trendy. Not hip. Not cool. And not winning anyone over.

User

UserUsers use and consume. That the law defines use as the continued enjoyment of a right implies an all-take relationship. Who hasn’t heard the phrase use and abuse? That’s not what we work so hard to accomplish. We’re not here to be used up.

Drug addicts are users.

Software developers design for users and user experiences, but the term implies abstract entities, not people. Our people have hearts and brains and reasons that motivate them to seek and learn.

Libraries are here to help, to inform, and educate. And we’re here to learn from the people we encounter.

People who use libraries are readers, learners, researchers, students, and parents cultivating next generation literacy. Sure, they use the library, but they aren’t users.

Customer

CustomerIn business, customers are the lifeblood of survival. They hold power in their independence to research, shop, compare, and make purchasing decisions. Businesses who don’t deliver or respond with the most value, best products, or stellar customer service won’t last.

For libraries, customer service has become much more of a “thing” but the overall relationship departs from traditional consumerism. The people who use libraries aren’t shopping around for the best price and they’ll come back for what’s free, even if not ranked high on Yelp or delivered with flair.

True, libraries are competitive, with Amazon and Barnes and Noble for instance, but the overall service relationship and the who is serving whom and for what reasons differ. Customer just doesn’t quite fit.

Member

MemberAn individual belonging to a group.

A piece of a structure.

A subscriber. An associate.. A card-carrying member.

Who doesn’t want to belong?

And isn’t that what libraries can and should cultivate? — A constant exchange of what do you need, here’s what I want, and how can we work together?

The term “member” gives members a nod toward their part in something bigger. It acknowledges their ownership in this altruistic and inclusive service.

Getting library teams to adopt Members

If you adopt members as your new library who, how do make that change within your teams?

Marketing is at least 35% internal and getting your team to adopt the new name will require effort. As a leader, here are three things you can do:

  1. You use the term.
  2. You explain more than once or twice why it matters (Feel free to share this article!).
  3. You enforce its use. Make it light-hearted but not.

Does it matter if your team is on board with using member? Yes, it does. And here are three compelling reasons why:

  1. Professionalism. If everyone on the team uses common terminology, it shows proactive thought and displays vision. It’s catchy and good for team building.
  2. Mindset. Adopting a consistent moniker for those you serve helps everyone get on the same page. It is helpful to remember that members can be young or old, a huge benefactor or not, an avid researcher, a weekend reader, movie buff, or teen creator. Cultivate an environment (and team) that knows the people who walk through the door are all part of what you do.
  3. Member-service. Probably no one will wonder out loud why you no longer call them a patron or customer, but they will notice the shift toward subtly inclusive language and ensuing adjustments in the team’s attitude toward them.

What do you think? Have you adopted members? How did you do it? What was the response?

Icons made by <a href=”http://www.flaticon.com/authors/freepik” title=”Freepik”>Freepik</a> from <a href=”http://www.flaticon.com” title=”Flaticon”>www.flaticon.com</a>             is licensed by <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/” title=”Creative Commons BY 3.0″>CC BY 3.0</a></div>

Tip the Scale to Sales with Case Studies

Case studies powerfully demonstrate claims made through a sales funnel.

It’s nitty gritty time and prospects want proof.

Keyword-rich webpages did their work. The sales team made their pitch. You might have what they need. But one critical step remains. Proof.

That edge between interested, convinced, and purchase order is one-sided. Your side. And it begs for proof.

Social proof.

Proof your prospect will get what they think they will.

Proof that others got what they thought they would.

Proof that you’ve really addressed and solved similar problems.

Proof they aren’t about to waste their money.

Proof to convince their boss your solution is worth the investment.

Proof they won’t look like an idiot for not doing their homework.

And they don’t want to hear it from you.

Show. Don’t Tell.

9 out of 10 people want social proof

For B2B companies, where the buying cycle and potential relationship is much more complex than a one-click e-commerce transaction, simple product or company ratings won’t hold much value. Your prospects need to know who you’ve helped and how.

On the brink of a decision, case studies are invaluable for telling your stories, building feature awareness, proving your value, and offering proof that you are and will be the real deal.

What is a case study?

Case studies document the development of a situation over a period of time.

Educators have used case studies for years to present real life applications of theory. Instead of just talking about ideas, case studies show them in action, helping readers make connections between  opening scenarios and the process of moving toward outcomes.

Early B2B case study adopters used the same situation/process/outcome model to record, remind and train internal teams of company successes.

SMBs use case studiesMarketers recognized the power of those stories and, coupled with the explosion of digital marketing channels offering instant distribution and access, made them a key ingredient to content marketing strategies. In fact, case studies are the fifth most important element of B2B content marketing strategies for small business marketers. Fully 76% of small business marketers include case studies as a tactic.

What do case studies look like?

Case studies can range from a few simple sentences to technical and in-depth but good ones include:

  • Some context regarding the company and industry.
  • A brief outline of the problem that needed to be solved.
  • How your company specifically addressed the challenge.
  • A statement regarding the experience or value. Was it the product itself or the implementation process or meticulous follow-up?

Case studies can be short and simple.

Brief testimonial quotes are powerful when used alongside corresponding website pages. The good news is that short customer testimonies are the most informal and easiest to get.

Case studies can look like feature articles.

Instead of presenting a case study as a mere business proposition, write it as a narrative story, similar to a feature article in a magazine.

  • Feature article case studies entertain while informing and position your brand as more personable as they depart from industry-speak and employ a more informal tone.
  • Feature article case studies work well for weekly or monthly newsletters and custom publications.

Case studies can be in-depth and technical.

If your product, service and buying cycle is complex, it may make sense to write more in-depth case studies. Be sure to develop a template so all case studies follow the same format. For instance:

  • Benefit-specific title
  • Company and scenario introduction
  • Challenge
  • Solution
  • Key features (or value propositions) used in solution
  • Outcomes or results

Getting case studies written

We hesitate to ask for them because:

  • It seems like a burden — we look at our own to-do list and figure, who has time?
  • We’re not sure who to ask — do we ask the CEO, whom we suspect barely writes emails?
  • We fear the answer — will they say something nice?
  • We think customers might not want others to know what they are doing.

Any of these could be valid hurdles but none are so detrimental as to avoid asking, but be sure to make your ask as simple and easy as possible.

Send a follow up email thanking customers for their business and ask if they would take just a minute to write two to three sentences about their experience with you.

Develop a simple template prompting the answers you need. For instance, We sought out your company because we needed _________; Your company helped us by __1) 2) 3)__; What we most appreciated about the experience was ___________; We would recommend your company because ___________.

Assign an internal customer experience representative to contact customers and ask for a verbal testimony (using a similar pre-scripted template as above).

Hire a contract writer to write your case studies. A copywriter can be more objective and is often better received by a customer who may feel more comfortable offering their experience opinions to an outside party. A copywriter will write professionally and should be able to deliver your case study in any format — short, feature narrative, or longer form.

Plan case studies around business objectives

No matter who writes your case studies, be sure to have a plan or you’ll end up with vague case studies that will not meet your brand or sales objectives. Here are three strategies for making case studies more powerful:

Highlight specific value propositions. Which aspect of your brand, product or service do you need to build awareness for? Who has benefitted from that aspect? Approach them for stories.

Write case studies for key industry verticals. Companies want to read about companies like theirs. Produce a library of case studies highlighting different problems within one industry.

Build case studies around particular pain points. If you solve the same few problems over and over, write case studies around those. Case studies will highlight the different ways you’ve approached a similar problem for different sized companies or industries.

Once you have a pile of case studies, use them! Produce an email campaign introducing one company or problem per email. Add a call to action click-through to the story on your website or blog. Add a case studies tab to your website and use key quotes on appropriate pages. Post teasers to case studies on social media and be sure to print them in a one-page format for sales teams.

Take your cue from 76% of SMB marketers and make them a critical piece of your content arsenal.

Design thinking content marketing

Design thinking informs content marketing process

Design thinking made its mark in education as a structured approach to generating and developing ideas.

At the design thinking core are five phases:

  1. Discovery — I have a challenge. How do I approach it?
  2. Interpretation — I learned something. How do I interpret it?
  3. Idea — I see an opportunity. What do I create?
  4. Experiment — I have an idea. How do I build it?
  5. Evolve — I tried something. How do I evolve it?

In education, design thinking is based on empathy, or needs, with a bias toward action. For a leader, that might mean discovering what teachers want and need before planning for professional development solutions. For a teacher, it could mean polling students before deciding how to design a classroom.

Design thinking assumes a need or challenge, moving parts and a circular cycle of thought, try, measure, and change. Kind of like science. And marketing.

Design thinking IS content marketing

Marketing, and more recently, content marketing, has always followed this design thinking process.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.50.36 AMDiscovery

Marketers start with a challenge. From a company perspective, challenges often starts with internal objectives such as procuring qualified leads for the sales team, increasing brand recognition, and positively impacting revenue.

Design thinking marketers know challenges start with prospects, their pain points, what they need, and why. Their discovery journeys glean important nuances that will answer query search questions and deliver solutions, sometimes before prospects ask.

Discovery activities might include market research (formal or informal), participating in LinkedIn groups and discussions, following key Twitter influencers, talking to current customers, networking with prospects at trade shows and conferences, and grilling field representatives for the latest wave of objections and insights.

Interpret content marketingInterpret

Design thinking content marketers must then make leaps between company and business objectives and prospect challenges. Healthy companies will not leave this important step to the marketing department as a match-up between product or service and need is essential for survival and growth.

Assuming a company has viable and needed solutions, it is the design thinking marketer’s job to interpret how to build and tell a story that will be found, be interesting, and encourage cycles of engagement. Interpreting the best way to tell and deliver a brand story includes determining the best mix of medium and channels. For instance, marketers must determine which social media channels targets use most, whether they would prefer to download and read white papers, short blog posts or weekly newsletters, how they might search for information relating to their challenge, the tone of voice that will most resonate, and the best, most direct calls to action as well as whether targets will consume information at their desks or on-the-go, through desktop computers, tablets or mobile devices.

Historical analytics can help make these decisions but often companies embarking on a content or digital marketing journey do not have sophisticated analytic tracking in place. Knowing how to apply and use tools such as Google Analytics will be crucial, if not in the first iteration, in the second interpretation as the cycle comes back around.

Design thinking ideaIdea

Once a design thinking marketer interprets and connects objectives and needs, they get to work generating ideas for campaigns, outlining how and when each channel can and should be used in the process.

For instance, along with writing a white paper, a content marketer will make decisions such as whether or not the white paper will be a gated resource (requiring opt-in trade-off such as contact information) and where it will live on a website or landing page as well as how to pique interest in the topic through a series of short, well-written teasers on social media and how to optimize email headlines and messages for the most opens and click-throughs. Savvy marketers will research keywords and add campaign tracking codes to pay per click and social media ads to source web traffic for later analysis.

Experiment with design thinkingExperiment

While marketers would love to know their research and carefully designed campaigns will always result in a positive ROI, they (and the C-suite) can take a lesson from scientific method. After all, Viagra began life as a heart medication and Playdoh, as a wallpaper cleaner. While not every activity achieves its desired results, we can reap lucky consequences or, at the very least, learn what not to do through experimentation.

At some point, design thinkers, scientists, and content marketers must release their work into the world and let it fly.

Evolve with design thinkingEvolve

Today’s marketers have dashboards and analytics to monitor and measure nearly every aspect of content marketing. Email service providers report statistics such as deliveries, opens, and clicks at a minimum. Most drill down to detailed stats as to which targets opened an email, when, from where, on what device, and which links they clicked. Social media channels offer proprietary analytics, while Google allows for highly sophisticated tracking of nearly everything a marketer can imagine about visitors’ sources and browsing behaviors. Marketers can also use platforms that streamline and help manage the complicated web of channels and activities using automated marketing software such as Hubspot or Eloqua.

Design thinking marketers will use these tools to check results, discover what worked, and test future activities against lessons learned.

And thus, the cycle begins anew. Each marketing discovery leads to a higher degree of sophistication in message, method, tone and process, an evolution that allows ideas to be born, tested, and adjusted to achieve the ever-changing and evolving prospect pain points, business goals and objectives.

Breadcrumbs

What Hansel & Gretel teaches content marketers

Content marketers can learn from Hansel and Gretel. Finding your way home is where it’s at.

From breadcrumbs to business

Done well in content marketing, leaving a trail of tasty tidbits turns strangers into readers into prospects and, ultimately, into customers. Readers consume each breadcrumb and make a decision. Will they look for the next?

Each crumb consumed edges them closer to your blog or your lead magnet (such as an ebook or white paper) or to sign up for your mailing list or your website or whatever you determined as your call to action.

It’s called inbound marketing by some, permission marketing by others, and content marketing by others still. Content marketing can be disconcerting to those still steeped in methods of traditional interruption marketing.

What is was interruption marketing?

Interruption marketing was known for interrupting. Think about watching Kevin make a move on Winnie on The Wonder Years — instead of a steady slide toward gratification, Crest interrupts to tell you your teeth are dingy.

Interruption marketing still has its place, but technology changed the way prospects can, and therefore want, to access solutions to their problems.

In the old days, consumers waited for information to be served to them. That was the choice. It was all they could do.

Today, consumers rent Netflix, opt out of Facebook ads and pay subscription fees for mobile apps to avoid advertisements.

They Google it when they have a problem.

Your job is to be there with your breadcrumbs when they do.

1

People don’t know they have a problem until they do. But when they do, they embark on a fact-finding mission.

90 minute PD for Common Core search resultsFor instance, google 90 minute PD workshops for Common Core instruction and breeze through the first page of results. You’ll discover questions, strategies, and theories. Notice that none match the query precisely, but many pose intriguing lead-ins that might be relevant.

The first result that looks more like a product than news is PD in Common Core Literacy Based-Instruction at maxteaching.com. Discovering this site had less to do with the search terms as it did with Max Teaching’s use of key words — Common Core, PD, instruction — optimized through the headline, the meta tags, and in the content in article itself. They know what principals need and made sure they were findable by using SEO best practices. They earned a visitor.

2

Once a searcher finds a site, it takes 50 milliseconds — that’s 0.05 seconds — to determine whether they’ll stick around. Website Magazine cites load speed, design, interesting content, and an active blog as reasons visitors leave in a hot second.

Hire a web development team to ensure your graphics are up-to-date and mobile responsive. 80% of internet users use smartphones and nearly 50% use tablets to search the internet. Make sure your site translates to mobile and then, address the content.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 9.10.14 AMMax Teaching’s click-through page gets right to building thought leadership. They outline a Common Core implementation problem, offer industry thoughts, and then guide a reader into their company’s solution philosophy before asking readers to Click to find out why Max Teaching is a good solution. Though the article is a tad wordy and site’s design is outdated, they’ve done the work of giving visitors another breadcrumb —they clearly know something about the original search problem and invite visitors to come inside.

3

Unfortunately, Max Teaching’s example falls apart on their click-thru call to action that leads to a pdf article. Chances are good their guests will exit here as there is no obvious breadcrumb to taste next and, though the promise of discovering Max Teaching’s solution might be buried in the content somewhere, it’s way too overwhelming — too much work for time-pressed principals.

In this example from C2 Collaborative, readers followed much the same journey — finding this blog post through a content marketing strategy of optimizing keywords and social media posts.

C2 science blog

The article offers four points of value before mentioning they have a tool to help readers do what they just read about. It’s a subtle mention that pulls readers toward their solution in the form of a landing page that offers specific product information as well as an opportunity to subscribe to an email list.

4

Once on the email list, readers will continue to read as long as you provide continued valuable content. Through analytics, you can learn a lot about your readers, apply lead scores, and determine the appropriate amount of interaction required before passing their information to a sales team.

Here, they’ve followed the breadcrumbs to your yard. It’s up to you bring Hansel and Gretel home.

5

Content marketing has done its job. Nurture your readers and support the sales team with sales collateral to support the mission and the message. Not everyone will convert to customers, but done well, good content marketing builds a reputation, encourages referrals, and stands the test of time in establishing an organization as a relevant, viable player.

Source: yoshiaka/Stock.xchng

Grammar Peeves and Word Stumps

I call myself a professional word wrestler but every now and again, even I grapple with words and phrases that best me–or at least send me running to the coaches for my next move.

For some Friday fun, let’s look at a few Class A confusers and one highly annoying turn-of-phrase.

First, test yourself on these commonly misused words:

  1. Faint or feint? As in, “This job is not for the faint of heart” or “This job is not for the feint of heart.”
  2. Deep-seeded or deep-seated? As in, “His thirst for revenge is deep-seeded” or “His thirst for revenge is deep-seated.”

The first example was from a piece I wrote and the second, from a fellow writer, Kate Barker of Tea4Kate, who consulted our equally confused writers group.

Answers:

1. Faint of heart. Paul Brians Common Errors in English Usage says this:

A feint, whether in chess or on the battlefield, is a maneuver designed to divert the opponent’s attention from the real center of attack. A feint is a daring move. Do not use this very specialized word in the expression “faint of heart” (or “faint at heart”), which implies timidity.

2. Deep-seated. This term was not so clear, even among writers. Both make sense but as Brians points out, “Tennis players may be seeded, but not feelings.”

Those who pine for the oral cultures of Ye Olden Dayes can rejoice as we enter an era where many people are unfamiliar with common expressions in print and know them only by hearsay.* The result is mistakes like “deep seeded.” The expression has nothing to do with a feeling being planted deep within one, but instead refers to its being seated firmly within one’s breast: “My aversion to anchovies is deep-seated.” Compounding their error, most people who misuse this phrase leave the hyphen out. Tennis players may be seeded, but not feelings.

And now, the Grammar Peeve:

“I am a character who…”

“For an individual such as myself…”

Ugh. Speak in first person already! Own your thoughts and words. Diluting your “I” statements with third person qualifiers is unnecessary and lessens impact. Ironically, it was a burly, mixed martial arts fighter who made these statements about his fighting prowess. Perhaps he was busier fighting than doing his grammar homework while in school. Still, it would serve him better to say:

“I am…,” and

“For me, …”

Simple and to the point. Confident in thought.

Happy Friday!

Common Core for Business

Why Businesses Need to Know About the Common Core State Standards

When you were in high school, did you ever ask your Algebra II teacher, “What has this got to do with anything?” or your history teacher, “Why do I need to know the date of the Battle of Antietam?”

Kids of today’s generation have even more reason to wonder at the necessity of knowing dates and math minutiae. They’ve got Google. Who needs to know it when they can look it up?

When you produced your first case study or annual report, did you fall back to senior year Lit class to structure your report? Did understanding Catcher in the Rye help?

Was high school a complete waste of time?

Most wouldn’t go so far as to denigrate every lesson in every class. But many will question the worth of what they felt forced to learn.

As an employer, have you ever shaken your head after a wayward interview with a teenager and wondered, “What, exactly, are they teaching kids these days?” If a kid can’t ask a relevant question about a prospective job, what confidence have you that he’ll understand how to DO the job?

It’s been a chronic divide. Schools teach what educators believe kids should learn, based on years of research and empirical data, yet the connections between their education and real world relevance seems stretchy at best.

Good news. Educators are addressing this relevance issue.

Forty-five states are preparing to implement what is known as the Common Core State Standards. Along with consistency across states and global competitiveness, is the stalwart principle of producing students who are college-ready and workforce-relevant.

In a policy blueprint for the US Department of Education, President Barack Obama is quoted as saying:

We must ensure that every student graduates from high school well prepared for college and a career.

Why should businesses care about Common Core State Standards?

You should care because now is your chance to help connect the dots.

The obvious question on the table, from a business perspective, is how on earth schools think they’ll adjust to market needs when they aren’t in the market?

Educators might agree. And businesses might be surprised to learn that teachers really aren’t all about wasting kids’ time with meaningless babble. Besides the frustrations of adopting yet another curriculum methodology, most educators find pride in a finely finished and capable student.

The standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach.

~from Common Core State Standards FAQs

 So how can businesses have a voice in Common Core State Standards?

While you might not have a voice that’s written into your state’s standards, you can have an impact in promoting career readiness, if you are willing. For example:

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce recognized that “today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce” and have made improvement of public education its number-one priority. The chamber works to engage the community at large in public education and create opportunities for business leaders to participate.

Their Education 2020 program initiative includes a speaker series focused on engaging the community around important education issues, while another brings live examples across a wide array of industries into classrooms.

Imagine how engaged your high school self would have been if a project coordinator or a marketing director or a digital designer came to your classroom and told you how they ended up where they did. You would have understood how art history or persuasive writing or spatial math could actually apply to your future.

It might be interesting to note the Nashville’s Chamber’s purpose and brand statement: We facilitate community leadership to create economic prosperity.

While their Chamber affords networking opportunities to nurture existing businesses, they are keeping an eye toward their community’s future and actively pursuing initiatives that will create the prosperity they seek. The education initiative is tucked between entrepreneurial support, young professional and workforce development as well as health care and a community music council.

What is your Chamber (or business group) doing to enhance and promote K12 education your community’s emerging workforce? Have you invited educators to your meetings? Given them the floor to explain how they envision incorporating area businesses? What would be their perfect world?

Someone needs to take the lead, create the openings and conversation.

The timing couldn’t be better.

How about you? What have you or your community done to connect the business and educational communities? I’d love to hear your success stories. Please comment below or email me and let me know.

Image courtesy of bplanet/ freedigitalphotos.net

The Common Core Standards will fail to feed our workforce unless…

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.

~ from Common Core State Standards Initiative

Finally, educational standards that make sense for the real-world.

But the way I see it, there’s one huge gap in the conversation. Business people.

In its development, the common core committee consulted national organizations representing teachers, postsecondary educators, civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Where were the business leaders? Who decided what skills will be relevant for work expectations?

Will educators be retooling schools, curriculums and systems while chasing a ghost of a theory? Or can the business community and educators finally find commonality in purpose?

Red tape and fast action don’t live together

As it stands today, the two camps speak different languages and operate within opposing world systems. Businesses, by nature, must be responsive to market shifts. Those who dally, die. Schools, by nature, respond slower, by committee. Case in point, Common Core Standards were adopted in 2010 and are only just now being implemented by some states.

Businesses operate privately, albeit corporations answer to boards of directors and shareholders. Owners and CEOs usually have the authority to innovate and move on opportunity with little bureaucracy beyond industry regulation and tax laws. Educators, on the other hand, are highly regulated. Innovators face skepticism and doubt.

Businesses hate red tape. Educators don’t operate without it.

Businesses profit or die. Schools fail and live.

Businesses have a hard time understanding educational constraints. And operating from a subsidized system, educators don’t live the cost of risk and innovation (unless education is a second career).

With such distance between systems, how can we think the Common Core will succeed in making education relevant to the real world when the two camps are like blind men and the elephant? While each owns a reality, the reality of the pieces resembles nothing of the whole.

As a parent, as an education writer, and as the partner of a serial small business entrepreneur, I’m very much interested in seeing this Common Core succeed. It makes so much sense.

So how do we find the conduit, the vital connection, that will make this work? Who will start the conversation? Who will tell schools how to approach and win business’ support? Who will show businesses where and how they will be welcome within the system?

If nothing else, with this blog I hope to scour, enlighten, question and build a bridge–at least the beginnings of one. Check back as I add my journalistic skill, insatiable curiosity and entrepreneurial experiences to the void.

This could be the start of something beautiful.

 

Shuck status quo and go big.

2012/13Goodbye 2012. You’ve been fair.

You’ve given me fair results for what I sowed.

You didn’t surprise me with high-highs or low-lows.

You ended as you began, slightly better but no worse.

You didn’t suck, but you didn’t delight, either.

As I look back on the year, I feel mildly successful we slid sideways. After a four year recession and subsequent financial bloodletting, I can appreciate status quo victories. Sideways isn’t backwards.

Still.

Is that enough?

I’ve been happy to get work and build my writing business. Thrilled to explore industries and establish relationships with editors and marketing managers. Satisfied to call what I earned an income.

But as the year ends and I look forward into 2013, I find I’m less satisfied. I’ve been living safe, working and asking for just enough.

I’m not a fan of hype touting abundant living and shoot-for-the-moon thinking. Barnes and Nobles has entire sections devoted to bigger living and, honestly, I’m repelled by the gusts of hot air emanating from these aisles.

Yet here I am, pondering abundance and how I might achieve it.

It’s very simple, really. I don’t need a book to tell me what I need to do. (And neither do you.)

I need to believe that more is possible.

And I need to believe I am capable of more.

Then, I need to live and work like I believe.

So for 2013, I’ll be working to expand my expectations. To shuck status quo and accept a little more than what seems fair. I’ll battle my own worst enemy–me.

Stay tuned and see how it goes. Will you join me in this simple resolution?

 

Carrie at Platina

5 things cycling taught me about writing

By the end of 2012, I will have logged 2,700 miles and climbed over 150,000 feet on my Focus Donna road bicycle. Had you told me at the beginning of the year that I would ride this much as well as set area records and finish four metric centuries and one full century (100 miles), I would have raised an eyebrow.

In the 180 hours I’ve spent on the bike this year, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect about life and how certain things are true across disciplines. Riding and writing share similarities. Among them:

1. It hurts at first. After a long sedentary winter, riding isn’t fun. Every hill looks like a mountain and every ride exhausts me. Taking long breaks from writing is much the same. Putting pen to paper after an absence asks untoned muscles and sleepy imaginations to come to. It always hurts to start but, with consistency, it hurts less and less. Somewhere in the middle of the season, I found myself looking forward to longer and more challenging rides.
2. Tough climbs are unrelenting but there is always a summit. Best to put your head down, find a pace and keep pedaling. Unlike rainbows, there is an end to every climb. The same goes for those huge and overwhelming projects. Break ’em up, pace yourself and just keep at it.
3. It’s better to share the journey. Until this year, I rode mostly with my husband (who is very fast) and a few gals, who neither pushed me nor committed themselves to riding regularly. Once I found a community of riders who were fun to be with, showed up and challenged me, I was far less likely to miss rides. I knew that every skipped ride meant the next one would be harder because all of them were now that much stronger. I didn’t want to get left behind. Writing partners keep us accountable, challenge our work and offer understanding and empathy when the job gets tough.
4. New joys await for those who persist. My favorite ride of the year was a 55 mile ride to Platina via a back road frequented by motorcycles. It’s winding and has one very nasty uphill climb. But once I conquered that climb–Oh my. The autumn view from the bluffs where we emerged was spectacular. It made me so grateful for the year of training that allowed me to experience the euphoria of doing and seeing something few others experience. Staying with our stories, working through rough, rough drafts and wrestling words until we find our voice will pay off. The view from above, if we stay with it, is unmatched.
5. It renews the mind. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: exercise improves brain function. This year I found this to be especially true. Not only did the riding spur my imaginings but it empowered me. Knowing I am capable of riding a difficult 100 miles and having done it gives me strength and confidence that extends to all areas of my life, including my writing.

I should add a sixth point: don’t stop. After working so hard to get where I am, I’m slightly paranoid to lose my fitness. My riding buddies and me invested in hardy winter gear and committed to stay with it despite the cold. We all go through seasons and writing is no different. As you head into your writing winters, don’t stop completely. Give yourself permission to ease up on your production expectations but keep tapping those keys or you’ll be starting all over again come spring. Better to keep the momentum.

How about you? What have you learned from your hobbies and accomplishments? How do they relate to what you do for a living?

Deep water

Kill Cliches and Go Deeper: 4 Questions to Improve Your Copy

In 2012, I wrote everything from restaurant news to educational curriculum to blast engineering website copy, but as the year closes, I am reminded how the writing process can be both as painful as a bloodletting and as satisfying as placing the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle as I wrote, massaged and sweated over three essay pieces I submitted to our local newspaper’s call for columnists.

Marketing copywriting is straightforward. Punchy verbs, short, synthesized ideas and calls to action drive landing pages, direct mail letters and website content.

Publication writing requires objective alliteration, service points and a friendly, readable voice.

An opinion column must employ all of these with the additional offer of a jugular vein. Inherent to editorials are reader responses, agreeable or scathingly otherwise. Short of writing a memoir, I can’t think of a more exposed stage on which to be vulnerable.

It’s frightening.

My tendency, of course, is to draw upon copywriting and publication work protocol, arranging words and arguments but daring to add but a dab of my own big toe.

In these moments, my inner editor comes down especially hard. He challenges me to up the process, asks me to be better, or as someone once told Matt Damon, “don’t suck.”

It is no accident that the letters on my delete key are nearly worn away. I became intimately familiar with it as I waded through cliche sludge and circled ever deeper into my soul as I was forced to submit my writing to these  questions:

  1. Are you saying what you think they expect you to say? Too often, the answer was yes. First drafts are notorious for skimming surfaces and putting too much stock in what we think our audience wants. Antiseptic arguments and underbaked opinions make for dry, tell-me-something-I-don’t-know  reading. Who wants to waste time on that? Jeff Goins, a writer I admire, says readers “can tell when you’re being disingenuous. It feels too clean, too literal. Our souls thirst for more.” He challenges writers to write things that ache, that readers won’t agree with, that points to a broken world but tries to make sense of it. In other words, write with the truth we find within ourselves.
  2. Are you showing or telling? Showing writing incites imagination, adds texture and touches readers’ five senses. I could say I had a good Christmas morning or write about the aroma of fresh coffee and cocoa or how it felt when my three fully-grown children hopped on my bed and sat cross-legged with their Christmas morning stockings, wiggling with anticipation as they nudged my husband awake. Showing a story moves dreary to dynamic.
  3. What is really the big question or conflict? For one of the pieces, I wrote in circles about the homeless problem in Redding. Part fear and part unsifted processing kept me from making a point. It took 3,000 deleted words before I landed on the big question. Without conflict or conclusion, writing is rambling. But it takes guts to stay with a piece long enough to find out what it is you really want to say.
  4. Where are you in the piece? By far, this was the hardest for me. I had to first give myself permission to show up in my work and then be brave enough to be there.

It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll fill the columnist position but one thing is for sure, preparing for the audition forced me to hone my craft in a new direction and reminded me I can apply all of these to the rest of my work, too.

How about you? How are you stretching your craft? What can you do to take what you do in a new direction? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to share your journey.