Category: Communications

Dear John Letter to my Laser Printer

I stare at the fresh space left — along with a bit of dust — after removing my old laser printer from the office floor. As I approach the 15-year anniversary of Allegro Design on April 1, I feel both sad and spacious. Myself and two colleagues on the east coast make up a small club — those who cling to laser printers long after most equipment has died. Our motto is “Use it till it dies!” or “Keep it out of the landfill!” or “Long live black and white!”

Actually, we have no such motto. Read more

The RFP: Make it a Win-Win

The RFP (Request for Proposal) signals opportunity for a creative firm! They’ve made it to your list of qualified firms. You’ll have multiple options from which to choose, pouring over creative samples and price ranges. Sounds like a win-win for both parties?

Not really.

For every creative firm that sees opportunity, another sees a cost to avoid. For every client that sees opportunity, another sees it as an onerous task that derails their real work, and is confused about the process.

The process might seem to favor the creator of the RFP. But there are hidden costs. Even the best-run RFP process has built-in flaws. You can get the most out of the process if you recognize the built-in flaws and costs, and then use workarounds. Read more

Joy of the [Dead] Book

As I look at my stack of current to-be-finished books, I consider the recent proclamation of the death of the book, so called by some bloggers and news outlets. This isn’t really what was declared. But Seth Godin, marketing guru, announced that he would no longer publish (e-books included) the traditional way. He didn’t announce the death of reading. Though some might interpret it that way. Consider this exchange in the comments section from a blog post yesterday that elicited 2500 tweets.

Charity FootballClub: I’m SO OVER reading…it’s why i stick with twitter cos it’s quick , short and sharp. Linchpin the hard copy book is the last I bought and it’s taken a while but I’m getting to the end! as for eBooks! nah…click , close file …game over!

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How to Write an Article: The Basics

A friend emailed with a problem. Her gardening club loved her tales of digging in the dirt and her near-obsessive, homesteader-like canning and preserving activities that they asked her to write an article for their newsletter.

Then panic set in, so she asked me how write an article, which is funny for two reasons. One, that she asked me; I feel like I fumble through this. And two, her emails are already full of article-ready descriptions of her fruits and her labor, like this one:

I’ve been hanging out my bathroom window picking fresh figs. I’ve got a jar of figs in vodka. Will be doing another in bourbon later. Fig jam and chutney are on the list for this weekend. I guess there are worse problems to have.

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Familiar Strangers

Speaking to a friend, chef and creator of Lovejoy Food, about her first day back at the OHSU farmers market, I asked her how her day went, given the tremendous downpour we’d had. “Were there a lot of people you recognized from last year?” I asked her. There were, and she said it was a bit surreal, seeing all these familiar strangers.

The term was coined by Stanley Milgram in the 1972 paper The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. He is also credited with developing the concept of six degrees of separation.

The true definition of a familiar stranger is someone who is seen regularly (like a person on your morning bus commute) and one with whom you don’t interact. Intel did a study using mobile devices to connect strangers, not necessarily to be friends but, to explore how strangers interact. The concept of familiar strangers is that they are an important link that bridges the gap between friends/family and total strangers. They play an essential role in fixing us in a community and providing us context. We wouldn’t want everyone to be a friend, and nor could we tolerate only strangers and people we know. The familiar strangers act as a buffer.

In my friend’s case, her customers aren’t true familiar strangers. But one friend has been creative with her daily commute (fodder for another post—ways to make the mundane more interesting) by documenting via her iPhone, her fellow commuters’ tattoos, pets, fashion statements and books. She has a non-judgemental, endearing way about her daily documentary. There’s a richness about it because she’s bringing strangers to life and making us look at these people closely, whom none of us know!

An interesting aspect of familiar strangers is that we have an unspoken agreement to not communicate. But we are much more likely to interact if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting, like bumping into the person you see each week at the farmers market while on vacation in Rome.

Has this happened to you? Did you introduce yourself? How long should a familiar stranger remain a stranger? Do you ever want to acknowledge your shared presence, especially if your lives seem to overlap in more than a couple places?

In a city as small as Portland, there are people you see over and over in more than one place you frequent, even if there doesn’t seem to be a significant connection among the locations. Maybe this person should be part of your social or business circle.

The Gift of Saying No

Sometimes saying no is a benefit to both parties.

A LinkedIn post lamenting requests for cheap work called to mind what many of us forget, especially in a bad economy, or else during a long dry spell of romance. We forget what we value, we forget our standards, we forget what we’re worth. Or maybe we forgot to consider those things in the first place.

A tight economy or even naysayers can conspire to make us operate on a scarcity model, one that dictates that we take what comes our way—in case nothing else does. We feel we have to say yes to work that we can’t afford to say yes to but believe we can’t afford not to. We have to put food on the table, but many of us panic or at least become cynical long before we really face starvation.

You have time to breathe and ask yourself some questions.

What are my strengths?

What do I offer that has real value?

What is that worth?

Is this client or project in line with my values and goals?

Will this challenge me in good ways?

A good exercise is to recall the bumpy roads you’ve been down that you swore you wouldn’t revisit. Perhaps it was the low-budget project you allowed yourself to get talked into, with the promise of exposure and more work. Recall how you felt after that, and what it confirmed about the type of work and client relationships you wanted.

If you find yourself being resentful at the assumptions people make, like a website should cost $500, then you’ve positioned yourself to be a contender for that work. If you didn’t see yourself as a contender, there would be no reason to even flinch as such a request. By giving ourselves time to evaluate before reacting (even if our reaction is only internal), we deepen our commitment to what we value.

Having then shifted that focus, we may even arrive at a solution that we hadn’t been able to consider at the beginning. Maybe that solution is passing on a name of a junior designer, offering up a simple service they can afford, or helping the client understand the work involved…all from an objective distance.

In this Zen Habits post, the author gives some tips for saying yes more slowly, for those who can’t stomach saying no. The person who posted the question on LinkedIn, as a result of repeated requests for low-cost work, lowered her rates. Prevailing logic says now is the best time to raise them. David C. Baker’s website Recourses has great position papers related to this, like Avoiding Marketing, Saying “No,” and Rethinking Rates.

We get locked into ways of thinking—that clients want cheap websites, for example. When instead, the real answer lies in what we draw to us. And why. This requires puzzling through issues we want to avoid—Why am I afraid to say no? If I find better projects, what if I fail? What do I owe to myself and my business, and what do I owe to others? And how can I make it work so both of us benefit?

This is why saying no sometimes works better for both parties. Saying yes for the wrong reasons can lead to working with a disengaged spirit, which serves neither party well. And more importantly, each time it happens, it’s a missed opportunity to learn something about ourselves.