The Mad Libs Guide to (Adjective), (Adjective), (Action) Blog Posts

Do you ever catch yourself perusing your Twitter, rss, or email feed, with a sneaky suspicion that all these posts sound eerily similar? The content usually differs (though not always), but the basic layout, flow, and hooks all fit into a neat framework?

That’s because they do.

Why this Framework Exists

Now, before you feel like you’ve been played, there’s a good reason for the structure and framework many of the best posts share. As content creators in an age of information parity, we strive to balance getting the point (or product) across, while benefiting the reader and helping the idea stick in your mind. This framework is driven by a substantial amount of research and testing, so the baseline can be set for overall length, readability, media choices, and stickiness. Sometimes I’m reminded of Mad Libs, plugging in adjectives, nouns, actions, and studies to create a killer blog post. Many people may see this as a shortcut, but I don’t. I see it as a way to create order out of chaos.

HelpScout, Buffer, CopyBlogger, HubSpot all immediately jump to mind, and for good reason. They’ve mastered the art of content marketing as a tool to educate users and connect with customers. You don’t even really feel like a customer, but a part of the greater tribe, and happily refer your friends and clients to them.

In a connection economy, driven by stories and research studies, most customers will not tolerate being interrupted. But they will develop incredible brand loyalty to the companies that commit to helping them them solve problems and overcome challenges. Hopefully, this is the type of company you desire to be. Helpful, informative, and profitable.

Using the Guide Mindset

How can you do this with your company? Great question. I want to share the framework I’ve been using to write posts and case studies, and they’ve resulted in articles that have been shared thousands of times. Before we begin, you have to place yourself in the mindset of a guide, not a hero. When people feel like they are a part of greater story, solving problems and overcoming challenges in their lives, they are the hero. You are the guide, and present a plan of action for the hero to follow.

Think like a guide, not a hero.

Step 1: The Headline

Types: How-To, Numbered List, Research Study, Intrigue (Answer a Question, Cite a Study, Solve a Problem)

Why this Matters

Headlines are the most important part of any article, because they must draw in the reader. Especially in the context of a startup company like Buffer or HelpScout, quality headlines can make or or break your content marketing goals. At the beginning, we haven’t built the readership of large sites or online magazines.

Whether the first glance is seen on social media, rss feeds, or emails, a good headline is the difference between your article and the next one. The types I’ve listed above help clarify the problem or challenge, and present a plan of action for moving forward.

Master Level Resources

Step 2: Presenting the Problem or Challenge

Here at (company name), we’re always working hard to (adjective-action). Since the nature of (problem or challenge) is increasingly complex, we dove into (research, case study, experiments) so we could share the best way to (plan of action).

Why this Matters

Clarity is king. Attention spans continue to decrease while the amount of information increases, meaning if you haven’t made the challenge clear in the opening paragraph and headline, your readers are leaving. In order to clarify the challenge, you must be in tune with your readers, know the pains and problems they are experiencing, and be ready to offer a plan of action.

Master Level Resources

Step 3: The Plan of Action – Using F.R.E.E. Structures

Breaking down a post to several small plans of action is helpful for readers. It helps contextualize the problem and make the solution attainable. Use sub-headlines to break up your sections and provide clear reference points for the plan of action. I’ve come up with a structure that helps create helpful sections for readers, almost like creating several “mini-posts” within the larger article. Using this structure, the reader could leave the page at any time, and still have something helpful and actionable to move forward with. Here is the structure:

Frame the challenge in a smaller context
Reference or research study
Engage other senses through images
End by giving the reader a small step they can take today

Why this Matters

This step is where your skill as a guide really comes in to play. Remember this story is not about you, but the ways you can guide the reader towards a proper plan of action. The F.R.E.E. structure simply helps organize the sub-section into memorable and digestible format that sticks with the reader, regardless of where they stop reading. You can repeat this structure for each section until you’re ready to tie everything together.

Master Level Resources

Step 4: Involve the Community

After you’ve presented the problem and given a clear plan of action, the next step is up to the reader. We’re not in control of their lives and cannot take action for them! However, there is a way we can help each other stay accountable and move forward, and it’s deeply ingrained in our anthropology. Community.

Why this Matters

As humans, we need to be supported by each other. We were made for connection and support, so it’s vital we have the structure in place to encourage people to connect! This could be through comments, forums, specific hashtags, Facebook groups, or local meet ups. HelpScout does this in a subtle yet important box at the end of their posts, asking the readers to respond to just one question. Be very clear with the reader in ways they can connect with each other and share their struggles and successes in facing the challenge.

Master Level Resources

This plug-and-publish method isn’t permission to avoid the hard work of research, formatting, and great writing. What it does help with is creating order and stickiness out of the chaos inherent in content. To help illustrate the ideas even better, here’s a handy sketch-o-graphic you can download to help remember!

Your Turn

As a content creator, what do you focus on the most? As a reader, what helps you digest and retain information best?

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

MadLibs_Blog

How to Effectively Use Storytelling in your Work and Life

I recently had the honor of presenting on storytelling at Podcamp Nashville, and I’m so grateful to everyone who came out to the event. Speaking is always a good challenge and learning experience for me, and this session was no different. It was my first run on this slide deck and structure, I’ve talked about story before, but wanted to give this talk more structure, action, and examples. Overall, I was very pleased with the result and the feedback was great, but I know there was plenty I could work on. Enjoy all the resources and let me know if I can help with anything!

Video of the Presentation

Audio of the Presentation

Download the audio: How to Effectively Use Storytelling in Your Life and Work

Slide Deck

Story Structure of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Chipotle uses storytelling in their Back to the Start ad

Resources used

Sketchnote Saturday: How to Effectively A/B Test

The deeper you go in to online marketing, especially through social and email channels, you start to hear about split testing and A/B testing. Both describe essentially the same process, which in a nutshell is testing which method is better, usually through headlines. But it can also involve the colors of your site, the placement of copy and images, or the type of email opt-in you choose.

Basically, you can A/B test anything.

The friendly folks at Buffer noticed this was an issue for people online, and took it upon themselves to clarify the process and give several case studies of how they A/B test at Buffer. Kevan Lee includes examples from tweeting headlines, the Hello bar, post scheduling, and more. I thought it was a great post and wanted to give it the sketchnote treatment. Enjoy!

buffer blog ab test

Sketchnote Saturday: The Ideal Length of Everything Online

Sketchnote Saturday is something I do a couple of times each month, looking through the articles, podcasts, and videos online that are inspiring and informative. Last time, I sketched out Ray Tirado’s 7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life.

This week, we dive in to a very informative post by my friends at Buffer, The Ideal Length for Everything Online, Backed by Research. Anyone who is creating and sharing information in the digital world will benefit from this post, and I wanted to distill it down even further to a quick sketch-o-graph you can glance at. Enjoy!

original

 

Get Focused in 2014

Earlier this month, I read Steve Jobs, the autobiography of the great innovator and tech giant. Throughout the book, a central message was evident in Jobs’ life, and seemed to be the overarching theme of his work at Apple.

Focus

The ability to focus on what truly matters to the product and the user is a difficult task. Adding on features, colors, and copy can distract from what truly makes a product or service unique and special.

In Jobs’ final weeks, he invited Google CEO Eric Schmidt to his home to give advice on how to be the type of CEO who built a lasting company. Here’s what Jobs stressed to Schmidt:

“Focus. Figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Right now you’re all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down.”

My biggest resolution in the coming new year is to get focused in 2014. Now for the past several months, focus has been my mantra, if not my everyday practice. Jobs’ insistence that simplicity is not easy has never been more obvious. Picking and honing your focus is a strenuous and difficult task. Focusing means you say no to many different opportunities, because they don’t fit. Focus means cutting away the clutter in your work and life so you can see the few things which really matter.

Focusing is difficult because of the fear of missing out, thinking I need to be ready for the next big thing to present itself. But what I’m missing out on is the opportunity to continually go deeper in the task I’m focusing on. This short story symbolizes the lesson well.

————

Two men, Jack and John, own adjoining fields during the gold rush. Jack picks a spot where he sees little gold flakes, and begins to dig. John does the same, and they spend the day digging. The next morning, Jack returns to the same hole and continues to dig. As John is walking to his hole, he sees a glint of gold a few yards away. He immediately runs over and spends the day digging this new hole. The same routine continues for several months.

One day, far below the earth, Jack’s shovel strikes something hard. He digs a little deeper to find a vein of gold running through his land. His persistence has paid off! John hears of his friend’s good fortune, and can’t help but look at his own field, marked with countless holes about as deep as he is tall. Which man are you?

————

A common argument against topical focus is that there are so many mediums in which to tell your story and put your stake in the ground. Think of the problem this way though: the main topic or mission of your company doesn’t change, but how you tell the story and share the mission can. Google spent a lot of time refining their search engine before branching off in to mail, docs, and more. Apple began with computers, spending the first 17 years as a company just building computers and software. Then of course came the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad.

Your missional focus doesn’t change, you simply pivot on how you’re telling the message, based on what the numbers and the market are telling you. Here’s another example: Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is all about teaching people passive income strategies to help make money on the side (or full-time). Pat shares his message through a blog, podcast, and YouTube videos. You see? Why Pat does something doesn’t change, but how he shares it might be different.

Jiro Ono, the famed Sushi chef, has this to say about picking your craft , and not being led by fear:

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

As we all move in to 2014, my hope for all of us is to have the courage to say no to a few things, so we can say yes to what truly matters, and will allow us to make a long-term impact on our family, community, and work.

Happy New Year!

What are you focusing on in your life? Are you ruled by the fear of missing out, or choosing the “wrong” focus? If you’ve kept your focus for several months or years, what are some ways you hone your focus and block out distractions? We’d love to hear in the comments.

Using Content Marketing to Overcome Customer Objections

Content Marketing and Customer Objections
Content marketing is a great way to use your skills and knowledge to help customers overcome their objections to your product or service. Potential customers and clients naturally have their radar up to try and sift through your message and learn what’s really important. Get that? Your customers want to learn.

You’re going to teach them

I have a great quote taped to my desk:

Amateurs complain, professionals educate.

As professionals, we have a responsibility now to educate our customers on best practices, industry secrets, and more. We’re able to tell the story of why we are in business, how we work, and what our work looks like on a daily basis. The opportunity to show and tell offers a definitive market advantage. You’re able to connect with them in a way that was unthinkable ten years ago.

Content Marketing helps you accomplish this

Take a summer camp for example. Their sales goal is to get campers and new families to register for a session. Some of their objections may be:

What if he’s homesick?

What activities will they do?

How will camp help them grow?

These are all great questions, and unfortunately they wouldn’t all be voiced in an information setting. Your website plays a big role in answering these questions, especially in a single-answer setting e.g. “your son would play these games”. A video would be fantastic, because families are able to see what the games are, and what the environment is like. Social media is a good opportunity to post pictures or gauge feedback through polls.

Blogs are the engine of content marketing, because a blog is where you build your established authority. Going back to the camp example, while I could answer questions and overcome objections to some questions through static content, a consistent voice on child development and growth is key. Here are five examples of posts a summer camp could use:

  1. How Rites of Passage Jump-Start Your Child’s Development
  2. The 3 Most Important Interview Questions We Ask Our Staff
  3. Our Unique Twist on Staff Training
  4. What We Talk About When We Talk About Camp
  5. The 7 Critical Character Traits of Growing Children

In each post, you’re overcoming a specific obstacle or question a parent may have. The first and fifth posts are best, because you’re helping them solve a problem that’s not necessarily related to your camp (though it is). These posts provide content that any parent would want to know, and they are more likely to share it with friends.

Real life example: HelpScout

HelpScout is a customer service and support software for businesses. They provide an incredible product with great support that has tangible benefits for their clients. HelpScout also produces the web’s best customer service content, and it converts like crazy. Here are a couple examples of their posts:

Recognize the beauty of content marketing. These articles are crammed with value for any business owner or manager. Creating loyal customers? Heck yeah I want to know more! Getting more customers? You know it!

HelpScout has built an email list of 30,000 in just one year. Customer service isn’t an underserved niche either, they have plenty of competition. But through being generous with their expertise, they have built a loyal following. Not all of their readers are paying customers, including me. Whenever I need to use customer service software though, HelpScout will be the first place I click.

Establishing Authority

I want to be clear that content marketing may or may not drive direct traffic and registrations to your business. What it does accomplish is to place your business in the customer’s mind as an authority in the subject. When they are wondering about a question related to your topic, and need an answer, where do you think they will look? You. In HelpScout’s case, thousands of their readers have no intention of using their service. But by creating valuable, shareable content, they are extending their reach and building their influence every day.

People will realize that you have the customer’s best interest at heart, and are willing to share information regardless of immediate sale. Indirectly, this promotes brand loyalty precisely because of the inherent truth that you must care about the well-being of the customer or client. If you don’t, content marketing isn’t for you. Content marketing is about storytelling, transparency, and customer care.

People gather as much information as they can before making a decision. You should be the one giving it to them.

photo credit Eric R

Why Small Businesses are the New Farming Class

The United States actually began as a society of small businesses, we just don’t think of early agriculture that way. During colonial times, nearly 90% of Americans made their living through farming and ranching. While most farms were used to provide for the family and community, regional shipping was common as farms became modernized.

But for the most part, large corporations didn’t exist, and each community was built around farmers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers. Almost everyone had their own small business which played a vital part in the community.

small businesses farmers

creative commons from upyernoz

Ok, great, why does this matter today? Because I’m going to argue that there is a new kind of farmer in America, the local small business owners. Yes, of course small businesses have been around since the founding of America. But in the last 30 years, we are finally coming back around to small businesses making a big impact on the national economy.

The Growth of Small Businesses

Since 1982, small businesses have grown by 49%, and now provide over half of the total American jobs. In fact, since 1990, large corporations have eliminated four million jobs, small business start-ups and hires have added eight million jobs!

Large businesses certainly make products cheaper to build, and consequently cheaper to buy. But we’ve lost something in the process, and sold off a little of our independence in order to save a few bucks. When I see local small business owners, I realize it’s possible to serve a niche in our own community. Instead of looking for the next big corporate job, people are looking for ways to use their unique skills to serve the local community.

Life used to be like this, and you can see the proof in the last names. Baker, Smith, Potter, Weaver, and more. They each had a unique skill which served the community in a special way. They didn’t worry about running out of work, because they served a need. The need for an apprentice has also gone by the wayside, which is a shame. Young people learned valuable lessons from men and women in their community who weren’t their parents, while gaining knowledge at work they may do in the future.

Global Scale for Local Small Businesses

The internet and global economy has now allowed even local small businesses to make sales and reach an audience around the world! We can have the freedom to put the future in our own hands, and not in the hands of the top floor executive.

We’ve seen throughout the decades an emphasis on buying American goods, and recently a focus on buying regional and local goods. Small and mid-size cities who don’t have big business to bring in jobs are even more fanatical about the local movement. Think about the different small businesses in your town that serve a niche. Restaurants, breweries, craftsmen, artists, musicians, designers, retail shops – they’re everywhere!

I’m in the midst of a life, job, and city transition myself, and I just catch myself wondering…

“Do I really want to jump immediately in to the next 50 hour a week job?”

My hesitation is not a result of being lazy, I really enjoy work and contribution. But I do think about what I want my next big block of work to be, and like many small business owners, it want it to be something where I have a big say in how I work.

Another reason is that while a traditional job does offer certain benefits and levels of security, actual job security is not what it used to be! People are laid off with regularity, for various reasons. In some very important ways, running your own small business is actually more secure than your old job!

As a small business owner, you control your destiny in many critical ways. Your success or failures depend a lot on your work ethic and drive. Many people end up asking,

“Can I bet on myself?”

If the answer is yes, then go for it! Remember that America was founded on the strength and numbers of local small businesses and farmers. Here’s hoping we go back to it soon.

Why Long Lists are Egotistical – and The Five Best Business Books I’ve Ever Read

Let’s say you’re visiting a new city, and you love eating at local restaurants. A friend has been to this city, and also enjoys scoping out local eats. So of course, you ask him what he recommends, and long lists usually follow.

“You’ve got to eat at Sunny Pointe Cafe for breakfast, and then 12 Bones BBQ for a late lunch. If you’re even hungry for dinner, go to White Duck for tacos.”

Me: “Great, thanks dude!”

“You should also go to Doc Chey’s, Wicked Weed, Louise’s, and Thirsty Monk!”

Me: “Umm, ok, may not be able to fit all of those in.”

“Don’t forget Bouchon, Mela, Tupelo Honey, and Early Girl!”

Me: “You know I’m only going for the weekend right?”

“Also stop by Rosetta’s Kitchen, Universal Joint, Over Easy, then Jerusalem Garden! They have belly dancers there!”

Me: “Ok great you can stop now.” 

Long Lists of Things

photo by hey paul

I’ve been on both sides of this conversation, and I’ve realized that dumping a long list of options on the listener is just plain egotistical. Going overboard with long lists is basically a way for me to show off how much I know about a topic, while burdening someone with a wave of options that can’t possibly be fulfilled. I committed this error by flooding poor Pat Flynn with about 20 suggestions of things he should do during his time in Nashville.

Honestly, people function better with restraints than unlimited options.

The conversation should go more like this…

“You’ve got to eat at Sunny Pointe Cafe for breakfast, and then 12 Bones BBQ for a late lunch. If you’re even hungry for dinner, go to White Duck for tacos. This is a beer city, so you can also go by The Thirsty Monk for a beer. Don’t hesitate to call if you need any more spots.”

“Great, thanks dude!”

Done.

What have I done there? I’ve been clear about 3-4 options I know my friend will enjoy. Maybe he won’t make them all, but he has a clear, memorable list in his head. In fact, most people can really only recall about 7 pieces of information at a time, give or take two, says George Miller.

Miller’s landmark cognitive psychology paper on the subject of short-term memory capacity states that we struggle to take in much more than even 5 poly-syllabic words at a time! The 4 suggestions I offered in the concise conversation still involved 10 words and 15 syllables, so really even it’s on the threshold of memory capacity. Joshua Foer, in his book Moonwalking with Einstein, dives in to the research behind they way memory works in our brains, showing how short-term accessible memory functions on a daily basis.

Foer’s book and Miller’s research clearly show we need to keep our advice clear and concise, giving the listener the effective dose they need, not burying them with information.

My point is not to dumb down our lists or limit the access of knowledge, but I am personally not in favor of blog posts listing “100 Blogs You Need to Read Today.” Mercy, I don’t have time to read 5 blogs most days, much less 100! I’d rather have a trusted friend or writer recommend 4-5 she adores and gets a lot of inspiration or advice from. Honestly, I think many long lists are SEO plays, hoping that someone you’ve recommended will link back to you, increase your Google ranking, and hooray! - everyone is happy.

Where I do believe longer lists are helpful is in the context of skillfully curating the content into smaller categories, for instance here I’m talking about business books. A list of all the books or blogs I recommend would be longer, but in small subsets of 3-5 items each.

I also don’t believe in producing long lists because it’s a form of stalling. Reading great work and having a deep well of inspiration are both helpful. But too often we hoard information, feeling we must consume every scrap of content before we can start producing. Untrue. Start producing today. Click to tweet that.

With that in mind, here are 5 business books I think are incredible. I’ve received both inspiration and practical advice from each book, and have seen the writers succeed across a wide range of fields. These guys have the knowledge and the experience to back up their words. Many of the books I have read multiple times, and recommended them to everyone who asks, and many who don’t! They’re worth spending a little money on, without a doubt.

Re/Work, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

My favorite business book of all time. Re/Work is written like a series of hyper-specific blog posts, usually only cover 3 pages per chapter. I love that you can pick it up, flip to any page, and get something meaningful which can be applied that day. There are sections of the book covering broader topics, but again they are distilled down in to concise chapters that are memorable and applicable.

My favorites? Emulate Drug Dealers, Underdo the Competition, and Fire the Workaholics. Fried and Hansson not only run a first-class company at 37Signals, but write extremely well. Their blog is a great source of similar content, check it out at 37signals.com/svn.

The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

Wow, this book really changed the way I thought I could start a business. The majority of book covers the steps inherent in starting a lean programming or web-based business, but there is plenty of great content for people looking to start a physical (brick and mortar) business using lean principles. When you read the book, you can’t help but think “This makes total sense! Why haven’t we been doing this all along?”

Following the steps laid out in The Lean Startup will help you build a business, product, or service in less time, because you’re paying close attention to what people actually want and will pay for. Measuring desire for the product allows you to quickly learn what changes you should make, and continue building a company with sustainable growth. Ironically, going through the build-measure-learn feedback loop also allows you to quit (or pivot) sooner, if you realize people aren’t buying what you’re offering.

The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau

My favorite collection of real-life case studies, inspiration, and practical advice. Chris has the personal experience of starting an online consulting and world domination business, and uses that as the groundwork for explaining how you can also start your own small business for less than $100. Ok, so he admits that not every business can be started for $100, but the cost of starting is far lower than it used to be. Some of the strategies Chris uses and recommends also bear resemblance to the lean startup principles, and in Re/Work. Basically, make sure people want to buy what you’re selling, and continue to build from that point.

The book helps you find the convergence of your skills, your passion, and what people are willing to pay for. This convergence is your own personal niche, what you can do that no else can. In today’s world, you can start a business in your convergence niche.

To Sell Is Human, by Daniel Pink

Pink is one of my favorite authors, who seamlessly blends story, research, and action steps in to his books. Pink sets out to prove that being in sales is no longer a profession limited to used-car salesmen and pushy telephone/internet marketers. In fact, we are ALL now in sales, or what Pink terms “non-sales selling.” Are you a teacher that needs to engage students in your lesson plans? You’re in sales. Are you a blogger with a email newsletter? You’re in sales. The premise is that much of what we do is rooted in sales and persuasion, and not in a slimy way, but a way that is focused on the greater good. If you’re not a persuasive teacher or writer, and have a message worth spreading, you better be selling.

Contrary to Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, the ABC’s of selling are no longer Always – Be – Closing. Our information rich society demands we follow the principles of Attunement, Bouyancy, and Clarity. For example, Attunement is “the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook in to harmony with the other people and context you’re in.” Crafting your information and “pitch” to find the common ground between what the individual’s needs are, and what you can offer, creates a better offer for both parties, not just you. In a world where people can find a piece of information or a review with just a few taps on their phone, the onus is on the seller to provide useful, helpful information and products that benefit both parties. Anything less will be skewered on social media within minutes.

There are tons of other great principles and case studies in To Sell is Human, including the continuous walk through San Francisco with the last Fuller Brush salesmen on earth. Pink’s book isn’t worth just reading once, but over and over again.

The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman caught a lot of flack for writing this book, because of this bold and audacious statement.

“Going to business school is NOT worth the time, effort, and money.”

Saying this is easy enough, plenty of self-proclaimed experts will blare opinions that go against the grain, but Josh has put in the time, effort, and research to back up his claim. The good news for us… he’s right. The sheer magnitude of debt alone is enough to scare me off, since most MBA programs cost upwards of six figures to complete. Christian Schraga, a Wharton MBA graduate, estimated the 10 year “net present value” of a top MBA program is still negative $53,000!

The vast majority of MBA programs train graduates for jobs in finance, consulting, and upper-management. Those are all fine pursuits, but many of us have no desire to work in those fields. My business desires are to gain a better understanding of the fundamental practices of a business, implement them at my current job, and possibly start a small business of my own one day. None of those require spending 2 years of my life and $100,000 to accomplish.

Josh has wisely organized the book in to subject matter in to stand-alone sections, so you can begin reading any of them at any time. Want to learn about Finance, including income statements, value capture, and incremental degradation? Go to chapter 5. What about System structure and Gall’s Law? Turn to chapter 9. The Personal MBA has become a go-to manifesto for learning the most important principles in business, and how to merge them with the experience specific to your situation.

Side note: I love Seth Godin’s books, and couldn’t believe I made a list without one of them on it. Seth is described as a marketing and business writer, however as I thought about his books that have made a big impact on me, I realized they made more of an impact on how I lived, taught, and behaved, more than how I simply worked. Linchpin is my favorite Seth book, and will definitely be present in a later list.

In conclusion, I would love to hear what you think about the premise that long lists are egotistical, and what additions or subtractions you would make to the top business books. Engage with me on twitter @mattragland, or leave a comment below. Thanks!

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Why I bought a Chromebook instead of an iPad

is it viable?

Last week, I bought a Samsung Chromebook. My wife and I had reached a point where we needed another device besides the Macbook, which was accelerated by selling off her old HP laptop. Between her new website needs, namely video editing, and learning Excel, for Statistics, it became clear she needed to use the Macbook on a regular basis.

We quickly tossed the idea of getting a new Macbook, simply because the price tag was higher than we wanted to spend right now. A $1000 minimum wasn’t in the cards. Because I’m such an Apple fanboy, I was leaning towards the iPad. But then my Dad bought a Chromebook. Sure, I had heard about them, but hadn’t really considered the possibility. I needed to do more than surf the web, and having a device that limited was what I wanted. Right?

I played around with the system for a night, and came away intrigued. Like many of you, Google knows a lot about me, and the breadth of apps they offer covers a lot of ground in my digital life. GMail, Calendar, Maps, Docs, Wallet, YouTube, Plus, and recently Google Play have all gotten to know me pretty well. Intrigue grew.

But the offline capabilities were the tipping point. After 30 minutes of research, I realized the Chromebook wasn’t useless offline. In fact, you could still use many of the Drive features in offline mode, and they simply sync-up when you connect again. That was good enough for me.

Because I had to ask myself, What did I really need to do?

Well, to be honest, I would be taking the Chromebook when I travel around for Rockmont or personal reasons, and for relatively short periods of time. Large storage drives, file management, and software were not a big deal when I really thought about it. Even listening to music in offline-mode is doable, but I normally just listen on my iPhone any way.

So what did I really need?

  • Connect to the internet
  • Write blog posts and publish them
  • Access email (personal and business)
  • Write drafts of new articles, training materials, etc
  • Access our camper database

I could do all of those things on a Chromebook. In fact, since a lot of typing was involved, the physical keyboard made more sense than the touch screen of the iPad. Certainly, the iPad is MUCH more robust in design, creativity, music, photo/video, and the millions of apps available to customize it to your particular bent.

But, when I’m honest, I don’t necessarily need all that for what the device needs to do for me. As if the internet isn’t distracting enough, the apps would only exacerbate the problem. I need to write, research, and access information. Here are a few other things I liked about the Chromebook.

  • Thin, light design (less than 1″ thick and 2.5 lbs)
  • Under 10 sec boot time
  • 8 hour max battery life (about 6 hours on 70% brightness)
  • Offline apps (would have been a deal-breaker)
  • 16 gb SSD (enough for basic download storage and favorite songs)
  • 100 gb Google Drive space free for 2 years ($5/month after)
  • $250 price tage (base iPad model is $400, $500 w/ retina display)

I’m so conditioned to Apple products that I’m still not 100% sold, but daily I’m becoming more comfortable with the Chromebook. I obviously enjoy typing more on a physical keyboard more than a touch-screen. For as touch crazy as we’ve become in the past 5 years, I wouldn’t say I’m that much better of a touch-screen typist, especially if auto-correct was taken away.

Since we travel a good bit, both for work, personal, and missional reasons, I’m glad to have a portable laptop that gets the job done while not costing a lot. If I’m in Haiti or road-tripping through the West;  then losing, breaking, or having a $250 device stolen is a lot better than a $1,000 Macbook.

Once more about the cost, even though $250 (difference between CB and iPad) is not a big chunk of money, but it’s worth accounting for. $250 can buy me a plane ticket somewhere new, or weekend getaway at the beach. It’s a matter of priorities to say I’d rather travel with that money than buy the latest and the greatest.

I still have about 3 weeks left before my 30 day return window closes, but I’m feeling pretty good about it. Staying committed to simplicity and saving money usually works out in the long run. I would certainly agree with John Saddington when he says that the Chromebook is limited for the full-time, serious blogger. But if you’re starting out, or need something that does the basics really well for an affordable cost, this is a great option.

Does anyone else have a Chromebook? If so, what are your thoughts? If you were thinking about buying one, does this help your decision? Share in the comments.

The Generosity Model

Quick.

Name a low-cost, effective way to grow your readership, connect with other bloggers, and gain the most valuable asset of all – trust.

What did you come up with? Comment down below! Feeling stumped? I’ll tell you my answer …

Be Generous

Give us this day...

photo credit: krislitman, creative commons

That’s right. Give outrageously valuable content away. Help people out and expect nothing in return. If you are open and generous with your time and talent, people will respond, they will tell their friends, and your blog will grow.

Does this model take longer? It may.

Do you make more money? Not in the short-term.

Can you build a high-traffic, profitable blog through generosity? Absolutely.

Don’t just take my word for it though, check out these 11 examples of people creating excellent, world-class content, and giving it away for free.

Tim Ferriss

I recently bought my first Tim Ferriss book, the 4 Hour Chef (if you’re going to buy it, get the hardcover edition, digital doesn’t do it justice). I wasn’t a fan of Tim’s at the beginning, thinking him too narcisstic, self-promotive, and even lazy. C’mon man, 4 hour work weeks? But, the guy does such a good job of being persistent, dealing with haters, and experimenting, that he’s won me over. He gives away awesome content and lessons on his blog, many of which end up making it in to his books. The language lesson below was originally written in 2009, and didn’t make print until this fall in the 4 Hour Chef. Are his tactics and lessons for everyone? No, but he doesn’t care about everyone, which is actually just fine. But I do believe you can find something that will help you on his site, if you take the time to read.

My favorite 4hWW posts

Pat Flynn

Pat runs SmartPassiveIncome.com, is one of the leaders in the Generosity movement, and practices what he preaches. One of the practices that sets Pat apart is he publishes his income reports down to the cent. You may think this is a bit narcissistic, but Pat includes in his blog the methods he uses to make money online! He writes well about different strategies for growing your blog, his how-to videos are incredibly helpful, and the SPI podcast regularly showcases great ideas to help you build and grow your blog or business.

Pat’s top hits

Check out my free workbook, Choose What You Love. A challenging and provoking look at what really matters to you.

Jeff Goins

Jeff runs GoinsWriter.com, a community passionate about writing, creativity, and ideas. Jeff is big proponent of being generous, and has given away almost every great work he’s shipped. Jeff strongly believes that free is your best marketing, and the most effective way to spread your story. He even gave away his book You Are A Writer for free on Amazon, and gained thousands of new readers.

Jeff’s top hits

  • The Writer’s Manifesto e-book (free resource via subscribing to his email list)
  • Intentional Blogging (12 week e-course)

Seth Godin

Seth is arguably the top blogger and business writer in the world, selling books by the millions, and speaking to top-dollar, sold out crowds wherever he goes. He’s a rock star. He also gives away great stuff for free, every day. Seth has posted on his blog every day for years, regularly testing content and ideas that make it in to his books. He’s launched a publishing service that is changing the way books are distributed (including sponsoring a few freebies), and is giving away an audio recording of his Startup School (which was $950 live).

John Saddington

John is more commonly known as the TentBlogger, a clever and biblical nod to the Apostle Paul’s chosen craft of tent making. He is open, honest, and regularly shares great tips and courses on how to make money online, build your audience, streamline your workflow, and more. If you’re in the market for a new blogging theme, John also crafted the popular Standard theme, which is all about simplicity and speed. If I wasn’t already tied to the StudioPress themes (which I still love), I would definitely look hard at Standard.

Michael Hyatt

Michael blogs at MichaelHyatt.com, a blog focused on Intentional Leadership. But he doesn’t stop there, doling out advice on publishing, writing, productivity, speaking, and more. Michael spent his professional career in the book publishing business, including a stint as the CEO of Thomas Nelson, so you know you’re hearing from one of the best. His podcast episode Advice to First-Time Authors (and part 2), is as valuable as sitting across from the CEO of a major publishing firm, which little ol’ me (or you) has no chance of doing right now. Michael bridges that gap and educates the masses, and is available for you on his blog.

Danielle LaPorte

Danielle first made waves with White Hot Truth and The Firestarter Sessions, and has followed up with fresh, engaging, and inspired writing for her community. In her about page (Here I Am), Danielle shares her highs, lows and many winding roads to arrive as one of the premier bloggers and speakers in North America. As with everyone on this list, Danielle shares content and resources on her blog that would normally cost hundreds of dollars to see her live. She’s building up one of the intimate and honest communities a writer could ask for by being generous with her time and spirit.

Check out Danielle’s collection of free interviews, worksheets, and images.

AppSumo

The Head Sumos serve up great deals on web apps, services, and courses to help your blog, business, or cause. I really like what they do and how they deliver it. The language is salty, the humor irreverent, and certainly have a flair for self-promotion. Plus, they do their video shoots in Sumo suits (at times). AppSumo isn’t for everyone, but they provide killer products at great prices, and have fun doing it. They also give away some incredible content, including interviews, courses, checklists, apps, and bundle deals. They have mastered the art of grabbing attention and keeping you tuned in.

You’ll have to dig through the list, but you can find lots of valuable freebies from AppSumo.

Ashley Ambridge

Ashley’s site, TheMiddleFingerProject.org, is fun from the moment you type the address in to your browser. She has a funny, refreshing, and honest style that goes against the grain. A marketer and copywriter by trade, her blog is full of helpful advice for small businesses and freelancers, including this great post on how photographers should introduce their pricing.

Find Ashley’s free ebook just below the fold on the front page.

Buffer App

Joel and Leo have built one of the most useful web apps in social media. Buffer allows users to space out their tweets or Facebook updates at specific times during the day, freeing you from tweet bombing people when you happen to be available. It’s an awesome service, integrates with almost any reader client you have, and is absolutely brilliant. So of course, they give it away. Yep, you can use Buffer to schedule 10 tweets or updates at a time, which easily lets you get through 1-2 days without refilling. They also share incredibly useful tips and hacks on their blog.

Morgan Ragland

Ok, a tip of the hat to my courageous wife, who is launching a fitness blog, something she has always been passionate about, and is ready to take the first step and start shipping on January 1st. TheSimpleGym.com is a community dedicated to simple but challenging workouts you can do at home or a nearby park. She was tired of gyms being crowded, inconvenient, and without enough space to move in an active workout. It certainly helps that Morgan is a certified personal trainer, but she will be posting 4 workouts a week, along with lifestyle and nutrition articles. Check out the launch page, and get an early start on your workouts by getting on the email list. Early training begins December 26.

Generosity also applies to physical businesses and goods

When Moe’s Southwest Burritos opens a new restaurant, they will often have a free burrito/taco day, or hand out an absurd amount of free food coupons to local groups, leagues, and even to people passing by the store. Moe’s understands that once you get people in the door, you now have the opportunity to win their loyalty through good food, kind service, and a welcoming environment.

You can do the same with your blog, giving people valuable content will get the “in the door”, and then you have the opportunity to wow them through showing the readers how they can improve their life, business, or relationships. If you can do this, then eventually you can sell something, and they will trust and appreciate that your product is something worth paying for. You’ve gained trust and permission, the 2 greatest assets in marketing and business today.

Don’t drown in a sea of noise. Give something away, and watch it spread

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Win Michael Hyatt’s New Book, Platform

Last week, I finished reading Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, and was impressed by the range of topics Michael covers in a compelling fashion. If you’ve ever read Michael’s blog, you know he has mastered the art of communicating with brevity and effectiveness. Platform is an easy read because of his writing style, but there is no shortage of great ideas to take action on.

Platform speaks to anyone who wants to start a movement, whether through a blog, business, non-profit, music, etc. The kick is that it’s no longer good enough to simply have a good, even great, idea! Social media and technology have given us the opportunity to engage others through our art, creating a tribe of raving fans who will clamor for your offerings.

You could be dismayed by this, thinking “my great idea should be enough!”. But this explosion of online communities and sharing is great news!  You no longer have to wait to be picked, to pray your idea will be allowed by the gatekeepers of publishing, distributors, and investors. You can create the demand yourself.

You Need a Platform

I bought the book during launch week, when Michael was offering a bundle pack to promote sales. The value Michael presented was simply incredible, and I hope it becomes the standard for publishers (that’s a different post though). When I bought the book, I also received the digital edition, audio recording, and several video files which covered platform building. I read the kindle version before the hardcover even arrived!

In honor of Michael’s generosity, and the spirit of helping people create their dreams, I’m giving away my hardcover copy of Platform. To be eligible to win the book, simply answer this question in the comments.

What is the dream (blog, music, business, art, non-profit) you are sharing with others, and how will a solid Platform help you achieve it?

Thanks to Michael for writing this great book, and to everyone who participates. I look forward to reading your stories!

Taking the 3rd Step Towards Your Dreams

Today, I took the 3rd step.

It was a big, scary, exhilarating step, and it was also a step back.

Let me explain…

I knew eventually I would have to start practicing what I preached. Follow your passions, live with less, take the big risk, all of these pieces of advice I had been spewing for the past 4 months, I had a big step left to take.

Today I sat down with my bosses and told them about my passion for writing, missions, and travel. I told them about the road trip I wanted to take with my wife, of building an online presence, and making the jump to self-employed writer, coach, and speaker. I was re-aligning my priorities, and placing my writing and personal brand right below faith and family.

I told them everything, put my true self on the line, and waited for the hammer to fall.

They were receptive, and we talked about how I could take a pay cut in exchange for a more flexible schedule. This was what I mean by a step back. I’m still employed, but with less money and fewer day-by-day hours. I’m ok with less money, because I’m taking the next year to bet on me and the work I can produce. Maybe I’ll fail, but I am going to take the plunge. I also want to travel, connect with others, attend conferences, and serve people through missions. I’ll swap those opportunities for a few thousand dollars.

Yes, I’m young, with no kids and a one very understanding wife. But this wasn’t an easy decision, and will certainly be leading to some tough times. My job provided a comfortable living, included housing, utilities, use of a car, 3 weeks vacation, and a fulfilling mission. A large part of me screams “Are you nuts?!”

The craziest part is that I really feel called to the work I am doing at Rockmont, and I should clarify I didn’t quit. I want to continue to be a part of their mission of Male Development, I believe it’s one of the most important callings in my life. But, there is another calling towards writing, missions, and service which I needed to follow. I could have continued on with Rockmont for a long time in the same position (or greater), and not scratched this itch I have. But I would not have been true to my self, and in the end that would have also been damaging to my work at Rockmont!

But this is about more than comfort, it’s about following a dream.

Last week I posted this image of a venn diagram, and finding the convergence between passion, talent, and pay. I’ve been thinking about it constantly, and honestly it’s just time for to find out. I need to begin building my tower, and see how quickly it’s going to fall apart. Maybe it will happen in 1 year, maybe 20, but I need to find out.

So here we go, a great load has been lifted from my shoulders, and I know I have 1 year to give this everything I have, and see what the results are. Regardless of whether or not I can make a living through blogging and speaking is still to be seen, and I may not have a full answer by September 2013. But I want to have a fuller picture of the possibilities than I do now, and that requires more of my time than I was currently devoting to the practice of writing.

I also wanted to communicate clearly with my employers, making the distinction between the work I’m going to do for me, and the work I’m going to do for Rockmont. Honestly, I may have been able to get away with both, but I wanted to be upfront about the change. If you are considering the jump to concentrating on your own business or brand, I suggest you do the same.

Already, I can feel a sense of focus settling in. Now, I’ve declared my intention, it’s public, and the responsibility is on me to produce. When you’ve stripped away the comforts and the support system which makes you comfortable, it’s easier to see what matters to you. This is what matters to me, and I’m going to take on the challenge.

Ah yes, you may be wondering why I said I took the 3rd step today, because it sounds a lot like the 1st step. I disagree, and here’s why.

The 1st Step is to Start Writing

This step is made up of hundreds of choices to put your words down and help others through them. I took this step in late December 2011, and have been choosing to honor the practice ever since.

The 2nd Step is to Build Your Platform

This means a legitimate site, with no software handles like wordpress, blogger, or typepad. It means cultivating a community, through both social media and in-person relationships. Building your platform includes a lot more, but it’s not the focus of this post.

The 3rd Step is to Declare Your Intentions to the World

This is the step I took today. It will be clarified and tweaked in the coming weeks, but I can’t tell you how relieved and energized I feel! I’m going to give this work and mission all I can for the next year, and see what God makes of it. Maybe it will work, and maybe it won’t, but I wasn’t going to continue to sit by and think about what could be.

It’s time to find out.