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Posts Tagged “John Donne”

Contemporary comic book writer and graphic novelist Joshua Dysart writes: “People, we’re always reaching for these big things…you know? Big ideas…big moments…big lives. And all the while the little things we’re ignoring are undoing us.”

I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed a couple of years ago in the NY Times. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, caustic observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.

My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.

However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car (or simply other people on your elevator who sometimes turn out to be the CEO). He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.

It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s little things that set the tone for successful entrepreneurship–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company.

To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend that any missive or serious communication one sends out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some cutting-edge entrepreneurs enamored of the wonders of Tweeting, Friending, Linking-in, etc. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve her.

Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly rare gives special notice to those who use it. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas and a sense of business seriousness.

Or, as John Donne says in his poem To Sir Henry(1663) “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John Donne.

Comments 4 Comments »

1000509261001_1852400221001_bio-biography-41-american-authors-mark-twain-sfMark Twain once wrote a new acquaintance the following:  “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

The topic today is that antediluvian museum piece, the personal business letter.

This quaint antiquarian form of business communication is a disappearing art form.  It is in sad disrepute, condemned to ridicule and contumely by the go-go cutting edge of business.  The idea of sending a personal letter is increasingly pooh-poohed (if considered at all) as an inefficient instrument of nostalgia and the past.

Let me be contrarian on this.  It is my feeling that entrepreneurs increasingly are abandoning an important communication tool by dismissing the efficacy of the personal letter.  Of course, entrepreneurs are not the only ones.  The US Post Office is bankrupt because of a huge drop in letters of any kind (along with the innate lumbering inefficiencies of any government bureaucracy.)

Certainly, most small businessmen are uncommonly busy.  Emailing, tweeting, and linking in are faster modes of communication. urlYet I also believe there is a certain emotional laziness to going too quickly to reaching out just through these insta-presto mediums.

It is a personal thing writing a good business letter.  It is a warm medium and can connect people on a more emotional level.  Even a simple one line personal thank you note does this.  But there are several reasons business folk are quick to abandon it.

  1. Let’s face it.  Most businessmen don’t write very well.  Arthur Levitt, past Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg, has been on a jihad to bring good English back to business.  He says much of business writing is cold, shallow, and, often, lacks nuance and color.  It is boring to read.
  2. A good letter requires energy to write with compelling sincerity.  A compelling letter means being open and vulnerable and personal, to some extent, to your correspondee—even in a sales letter.  While most entrepreneurs are passionate, the business intimacy innate in the process is usually not comfortable or the strong suit for business people.
  3. Writing isn’t taught or remediated in business school.  Sharon Washington, Executive Director of the National Writing Project, says our high schools and undergraduate programs have de-emphasized writing and constant digital communication has eroded basic writing and vocabulary skills.  (LOL, OMG, WTF, BRB, etc.)  U understand?

So why should the entrepreneur write more personal letters, especially in the sales process?

imgresWell, I’ll tell you why.  It’s simply because, since people don’t send letters any more, when you get one you notice it and actually read it.  It shows  personal attention and a service orientation in the midst of an increasingly impersonal society.  (Quick Hint From Heloise—To make your letter have the best impact, use a very high quality of stationary or card.)

As John Donne put it to Sir Henry Wotton (1633),  “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.”  Thank you, John.

Comments 16 Comments »

The topic today is that antediluvian museum piece, the personal business letter.

847.BusinessLetterThis quaint antiquarian form of business communication is a disappearing art form.  It is in sad disrepute, condemned to ridicule and contumely by the go-go cutting edge of business.  The idea of sending a personal letter is increasingly pooh-poohed (if considered at all) as an inefficient instrument of nostalgia and the past.

Let me be contrarian on this.  It is my feeling that entrepreneurs increasingly are abandoning an important communication tool by dismissing the efficacy of the personal letter.  Of course, entrepreneurs are not the only ones.  The US Post Office is bankrupt because of a huge drop in letters of any kind (along with the innate lumbering inefficiencies of any government bureaucracy.)

Certainly, most small businessmen are uncommonly busy.  Emailing, tweeting, and linking in are faster modes of communication.  Yet I also believe there is a certain emotional laziness to going too quickly to reaching out just through these insta-presto mediums.

It is a personal thing writing a good business letter.  It is a warm medium and can connect people on a more emotional level.  Even a simple one line personal thank you note does this.  But there are several reasons business folk are quick to abandon it.

  1. Let’s face it.  Most businessmen don’t write very well.  Arthur Levitt, past Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg, has been on a jihad to bring good English back to business.  He says much of business writing is cold, shallow, and, often, lacks nuance and color.  It is boring to read.
  2. A good letter requires energy to write with compelling sincerity.  A compelling letter means being open and vulnerable and personal, to some extent, to your correspondee—even in a sales letter.  While most entrepreneurs are passionate, the business intimacy innate in the process is usually not comfortable or the strong suit for business people.
  3. 5758portraitofjohndonneWriting isn’t taught or remediated in business school.  Sharon Washington, Executive Director of the National Writing Project, says our high schools and undergraduate programs have de-emphasized writing and constant digital communication has eroded basic writing and vocabulary skills.  (LOL, OMG, WTF, BRB, etc.)  U understand?

So why should the entrepreneur write more personal letters, especially in the sales process?

Well, I’ll tell you why.  It’s simply because, since people don’t send letters any more, when you get one you notice it and actually read it.  It shows  personal attention and a service orientation in the midst of an increasingly impersonal society.  (Quick Hint From Heloise—To make your letter have the best impact, use a very high quality of stationary or card.)

As John Donne put it to Sir Henry Wotton (1633),  “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.”  Thank you, John

Comments 6 Comments »

Here’s a little dinosaur wisdom: If you want to initiate new business with real corporate decision makers, write a letter. Send it snail mail, just like Grandma.

Yup. That’s my brilliant marketing suggestion for the week. Send this letter with a real stamp, ideally an attractive commemorative. Do not use labels for the address, but only direct printing on the envelope. Be sure to use expensive stationary. Spend the money. It’s a very minor expense and it makes a major statement. The very touch of your letter connotes seriousness and respect for yourself and your potential client. It creates a sensual branding statement.

Ideally the body of the letter should absurdly, insultingly oversimplify the wonder of your company. It should be able to be scanned essentially in five seconds by a busy executive. The letter should go something like this:

  1. Request a meeting on a specific date. (The date means nothing. It’s simply a technique for focusing the reader’s mind.)
  2. Describe very briefly what you do, some authenticating clients and any salient defining information (awards, differentiators, rankings, quotes from major press, etc.).
  3. Most importantly, one short paragraph should have two case studies of one sentence each–emphasizing money, ROI, or percentages of increased sales or savings. Pure green eye shade stuff.
  4. No creativity. None of the unique qualitative reasons to use your firm. Then bold maybe four phrases in the letter.

That’s it. The letter should include no collateral and make as little time demand as possible on a busy corporate executive. The point of all this is simply to create a hint, a fragrance, a trope, a memory that he or she got something serious from you. Then you or your representative, of course, must follow up, referencing the letter. But that’s a discussion for another day.

There is one thing a corporate decision-maker is looking for. That thing is clear ROI, whether in the form of earnings, savings, or efficiency. If you can make a compelling, differentiated, classy appeal, your chances of penetration distinctly improve.

Despite all the magical new technology and social messaging, real executive rain-making must be personalized. I feel it is insulting to try to initiate with a busy corporate executive without the weighted intonation of a letter. Quite aside from issues of spamming and information overload, a personal letter is innately imbued with the assumption of a high-level courtesy and a bespoke respect between equals. The most important fact about selling to decision-making corporate executives is simply this: They like to deal with their peers. They like to be deal with people of equal gravitas and authority.

Singer/songwriter Peter Allen wrote a song many years ago called “Everything Old Is New Again.” Ironically, snail mail’s very decline in the face of the Internet’s communication maelstrom, makes it increasingly more effective and noticeable when it is used.

For, as John Donne said in his poem “To Sir Henry Wotton” (1633), “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John.

Comments 2 Comments »

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