Cailey Thorfinnson

Welcome, Cailey Thorfinnson!

I’m writing to share another key point of growth at WorkBook6, this one again falling into the people category. In January, we were fortunate enough to welcome Cailey Thorfinnson as our Chief of Staff. She’s been here for less than a month, but I cannot understate the immediacy nor the importance of her impact. Cailey is just perfect for the role she’s taken on. To me, this has already materialized in a few specific places:

  1. She’s helping us better understand our opportunities to grow. As WorkBook6 has matured, we’ve been blessed/fortunate/lucky (you pick!) enough to gain access to incredible new business prospects. Simply put, Cailey has been an immediately helpful resource toward both the evaluation and engagement of these new players within the WorkBook6 ecosystem.
  2. She’s helping our team work more efficiently. Cailey has made quick work of helping us make efficiency improvements. Projects that might have sit in queue in the past while Brett or I work through our own backlog are now gaining prompt momentum under Cailey’s leadership. This has been felt within every area of our business, and has touched every member of our team.
  3. She’s creating material improvements to our marketing and lifting our brand. Cailey has begun to work closely with our team to help us better understand our marketing needs, and has made impressive progress in just the few short weeks she’s been here. (Because important updates on this front will be released, soon, I’ll hold off on some of these exciting details, today.)

There’s an art to bringing a new team member aboard. In a small company with the kind of velocity and momentum we’re experiencing, doing so requires the team to make meaningful time available to assist in the effort. In a Chief of Staff role, this effort sits largely on the senior team. In this particular sense, I want to commend Brett’s efforts to create a seamless plan, and again praise Cailey for driving the efforts during such a dynamic stretch. This, in addition to the entire team’s eagerness to jump in and provide assistance, has led to as efficient an onboarding ramp as I’ve seen from our business, to date. To each of the above, well done!

I could go on and on. But, apropos to this post, Cailey’s standing at my office door for our next meeting. So, with that, I’ll wrap with this: welcome, Cailey – we’re so glad you’re here and immensely impressed by your impact.

Burnout: Strategies for Prevention

By: Savannah Day

Last week, you might have seen JT’s blog post about Burnout being addressed as a qualified diagnosis by the WHO. (If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I suggest you do first, here is the link.)

In my experience, Burnout has a way of creeping up on you, until it occupies your entire life. So, let’s talk strategy. Addressing it before it hits you is the trick, that means finding balance and knowing when it’s time to shut down for the day or take a break. Taking action before you completely spiral is key to staying on top of this.

Here are 5 ways I address burnout before it hits:

  1. I change my environment. If I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed, sometimes changing my setting altogether can make a huge impact. I make an effort to go for more short walks throughout the day or working from home if needed. It can completely change how I’m feeling briefly, reduce my anxiety, and puts my mind at ease.
  1. Designate off time. Seriously, going off the grid and sticking to it can do wonders. I don’t mean I take a 2-week vacation on a remote island, (because let’s be real) when you’re feeling burnt out, you usually can’t just get up and leave the country. I do my best to stay off my computer after 8pm or even earlier if that’s feasible so that I can actually fall asleep when I want to. And designate time for an activity that quiets my mind first thing in the morning instead of reaching for my phone right away. Getting in the right mindset before beginning my day can add so much value.
  1. Stress Relief. Finding a good stress reliever that requires my full attention always helps reduce my stress levels. This helps with self-awareness and in turn I notice the signs and symptoms faster to more readily facilitate addressing them and knowing when and how to make a change. 
  1. Finding an activity that brings me joy. Such as going to a concert, reading a book, going to yoga or spin class. I have to schedule these things to keep me grounded. I look forward to it all week, which helps me enjoy it that much more.
  1. Finding Support. Lastly, it’s ok to ask for help. Communication is important to let people in and letting them know what’s going on. At WorkBook6, I know full well my team has my back (and I have theirs); we rely on trust. Collaborating with others and supporting each other is what makes this team so great. 

Everyone has their own strategies to fight burnout. Ultimately, it comes down to finding what works best for you. Being self-aware and working to be more open with each other will create a work environment conducive to higher productivity.

Fighting Burnout

By now it’s old news, but not long ago, the World Health Organization gave credence to something many businesses and people have known about – and increasingly struggled with – for a long time. “Burnout” has been officially added to its list of official mental health diagnoses. Placing it alongside anxiety and adjustment disorders, the WHO takes care to lay out special guidelines for diagnosis and treatment. These guidelines, it would appear, are intended to isolate incidence of work-related conditions, as opposed to more generalized conditions such as those mentioned above. 

My take: no shit!?! (Also: oh, shit!) When one reads the primary symptoms, it feels like a list of things we see in ourselves and others every day. Put on your brutally honest, introspective hat, and silently feel your gut sink if you have “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.” If we’re honest, we’ve all experienced at least some of this, ourselves, and likely recently. At the very least, we’ve certainly all seen it in colleagues, friends or family members. 

Not buying it? OK. Here’s some fresh data from Gallup (as reported by Forbes): 23% of employees report feeling burnout at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling it sometimes. This is significant, and likely sandbagged. Given the reluctance that many folks display toward being open about their own mental health, it’s easy to imagine the actual impact is even larger than we might know or understand. 

Burnout isn’t New, but it’s Definitely a Problem

The WHO’s announcement certainly makes it more ‘real,’ but burnout isn’t a new issue; it’s just newly legitimized. In fact, the first known reference within the psychology community dates back to 1974, when psychologist Herbert Freudenberger raised it in his seminal article (titled Staff Burnout”). Indeed, smart people and good businesses have been navigating this issue for a long time. 

Burnout is scary because it’s difficult for people to acknowledge and understand. It can feel like a personal issue, to be deeply guarded, rather than a personnel concern, to be openly addressed. This is central to the impact on businesses of all sizes, according to Ben Wigert and Sangeeta Agrawal, who authored Gallup’s three-part series on burnout’s impact on businesses. Among other findings, their report states that employees who strongly identify with burnout symptoms are 63% more likely to call in sick, 50% less likely to discuss their performance goals with management, and over two and a half times more likely to leave their employer. 

How I think about Burnout

I have to think about this; I don’t have a choice. On both a personal and business level, the risks of burnout are all around me. Because I’ve dealt with ADD/ADHD for nearly all of my life, I know that I’m susceptible to something called ADD/ADHD Fatigue Syndrome, which is essentially analogous to the WHO’s definition of Burnout. And, I’m an entrepreneur, which exposes me further. Finally, as a leader of a small, hard-working team, I have a responsibility to understand this issue and look out for it every day. I simply can’t just hope it doesn’t show up within our business; I have to prepare for it, both personally and professionally. If we’re to believe the science, so do you. 

How Burnout Works (at least in my experience)

Burnout’s like a gas leak. It’s a creeper. By the time you discover it, it’s already begun its destruction. Because it doesn’t show up like a physical malady, it’s difficult to identify it for many people. Beyond this, even when a person has the sense that they might be at risk, there’s no guarantee that they’ll speak up. Because many people are guarded about their mental health, and also because many businesses are insensitive to mental health concerns, burnout can go unchecked for extended periods. 

Also, while Burnout is officially defined as being work-related, it doesn’t stay at the office. Certainly, it starts at work, but its effects make themselves known at home, soon. Irritability, lack of presence, exhaustion, and apathy are all commonly associated with burnout, and just as likely to manifest themselves in family life as they are during business hours. 

Finally, burnout isn’t the final destination; it can lead to more serious mental health diagnoses, like depression, mania, substance abuse, and others. 

So, it’s real and it’s bad. It’s real bad. But you – and your business – can get in front of it. Read on.

How to Deal with Burnout

As with most mental health concerns, it seems like those who are least impacted by it are the ones who acknowledge it and actively address it. The trick is to deal with it directly, as you would another problem less related to a stigmatized topic. I like to think of mental health like I think of weather. It has ranges. It can be lovely, and it can be awful. I’d love it to be 72, sunny, and dry every day. I’d wear shorts and flip flops and I’d spend all my time outdoors. But that’s just not how it works. Snow days happen; other days, it rains. And sometimes, it’s just unbearably hot outside. I have to adjust. I have to prepare. I have to deal with it. Same goes for mental health: while I’d love to have the same energy levels, attentiveness and presence every day, that might not be a reliable plan. 

So, how do we, at WorkBook6, deal with, adjust and prepare for burnout and other mental health concerns? 

  1. First off, we talk about it. When I’m struggling, I talk about it. And when our team is going through it, they talk with us about it. I’m not so naïve to think they tell me everything, every time, but I’m confident that each of the incredible folks here knows they can have an open, judgement-free discussion about how they’re feeling.
  2. We acknowledge and counter-attack the root causes. Many report burnout symptoms being the result of a few core deficiencies at work: autonomy, engagement, motivation and passion. So, we try to create abundant ‘surpluses’ in these areas. We assign lots of responsibility and ownership, we actively engage one another, we keep one another motivated and we encourage passionate pursuit of both personal and company goals.
  3. We recognize the value of recharging, so we don’t cap it. WorkBook6 doesn’t have a vacation policy – we instead have a “take great care of yourself and do great work policy.” That means that when our folks need a break, they take it. We’re all expected to make sure we cover our responsibilities, but we’re each encouraged to do things that allow us to recharge.
  4. We celebrate the activities the team undertakes away from work. When Chris catches a big brown trout, he posts a photo for the team on slack. When Brett absconds to Europe for a music festival, he brings goodies back for the team. We make a point of sharing our life away from work with the people we work with. This encourages a culture that celebrates the full scope of our lives, as opposed to just our work.
  5. Finally, we subsidize mental health care and restorative activities. WorkBook6 offers a wellness stipend for all members of the team. This took a while to make true; it’s expensive, and we wanted to take care to provide the benefit in such a way that it could really be seen as helpful to the entire team. The program is self-directed, and completely agnostic to how the funds are actually used. We don’t actually care (or ask) how our team deploys the stipend – we just ask that they point it toward something that helps them find balance. This can be a visit with a counselor, a stress-relieving massage, or really anything else. I think this is really important for a couple reasons. First, we all find balance in our own way; I don’t believe it’s my place to tell people how to get there. Second, many people point to financial concerns as a gating factor to their wellness; our program, I hope, helps ease some of that concern. Finally, doing it this way communicates that this is an important issue, and also one that we trust our team to deal with in the way that best fits them. And, for the skeptics reading this who wonder about abuse within a program with essentially no checks and balances, I’d offer that in my experience, great teams consist of trustworthy and accountable people. We know our team won’t abuse this because the folks who work here simply wouldn’t do that. 

This isn’t a “how to” manual for addressing and managing mental health in your organization. It’s just how we do it. I mention this for a few reasons. First, I’m not an expert; I’m just trying to stay in front of an issue that seems like it’s only growing in impact. Second, I think that if we’re to remain happy and productive, we’ve simply got to get in the habit of being more open about mental health in every part of our lives. In that sense, we try to walk the walk.

To that end, I hope this post can help others contemplate this topic.

Welcome Julie; Congrats Justin and Chris!

Hey folks! Long time, no blog – I promise to be better about this over the summer!

While I love to write on a range of topics, this kind of content ranks among my favorites. That’s because it celebrates what (or rather, whom) makes WorkBook6 special: the people. It also speaks to our business’s growth, but the real message is that our team is growing and developing in way that make me really, really proud. So, if you like to smile and be happy for other people, read on!

Welcome Julie Bohling!

I’m thrilled to welcome Julie Bohling to WorkBook6’s partnership development group, where she’s already begun to improve our reach within the digital publisher ecosystem. Julie’s background is exactly what we look for in a colleague. She’s hard working and easy going. She likes silliness (a near must, here), but she gets that the work is ultimately what’s important. Speaking of work, Julie’s done lots of it in some really dynamic and diverse environments. She’s sold and managed sales people in the sports and entertainment world (for the Washington Capitals and the Phoenix Suns); she’s a former educator (and holds a masters degree in education); and she’s deeply experienced within the software as a service (SaaS) space (most recently focusing on educational technology at Pearson). More important than any of this, though, is the fact that she’s an excellent intensely positive human. She’s curious and passionate – a combination that I believe represents lightning in a bottle. We’re lucky to have her, here. Welcome, Julie!

Congratulations to Justin Guido and Chris Cox

As the partnership development team grows, it’s exciting, also, to share that both Chris Cox and Justin Guido have been promoted to more senior roles within their existing disciplines. Each will assume Senior Director titles; this is reflective of their leadership and material impact on our success, here.

Well done, guys.

So, who’s next?

We will be steadily adding to this team throughout the remainder of 2019. So, if you hold superpowers in sales, business development or account management, we want to know your story, and we’d love to tell you ours. If you’re just getting started, and don’t yet know if those are your strong suits, that’s ok, too. Let’s work on figuring it out, together. We love helping people find their truest talents.

In either of the above scenarios, it all starts with a discussion. So, let’s start there; if you’ve got a hunch that you’d be a great fit for our team, reach out any time and let’s start the discussion!

Recapping LendIt: FinTech USA

Hey gang! A couple of us have semi-recently returned from LendIt: Fintech USA in San Francisco (the event was April 8-9). And, since the event was enormous (and, at least for us, successful), I thought a quick recap might be worth the keystrokes. Read on!

Our panel (and, a note of thanks):

So, we didn’t just attend; I was honored to moderate a panel with some incredible executives and entrepreneurs. This was the highlight of the week for me; even more special is how this came to be – a client requested of the show promoters that I moderate his panel. That’s really touching – I’m grateful to Brian Unruh and Dan Stevens, as well as the folks at LendIt for the vote of confidence!

Our discussion focused on the relationship between technology businesses (fintechs!) and mid-sized/regional lenders. More specifically, we looked at how these two very different types of businesses can partner to better compete with large, digital lenders. I love this topic. Having worked with many firms in each cohort (fintech businesses, large banks and regional ones), I knew going in that there are a number of interesting angles to this. And, WorkBook6 is a party to many analogous discussions in other industries (such as insurance and home services).

With a topic such as this one, the moderator’s job is to convey with both breadth and depth a compelling discussion in a short period of time. This can be a little intimidating, but our thoughtful and generous speakers made it simple. With Dan Stevens (from NBKC Bank), Jeff Douglas (Wyndham Capital Mortgage), Adam Pase (Notarize) and Ethan Ewing (Pro-Pair) there to carry the bulk of the load, I was really just there to help channel the discussion and serve up as close to an equal portion of everyone’s perspective. Easy peasy. Beyond my opening joke about pizza (which landed with a thud – more on this later), I thought it was awesome. And, super fun. My hat’s off to the panelists.

Enough about us – onto the show, at large:

LendIt rocks. Every show has its own areas for improvement, but overall, I was really impressed. The content sessions were well-attended and also, at least in my view, well-received. The audience was diverse in a few ways, and predictably not in others. I met with interesting people from all over the world, but as has shown to be true in many of the industries we operate within, there’s still a pretty wide gender gap. I’ll give the show promoters credit, though, as I did see several programming nods to bridging this gap, including the Women in Fintech event. Well done. Again, I really liked the way that this event came off. The folks at LendIt seem to have it really dialed in.

Shout out to the city by the bay:

After spending a lot of time in Las Vegas over the past few years for shows and speaking engagements, it was really nice to be in San Francisco. Nothing against Vegas, but it’s great to be able to walk around the city between sessions, meetings, etc. (as opposed to traversing a casino floor). San Francisco is really worth considering for any show or event looking to mix things up. This city flat-out knows how to host an event.

Uh, what’s fintech?

This might cause some eye rolling, but since a bunch of people have asked me, I thought I’d weigh in with some thoughts on the term ‘fintech,’ and what it might or might not be. (Caveat emptor: I’m no more qualified to answer this than anyone else who works in the category, but I’m gonna do it anyway.)

The term fintech is used to describe the broad and deep topic of technical innovation within the financial services industry. Oft-confused with insuretech (and akin to edtech, regtech, martech, adtech, etcetera), the term really just speaks to the interaction of emerging technology and a financial services industry held back by legacy systems. If it’s confusing to you, you’re not alone. The use of ‘fintech’ can be found in the wild as a noun (she runs a fintech), an adjective (it’s sort of fintech-y), and a verb (maybe we could fintech this sucker?). It’s used to describe a growing industry category, and also deployed to define businesses.

Finally, some quick hits:

Funniest moments (there were a few):

For me, it was my elevator ride to the industry awards gala. I thought I had the elevator to myself, but was soon joined by a very nice guy whose opinion of himself was off the charts bold. “Google me. I’m the godfather of fintech.” (I’ve got $50 for whoever guesses this person’s identity, but please do it privately!)

For Brett, it was when my opening line for our panel discussion was received by the opposite of laughter – or even acknowledgement. I guess fintechers don’t like talking about pizza. (By the way, I’m not punting on this – I’ll revive this one in a blog post, soon enough.)

Best tie:

Todd Nelson’s infamous bow-tie. Or is it an ascot?

LeadsCon 2019 Wrap Up

Well, it’s over. Four days in Las Vegas finds me reflective and proud. And, at least for the first few days upon returning, tired. Like, the kind of tired where you fall asleep at dinner. Or while helping with homework. Super, super tired. Given this, I waited a few days to draft my wrap up post for this event.

I’ve been attending LeadsCon for 10 years, so the Las Vegas event is equal parts reunion, brand-building, and business development for our clients and ourselves. This year, we saw more of that trend, with some adjustments here and there. Read on for a quick recap.

Partnership Marketing Workshop
We were fortunate to be chosen by LeadsCon and AccessIntelligence to lead a Partnership Marketing Workshop on Monday (prior to LeadsCon’s official kickoff). This event, our third in a row, has become an important anchor for our business. We look forward to it every year and commit significant (to us, anyway) resources to making it happen. This year, I was very proud of the effort. Among the high points, I’d include the following:

  1. This was our largest audience, to date. In fact, we filled the room.
  2. In addition to the audience size, we attracted the most diverse group we’ve ever had, with a particularly strong showing from brands and channel sale organizations. (This is very important to me, as without these folks actively engaged, things can get salesy, fast.)
  3. Our speakers did an amazing job keeping the audience engaged, and also staying real. In fact, our first session, led by Damon DeCrescenzo and Jason Kaplan from the Credit Pros, was as contentious and frictional as any I’ve seen. That’s what we aimed for!

There’s plenty more I could say about this event, but the above struck me the most.

Balling on a Budget
As a bootstrapped startup in an industry full of well-funded and established firms, we’ve got to be thoughtful about how we make a splash in Las Vegas. This year, we held a series of cocktail parties at our suites in the hotel. These were super fun, and they didn’t break the bank. For three consecutive nights, we hosted our clients, friends and partners. The venue was perfect, and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. And, we got to throw a party….every night!

Meetings off the Floor
While we were each active at the show and in the sessions, we used these same spaces as private meeting rooms, which worked out really well. These folks are always going hard, but I saw sixth gear from the team in Vegas. I think we took Anna to the point of critical illness, but at last check, she’s still among us and returning to normal. As is often the case, I’m blown away by the team’s effort in Vegas.

Innovation Seems to be Slowing
This is the only critical comment I’ll make, and I promise it’s constructive. When I walked the floor of the exhibition hall, it felt as if there are a large contingent of companies fitting into three buckets: networks, call centers, and software. The networks are buying and selling media, typically in a very transactional way. The call centers seemed hard pressed to differentiate. And the software companies appear to be locked in competition with one another on a product level.

None of the above is surprising, but it’s also a little disconcerting. I think there’s a lot of innovation left in this space, but sometimes, you couldn’t get a sense for that. I hope that next year, we see more innovation and disruption. It will keep the space vibrant, ya know?

That’s it from me. What an awesome week in Vegas!

Praise for Plymouth Rock

Yesterday, a firm we support did something that inspired us. While I typically don’t publicly point to our clients here on our blog or in a social media context, I’ll occasionally break from that trend when there’s a good enough reason to do so. This firm, and what they did yesterday, presents such an occasion. Read on.

Many Americans know of Plymouth Rock Assurance Company. For those in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, though, the relationship goes well beyond name recognition. There, Plymouth Rock is an institution, and one that our company is very proud to serve. That pride swelled a bit yesterday when I saw the news that Plymouth Rock had launched a comprehensive program to support its customers who have been impacted – and may soon be impacted again – by the government shutdown.

You can read the specifics, here, but I’ll summarize it for you: Plymouth Rock is allowing its impacted customers to pause their bill on existing policies and defer their down payment on any new policy. Further, they’ve announced that will not cancel those customers who cannot pay their bill as a direct result of the shutdown.

Forget your politics for a moment. That’s not what this is about. Instead, focus on the story of a company, a pretty big one at that, doing the right thing for its customers who are vulnerable to a scenario unfolding outside their own control. TSA Agents, air traffic controllers, Veteran’s Affairs (VA) personnel. Scientists and researchers. Parks and Museum workers. Law enforcement professionals. These are just a few examples of the folks who are being impacted.

Like many, I struggle to read through all the spin in the news, today. It’s hard to find a true signal amid the noise. But sometimes, someone does the right thing. When that happens, the news doesn’t need spin; it just needs to be shared. It needs to be acknowledged.

To our friends at Plymouth Rock: well done. And, thank you.

Strategic Partnership Workshop – Full Speaker and Format Announcement!

Strategic Partnership Workshop – Full Speaker and Format Announcement!

LeadsCon is less than two months away. Let that settle in. I’m guessing most of you still have holiday decorations up, and the biggest event in performance marketing is, like, right around the corner? Excited? Us, too.

We’re thrilled, actually, because we’ll be hosting a Strategic Partnership Workshop for the third consecutive year. This event, in particular, has become the cornerstone of our first quarter – we’re expecting a record turnout.

At this point, it feels timely to share some exciting and important details about the event. Our agenda and speaker roster are both finalized, and I’m confident that this year’s workshop will offer previous attendees and first-timers huge value. Attendees won’t just hear from a talented and diverse group of thought leaders; they will also be treated to an entirely unique format that we believe will help involve the entire audience in the discussion.

Here’s the full agenda:

Session 1: Unit Economic Spotlight: Achieving Better Commercial Outcomes Through Partnership

Our first session is meant to be a live wire. (In other words, we want it to get weird!) This will be a candid discussion about the true value of strategic partnerships in a direct response business. Many have experienced, first hand, the dissent that often exists between the business development and finance/operational leaders. We’re bringing this discussion to center stage, pairing two business partners who’ve grappled with the topic for years. Join Damon Decrescenzo and Jason Kaplan from The Credit Pros for a very real discussion on the commercial justifications of forming strategic partnerships.

Session 2: Forming, Developing and Executing a Partnership Strategy

We have three incredible panelists lined up to address critical phases to any successful partnership platform. But, in this setting, our panelists aren’t the stars – the audience is. The first half of this session will feature targeted breakout sessions, which will be headed up by our panelists. Will Curry from PureTalk Wireless will lead the group focusing on program strategy; Vince Lewis from Quicken’s Core Digital Media will cover prospecting, and Chrissy Ingalls from LightStream (SunTrust Bank’s innovative consumer lending business) will facilitate the discussion around program execution. These folks each boast tremendous backgrounds; merging this expertise with the audience’s perspective will, I think, be really cool.

Session 3: Group Mentality

Over the 10+ years since the first LeadsCon was held, our community has grown ever-more transactional. Publishers, networks and lead sellers all depend on paid media to create valuable inventory, while brands enjoy the convenience of per-lead (or, action) pricing formats. To maximize yield, competitive bidding formats have taken hold – pitting eager advertisers against one another and testing the limits of profitability.

But, what if brands and publishers could access customer populations through less competitive channels? Hundreds of millions of Americans each year join membership groups and associations, or participate in similar, brand-sponsored loyalty programs. In each case, the groups actively represent their members’ interests, often offering specialized products and services to their constituency. To better understand this ecosystem, and the dynamic relationship between affinity organizations and their brand partners, we’ve recruited two tremendously talented leaders from this ecosystem. Join Rita DiPalma from Augeo Affinity Marketing and Jason Nierman, who helped build TrueCar’s partnership program before spearheading Rollick Outdoor’s innovative partnership platform.

As you can tell from the above descriptions, we take this event very seriously. It’s critical that our audience walk away with real value from each of our sessions. If you’ve attended one of these events in the past, you’ll hopefully join us again. If you’ve not participated previously, please know how excited we’ll be to welcome you to this one. Here are the event location and time details:

Strategic Partnership Workshop

Monday, March 4
Mirage Hotel and Convention Center
Grand Ballroom D and E
8 AM – 12 PM

Registration Link:
Discount Code: SPKR100 ($100 off current event pricing)

To All the Military Families: Thank You for Your Service

By: Kara Hutcheson

I’m very lucky this holiday season; truly blessed. This holiday is particularly special to me because my first child was born in September. He’s just now at the age where lights on the tree, holiday lullabies and the Claymation Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer movie induce all sort of smiles and giggles that warm a mother’s heart like nothing else can. I’m blessed that my son is here, but even more so, I’m incredibly lucky that his father is here to experience every moment right alongside me. After four deployments, countless trainings and seemingly endless field exercises that have separated us over the years, this year we are very lucky to have had the opportunity to enter the early stages of parenthood together, side-by-side. While I’m thoroughly enjoying this rare moment in time, my thoughts are heavily with the military families who are surviving the mandatory separation this year. It’s natural to thank a soldier for their service. Seeing a man or woman in military uniform instills a sense of respect and appreciation in most of us. However, speaking from experience, I want to send a special additional thank you to the men, women and children who stand directly behind our armed forces, whose sacrifice is at times, even greater.

To all the parents who are experiencing single-parenthood this holiday season; those who work sun-up to sun-down, only to come home to their second shift of cooking dinner, bath times, story hour and putting the kids to bed without any extra help, while still finding the time to wrap gifts – thank you for your endurance.

To all the spouses without children, home alone, who still embrace the holiday season and choose to spend their time giving back to the community by putting together care packages, writing letters overseas and volunteering at every bake sale, holiday ball and “meet Santa” event – thank you for your generosity.

To all the pregnant soon-to-be moms, with red cross on speed-dial, hopeful that their loved ones make it back in time to experience this monumental moment, but also brave enough to embrace this great challenge on their own if they have to – thank you for your courage.

To all the children who miss their dads and moms, who stay up on Christmas eve unconcerned about hooves on rooftops or sleigh bells but who fight to stay awake just for that fifteen-minute skype call from halfway across the globe – thank you for your loyalty.

To the families in transition who have recently moved, who just make it work. When your household goods aren’t yet delivered and your new on post housing isn’t ready. To those who string lights in hotel rooms and manage to make an entire holiday feast out of multiple drive-through runs – thank you for your positivity.

To all the families of service members in every trying situation this year, thank you for your willingness to put the mission above all else. You work tirelessly in the background to create the foundation on which our service members can thrive, all the while finding the strength to do this with a smile. This holiday season we are thinking of you and your sacrifice. We are humbled by your strength. Most importantly, we at WorkBook6 want to say a very special thank you – thank you for YOUR service.

Why Write? A blog post about blogging.

I love to write. I try to spend a couple hours each week composing something with a goal of sharing my work. While I’m certainly not alone, I’m learning this is becoming an increasingly rare practice.

For example, not everyone on our team enjoys – or feels comfortable – writing. During our Q4 retreat (which happened a couple weeks ago), I asked a few of our folks what holds them back from writing more. “I’m not good at writing” was one reply (incorrect, by the way; this person writes beautifully). Others said they’re too busy. Some pointed to fear of public criticism, and not wanting to be vulnerable to that. The most common response, though, was that folks don’t know what to write about or what to say.

The discussion stuck with me. So, as I often do when a topic provokes extended curiosity, I thought I’d write about it.

I’ll start with why I write

I write, mostly, because I love to write. It makes me happy. I enjoy the process – from the planning and outlining to the refinement. It’s fun. And, admittedly, I get a little rush from the feedback that comes from posting something that people enjoy reading. I also like to try out new phrasing and messaging. I play with cadence and flow. I poke and I prod, so to speak.

For me, it started early – like, 5th or 6th grade. I was a wiry, goofy kid with ADD, but when I would read aloud the things I wrote in class, the other kids laughed with me (as opposed to ‘at’ me). That felt good, so I ran with it. Later, I developed an incredible relationship with Gregg Schwipps, who was my writing professor at DePauw. He taught me the value of authentic language and helped me understand how impactful a well-told story can be. That experience, like much of my time at the school, had a major impact on me. Since leaving college, and certainly since becoming an entrepreneur, I’ve always tried to keep some time in my schedule blocked off for writing.

Why writing is only sort of good for business

These days, I write a lot about our business. I do think it helps, but mostly in vaguely-attributable ways (at best). Others may point to revenue growth which is clearly linked to content, but for us, that’s not the goal. I don’t write to drum up business. It’s not that I don’t want more business – it’s just that I think content that aims to sell isn’t genuine. And, I think salesy writing that’s disguised as something else is obnoxious. I’m not saying that thoughtful content doesn’t sometimes lead to more business; I just don’t write with that as the goal. I’ve heard from several folks that something I’ve written has helped them to move forward. I’ve also been told that a blog post I wrote actually inspired someone not to become a client. Clearly, this wasn’t my goal, either!

Many say writing can be good for search engine optimization, but I’ve actually been told that mine isn’t. It’s well-documented that if you can assemble the right words in the right places in such a way that google likes it, this can be valuable. But, since this violates my first rule (don’t write just to drum up business), I think that kind of writing is annoying, too. Our former head of marketing, who I adore, once told me that my writing wasn’t ‘keyword rich’ enough. I don’t know the word for the sound your mouth makes when you hold your lips together and force air out, but that’s how I responded to him. (For an A/V example, Oklahoma State University’s football coach, Mike Gundy, famously made this noise during a press conference recently – it’s absolutely worth the distraction.)

Really, I think writing is good for business mostly because it helps you develop your business’s voice. It helps put a persona behind the brand. Writing allows you to assert a point of view. It lets your audience get to know your ‘vibe,’ or way of being. And it can help establish, I suppose, some authority on topics that matter to you or your audience. It helps you develop an answer to the question: ‘who are those people?’

Why non-marketing types should write, too

This touches back on my motivation for writing this post. I find it remarkable how few people outside of the marketing discipline publish content. Like, if you don’t have an MBA or the words ‘marketing’ or ‘content’ in your title, you shouldn’t write. I don’t get it.

I think business development and sales people, in particular, should write all the time. Think about this. You communicate for a living. Your job is to help people understand why they should work with you or buy your product. Unless you’re somehow pulling this off without the help of language, why wouldn’t you want to constantly improve your own use of words? When you go through the process of writing and posting something, you become more expert in concisely communicating your message. When it’s not just right, you can tweak in a way that you can’t do with spoken communication. Later, you can use those refinements in live action. Writing also helps you build your personal brand. It helps you chip away at the due diligence your audience is doing when you’re not in the room or on the phone. It establishes authority and authorship. It makes everything you say hold more meaning, and it helps you be seen as less subjective.

Some will say sales, marketing and business development are all so interconnected that this is last assertion is obvious. OK. We can debate that another time, but for now, let’s look at other disciplines. I love it when technical professionals write – especially when their work helps me make business sense of technical things. (For a brilliant technical view across a range of business concepts, I think HubSpot’s CTO and Co Founder, Dharmesh Shah is hard to beat.) Another example is finance and venture capital. While we’ve never gone the route of approaching investors, Los Angeles-based VC Mark Suster’s blog is some of my absolute favorite reading. And when I want to learn from content that can benefit my personal life, I often still prefer for those insights to make an impact on my business. I think Dr. Brene Brown – a research professor by trade – has absolutely made me better at home and at work.

Let’s land this plane.

I could go on and on. But, you’ll stop reading (if you haven’t, already). My point? You don’t have to be an expert in an area to have an impact within it. Sometimes, as noted above, content that aims to address one topic can help both the writer and the reader develop new thinking in other areas. In other words, don’t overthink it when it comes to putting your thoughts out there. Instead, open up. Write about stuff. Tweak it; play around with it. Then, share it. Even if you’re bashful about the value of your own ideas, you’ll benefit from the process. And, someone out there might just benefit from it, too.

Sharpen your pencil and share your ideas. You’ll be glad you did it.

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