Review: 7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make

Quick little book worth every penny. One sentence made me look up and say, “Well, I just got my money’s worth from this!” I’ll let you read the book yourself in case your sentence is different from my sentence.

Four not five because it’s not, for me, a life-changing book; four not three because it is an excellent solution to exactly what it says it is. Some of these mistakes may not apply to you, particularly if you are planning to sell your own cards, rather than writing for a greeting card company.

One sentence. That’s all it takes. I found the sentence that mattered to me. You probably will, too.

7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make

Review: Turn Your Art/Photography into Profitable Greeting Cards Online

I’m new to the POD art world, learning my way around the various e-commerce systems for selling digital versions of my art. I am only just beginning to see greeting cards as a possible product.

If you have art to sell and need a low-cost, entry-level product, consider learning about the POD options available to you today in greeting cards.

Reading Stephanie’s book was a very useful, cost-effective introduction to marketplace sites for greeting cards, as opposed to stand-alone e-commerce platforms (Cafe Press vs. Shopify, for example). I came away with a lot of ideas for what to do next and am completely satisfied with the cost-per-idea / encouragement ratio.

This book is a perfect match for Kindle–instant; brief, inspiration to be consumed during a road trip where I wouldn’t have internet access.

(Four not five because it is not a life-changing book; four not three because it is a perfect answer to the problem it proposes to solve.)

Turn Your Art into Profitable Greeting Cards

Process Mapping Software

I’ve been testing process mapping software this week.  Will write a larger post about the process and my decisions along the way later.  I like Creately; even the free version has everything I can think of wanting.  Final test:  how does the link translate in a blog post?

These links shared from a free account; expect I have to upgrade (which I will do) to remove the watermark.

Sharing link (renders the map in Facebook):
Creately map of posting flow

Embed code (fixed image size, here 600 x 400 px):

Will share this version to Twitter and Linkedin to see how the embed code appears on those platforms.

More tweaks: need to upload logos for the social platforms.

Twitter doesn’t display an image.

Screen shot of tweet with an embedded map from Creately.

Screen shot of tweet with an embedded map from Creately.

Less on the new Linkedin.

Testing auto-share of an embedded process map from Creately.  This, from Linkedin.

Testing auto-share of an embedded process map from Creately. This, from Linkedin.

So, if I want the image to share to the social platforms from WordPress, I need to upload a real image, not an embed code.


No wonder I hate stock

When I teach the Images unit of the Social Media Marketing Certificate Program, I encourage people to build their own library of stock images. I hate pictures of people writing backwards on glass windows; of perfectly balanced teams where everyone is dressed in color-coordinated clothes, where everyone had an orthodontist.

“Take your own,” I tell them. It’s cheaper, and more authentic. You’ll know what you have, and the pictures will be correct for your location, and … sigh. So many reasons. Some people are persuaded, and for some, it’s simply too much.

Today, I opened an email from Getty Images. I had a moment to take their Visual DNA test. It’s fun. And I laugh at the results.

Watermark added by my photo processing routine; the images and text are all copyright to Getty Images.

No wonder I hate most stock images. At least the ones where everyone has perfect teeth.

No wonder I hate most stock images. At least the ones where everyone has perfect teeth.

The test was much more interesting than I expected it to be. Had to stop and think for a while about some of the options.

This should not be a surprise.

This should not be a surprise.

I also want to go back through the test and look at some of the arrays. Interesting set ups that make for great photo assignment suggestions. (Think Linkedin Post images, for starters.)

All manner of creative directions: I like that.

All manner of creative directions: I like that.

Yup. Way more creativity than I have figured out how to sell thus far.

Suggested images from Getty. The dogs are Amanda Jones; love the parrot.

Suggested images from Getty. The dogs are Amanda Jones; love the parrot.

I suppose it’s telling that I recognize at least one photographer in this test.


The Little Book of Wrong Shui

In the course of study of professional organizing, sooner or later, you’re going to encounter Feng Shui. While in no way a trained practitioner, I can nevertheless drop a bagua on any building I visit and tell you where the Love and the Money sections are in the house. If you’re broke or lonely, declutter here first, the general advice holds, and your luck will change.

I found The Little Book of Wrong Shui at the checkout line at Barnes & Noble. If you, or anyone you love, has been the subject / victim of a drive-by Feng Shui treatment (look for octagonal mirrors and red ribbons on the drainpipes), you’ll get a chuckle.


  • A bright idea: if parts of your home are prone to darkness, a light, carefully located, will solve the problem.
  • Nice to see you: attract visitors to your home by placing stereo, video, and computer equipment where they can be seen from the road.
  • The ups and downs of stairs: stairs going up are good Wrong Shui. In your home only have stairs going up.

New copies are less than $5 and you can get them used for $2. Buy a handful and help all your friends to a more prosperous, love-filled life. At least, they’ll be laughing so hard at the Feng Shui jokes, they won’t notice they’re still broke and alone.

Daydream Believer

Daydream Believer

Several days ago, I saw a request on the HARO email asking about business owners who daydreamed and how forced themselves to quit daydreaming and get to work.  IMO, “daydreaming” and “work” are not mutually exclusive.

I don’t know how businesses get created without a dream.  Business starts with an idea, and any way you label it, “ideas” aren’t too far from “daydreams.”

The trick, which is probably what was driving the reporter’s question, lies in turning the idea into reality.

For me, the first step between a dream and reality is writing.  Some people have their best ideas in the shower.  I have my best ideas with a pen in my hand.  Once I recognize I’m in a “day dream” (and, of course, not driving at the same time), I’m writing.  It helps that I write for a living, and paper and pencil are never far out of my reach.  Write the story.

  • What is it that I am thinking about?
  • What do I want to have happen as the outcome?
  • Who’s starring in the latest drama?
  • Why have I cast the story with these players?

Sometimes, simply writing a daydream is enough.  I’ll see, “Oh, I’m still processing XYZ______,” and make a note to discuss the issue next time I talk with the person involved, and poof, the story is gone.

Sometimes, however, I’ll see something bigger.  “Hum,” I thought, the last time this happened, when I found myself dreaming about teaching a class on a topic I know well but never thought to teach. “If she’s never thought of that approach, (this particular “she” is an expert on developing and implementing goals), then maybe this IS new material and maybe I should follow up on it….  Maybe this is a new way of looking at the problem!”

After I write out the story and identify the core elements, the daydream transforms itself into one more business idea.  It needs to be worked into my project list and acted upon, and grown into something that can be sold.  David Allen, of Getting Things Done fame, made his fortune working in this space.

The Universe Baits its Hooks with Daydream Bait

One way to explain daydreams is “universe bait”—God, maker, source; your choice of name—wants to have something created, and dangles hooks baited with ideas in front of our minds.  Those ideas first present as daydreams.  What if …?  Wouldn’t it be great if….?”  I wonder what would happen if …?  If we don’t actually take the bait, the idea moves on, and someone else takes the hook, implements, and turns an idea into reality.  In business, that usually means income.  When that happens, we’re left on the sidelines, saying, “But I had that idea last year!”

I have to admit, I used to be someone whose air castles stayed evanescently in the air, never descending to intersect with my real ilfe.  “Wouldn’t it be perfect if…”, I could go on for hours.  I’d exhaust myself.  Once I started writing out the stories, it wasn’t long before I noticed ideas starting to grow in new directions.  When I committed a train of thought to paper, the next step would appear.  I saw a knitted rug in a book and thought, “I could make that,” and I did.  I’ve since made 72, and sold 40.  Similarly, a thought that ran, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could take this Chatlist outside into my carving tent?” turned into the book Carve Smart a year later.

Two new books are cued up and waiting for me to take the next step.  The goad that will get me over the “it’s too hard” hump is imagining how irritated I will be if I see those ideas, written by someone else, on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

When I hear people talking “air castle talk,” I don’t suggest they stop. Instead, I ask, “what does the foundation look like?”  They look at me with a blank stare, so I go on.  “What’s the first thing you would need to do if you wanted to live that life?”  A rock-star wannabe girlfriend needs to take guitar lessons.  Her dream of performing in Madison Square Gardens may never happen, but she’ll be a whole lot closer when she knows four guitar chords.  It may turn out that she’s called to be some very different kind of performer, and the universe only dangled the rock concert in front of her because it knew she’d jump at that bait.  She won’t know until and unless she learns to play.

Daydreams outlast dreamers

Ten years ago, a friend was forced to leave her new house because of Black Mold.  She had an agonizing two years of health problems, followed by two moves and attempted remediation, before the problem was solved with a new house.  She dreamed of telling her story on Oprah.  She contacted the producers of the show, but she never heard back.  One woman, one house?  Oprah likes to hear from movements, not individuals.  It’s possible that a different first step—a notice in the grocery store, or Craig’s List, looking for other people affected by mold, suggesting a meeting, self-help, activism–could have been the start of a national movement.  She’ll never know.  Her life moved on.  I just checked today, and there is a “Moms Against Mold” website, started by someone else, several years after my friend’s story.  The idea was in the universe, waiting to be developed.

There are two paths away from “not daydreaming:”

  • Not dreaming
  • Implementing the dreams and making them real

Only one of them has any value.  I can’t stop daydreaming.  I can learn to become faster at taking the hook and building foundations under my air castles.  It’s a nice life.

Innovation in a Be Here Now Model

Showing my age in that title, no?

I spent most of December rethinking what services belong under the Red Tuxedo umbrella. I’m really comfortable working with innovation design processes, change management and staying changed, metrics, and the intersection of behavioral economics and marketing (to the extent they’re not the same arena, as some marketers suspect). Created seven huge mind maps about these topics and my plan is to turn some of those notes into articles, blog posts, and possibly, products.

At this very minute, I’m not quite sure how the notes will turn into a business. That’s not the point of today’s post; and neither is it the point of the work itself. I’m letting the process tell me who the clients will be. I have some ideas, based on what I already know about the business world and who might benefit from this information:  patent lawyers, for one, actuaries, CPAs, and other degreed professionals whose gifts don’t often run to marketing or process design. But that’s just what I understand today, and it may change.

A business advisor told me that the next step would be for me to go out and meet these people and find out what was on their minds, what problems they had, and what they services they would be willing to pay for. I’m not surprised that I resisted; could have simply ignored the suggestion, although that would have been awkward to handle conversationally. It’s not where the work is, yet.  The work needs to be written; now, first, before I try to take it public. (I want to capitalize “work,” but Byron Katie uses “The Work” to describe her process and I don’t want to step on those toes.)

When I think about this decision point in terms of innovation and design processes, I can see that:

  • Not going public is one way on not “failing fast,” by not getting feedback
  • You can’t innovate through focus groups. Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have told me, ‘faster horses!'”
  • Ideas need protection in their early stages.  The first sign of green rarely looks like the adult plant.

“‘Seeing what happens next’ is not a business strategy,” my advisor said. “Yes, it is,” I answered. Given that we cannot ever predict the future in all its detail, “seeing what comes next” is what we always wind up doing, regardless of what additional actions we take. Sometimes we poke the bear by taking action, and call it “business strategy.” Sometimes we just watch to see what the bear will do on his own. (Your bear may be different from mine.) In the end, we always get an opportunity (unless we’re dead) to see what happens next. For that matter, plenty of people believe that being dead is the ultimate vision of “what happens next.” I’m simply choosing not to poke the bear right now.

Thus far, my writing reveals that I have more research to do. Hum. Ideas are always perfect, until you try to implement or execute on them. That’s when things get really interesting, at least if you understand creativity. So my ideas aren’t as perfect as I’d like to think they are. I’ll stay with them. I’ll post most here, or at, or at (my art blog) as they take form.

It’s not that I think I have such a great process, exactly. Like Churchill said about democracy, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Innovation by “being here now” may not be the “best” process.  It isn’t what they say happens in Silicon Valley, or what Wall Street invests in. But when you’ve tried everything else, it doesn’t hurt to use what’s left. Stay tuned.

Feel free to share your experience with “let it be” innovation in the comments–thanks!

Print to Edit Your Content, Before Publishing.

Last week, I paid a writing coach a small chunk o’change to give me some guidance about creating content.  It feels like it takes too long to create the material that makes up my business life, from home study courses to blog posts to comments in the blogosphere.  I want to be faster.

As part of her coaching package, Ali Luke will review and edit up to 2000 words of your writing, so I sent her links to three substantial blog posts.  She pasted the content into MS Word and then used Word’s “comment” feature to share her thoughts about my material.

Friends, I am a bit miffed.  Her editorial comments were useful, and actionable (good “business” word there), and except for one or two tiny typos, substantial.  What struck me is that I probably would have seen most of the edits myself if I had printed the content onto paper and read my own material on the couch first.  I can make these edits for free.

To be true, Ali and I are 25 years apart in age, so she has an eye for my tendency to preach in a way that perhaps my peers wouldn’t sense.  That is good stuff.  And I’m not in any sense denying the value of her editorial suggestions–the fact is, I hadn’t seen the sticky spots she pointed out, and the posts are better for the changes.

Before I work with her again, however, I plan to print out all my site content, double-spaced, and sit down on the couch with a green pen (kinder on self than red) to edit and mark it up.  Then we’ll see what she has to say about flaws I can’t see myself, rather than sticky spots I would have seen had I looked.

Doing a “preview” out of WordPress and looking at the content on the screen is simply not the same thing at all.

In the course of preparing Hiring is Hard:  How to Hire Your Third Employee for release, I printed the entire document (150+ pages) at least three times.  I used a professional printer, so that I could get the document bound.  Reading a “real” manual made the needed edits jump out at me in a way they simply didn’t when I looked at the material on the screen.

It may be that people who learned to write on computers have a different editing process, and that printing, for them, is a waste of time.  Can’t say.  All I know is that for those of us who learned to type on manual typewriters, who thought correcting Selectrics were simply the greatest thing since sliced bread, printing out a blog post and taking a good look at it with an editorial eye while you sit on the couch can do wonders for your internet expert status.

Creating High-quality Audio Files

I drive about 500 hours a year, and I listen to audio files most of the time I’m in the car, especially when I’m on the longer legs of a journey.  I listen to lots of “how to be in business” content, as well as the occasional fiction; recently, I discovered college classes available for free from Open Yale.  At 500 hours a year, a body gets a feel for what makes a good audio file and those courses from Yale crystallized my thinking. Here are some suggestions that can make your audio files easier to listen to, and perhaps, therefore, easier for your listeners to recommend to their friends.

File naming

Remember that MP3 players sort and display by the Title field, while many people work with their files by file name. Ideally, the two should be the same. If you are selling a series of files to your listening audience, it can be helpful to select file Titles that alpha-sort in the correct replay order. If you want your listeners to be able to select your file from a list in their player, you may want to think about including your name (or business name, or series name) in the file name. We your listeners are more likely to remember that we wanted to listen to “that latest download from John Gold” than we are to remember exactly what he called it.
We have the length of a red light to find the file. You can help us find your file, or not. We’ll listen to whatever comes next on the player when the light turns green if we haven’t found your file yet. (In addition, if your listeners are likely to be wearing reading glasses, they may not be able to see the display clearly anyway. The shapes of names we know are more easily recognized than the shapes of words in a title we don’t remember.)

Technical tweaks

  1. Repeat the name, host and basic identification information of the call after you start the recording. It’s disconcerting to be dumped into a conversation with no way to verify which file queued up next in the MP3 player, esp. when your listener may have loaded a dozen MP3 files onto a player at one time, and be driving on the highway while listening.
  2. If the call belongs to a series or package, identify its unit within the package.
  3. If the call has any kind of seasonal content, identify the at least the month or time of year during the introduction.
  4. Please please please put a large audience on auto-mute. Unless audience members have practice participating in large corporate conference calls, your call-in audience hasn’t learned to keep their own phone on mute. We, the listeners of your recorded product, do not want to hear you asking users to “press *6” a dozen times as people turn away from your content to address their own lives. I decided against purchasing a collection of one vendor’s products because the vendor managed “group mute” so badly on the free example audio files.  I lost access to her content.  She lost access to my $250.
  5. Lock your own dog up.
  6. Make sure the conference call software does not audibly announce hangups. It’s embarrassing to hear people drop off in the middle of the call and the speakers working not to pay attention to tones announcing that one more person got bored and left the call.
  7. Listen to the prompts your conference call software gives when you put the audience on and off all-mute. “Presentation mode enabled” takes eight syllables to convey two syllables of information: mute on.
  8. Consider your vocal volume, particularly for female speakers. The older your audience, the more likely they are to have some hearing loss. Please adjust your recording volume so that they can increase the playback volume on the audio file, if needed. More than one MP3 file is inaudible in parts to me because the speaker allows her voice to get very soft.  (Few files recorded by men have this problem.) I am already have the volume cranked all the way up. (People who sell much more product record at a louder volume, and I am able to adjust the volume on their files downward.)
    Note: It turns out that some conference call software has trouble with the volume for “remote hosts,” that is, when the voices of two people in different locations both matter to the quality of the call. (This is less important in a Q&A setting, where the host can always (and should) repeat the question.)
  9. About those Umms and Uhhs: listen to yourself before you distribute the call. You will give a better impression of your expertise if you edit them out. Better yet, learn how not to use filler words and phrases in the first place: See the post, “Umms in Public Speaking” for a simple and easy-to-implement fix.

Content considerations

It’s highly probably that the worst offenders will not see themselves in the following items, in part because they have never given the matter serious consideration.  Here’s a hint:  they call it content for a reason.

Fill your audio file with CONTENT.  Real information, steps, facts, your experience, perhaps even stories.  Dale Carnegie teaches the “incident, point, benefit” model for public speaking and it works.  Following any of a number of similar models helps speakers stick to the point.  Read Made to Stick and check your transcripts against Chip and Dan Heath’s six factors.
Get the “I love us all, aren’t we great” welcome messages out of the way before you start the recording. I don’t want to hear very much at all about how fantastic, unique, special, devoted, determined, or any other adjective describing the audience, we all are for having the wisdom, good sense, foresight, judgment, or lack of productive alternatives to be on the call today. Chances are, I couldn’t make the live call and I’m listening to the recording some months later anyway.

Consider carefully before veering off into opinion or advice that you are not linking to a specific situation or incident.  Very few speakers are skilled enough to deliver useful opinions into the ether.  (I might add that few professional commentators are, either, but I don’t buy their files and they don’t read my blog.)

Interviews are particularly vulnerable to this problem.  The host says, “tell us what you think about creating products….” and the guest goes off into, “Well, you have to work really hard to figure out what your audience wants…” and “then you may not sell very well if you don’t get your launch right…” and “people want to do joint ventures with me but they don’t bring a good game to the table…” and on and on and on.  I yearn for a audio file transcript that I could edit with a red pencil, crossing out entire paragraphs of rambling opinion that fails to educate.

Here’s another hint:  I don’t care what you think.  I care about what you know, and about what you did, and what happened, and possibly about what you would do differently next time, as long as you can point to the reasons you would try something different.

I grew painfully conscious of rambling in audio files after listening to Kelly Brownell at Yale talk about food politics for semester.  In 30 hours of audio downloads, Dr. Brownell and his guest speakers don’t waste a sentence on unsubstantiated opinion; every lecture is full of tangible facts and real information about food as we produce and consume it around the world today.  Similarly,  Ben Polak, although inclined to a few filler words and phrases, manages to deliver his understanding of Game Theory week after week without diverging into unsupported opinion.

I came back to “amateur” audio files with a shock as I found myself daydreaming not long into a call.  I couldn’t have told you what the host and guest were saying.  The third time it happened, I caught on.  The speakers weren’t saying anything–that was the problem.  It was just opinion, and advice, and telling us to work hard, and be original, and this, and that, and other rambling.

Phooey.  Give me Game Theory if you can’t give me real marketing.  At least Game Theory can explain elections.

You are (so) not in charge

I listen to a lot of internet marketing advice, and I subscribe to blogs about productivity and email management, and I hear advisers telling me to “train my readers to open my email” and “plan your mailing to get your email opened” and “manage the customer experience” and all sorts of other blather that’s beginning to go a bit stale. You are not in charge of the customer experience. You can do a good bit to help the customer have a better experience in doing business with you, and most of us in business should probably do more. But you are not in charge. You are (so) not in charge.

I’ve heard, and perhaps I’ve even given, advice to be cautious about accepting requests from Linkedin Connections who “don’t write a personal note.” I teach this stuff. OK. Today, Linkedin went off on a jag of its own, and sent out 12 requests for connection without offering me the opportunity to customize the message in any way. Oops. Better eat those words quietly. I was completely ready to customize the message, to “hide email addresses from recipients” so they wouldn’t be able to tell it was a group request (cross check against my Gmail address book), even to send the requests individually. But no. Linkedin jumped in and ran. And now 12 new people “think” I’m a goober who can’t be bothered to write a tailored introduction.

Maybe I’ll never write a tailored intro again, and simply default to the canned message, and then I’ll find out who thinks they “control the customer experience” according to who refuses the connection.

In a second example, I received a “request for confirmation” (opt-in) email from someone I’d purchased products from six months ago. I wrote to ask why I was getting this opt-in message now, when I’d been on his mailing list for a good while. He replied that he was changing providers and the new provider required a confirmation (which is, by the way, good practice). I replied that he could have included that fact in the requesting email.

Four days later, I found his first email, buried in my in-box. He had explained everything. However, I hadn’t seen it. Now, on one hand, I’m the fool, for replying with a pointed suggestion. OTOH, he sent two emails where one would do, doubling the chances of a misfire. We’re even.

The larger lesson? Be careful about drawing larger lessons when technology is involved.

I’m probably not the only person with friends who read email on their phones, who regularly DON’T see the second paragraph because they have replied to your first paragraph quickly. Clearly, Linkedin has different data flows, depending on how you come into the system. There’s probably a switch in my email application that would make it process “read” and “unread” in a different direction, rather than marking “unread” items as “read” in the wrong direction according to my habits, and maybe I’ll go look for it.

Or maybe not.