Stuff I Wrote: July 2014

Depositphotos 2902188 xs 300x300 Stuff I Wrote: July 2014July was an amazing month for me. I got married to the love of my life, took the first entire week off of work since as far back as I can remember for our amazing honeymoon in Alaska, and then immediately came home and started packing to move from Minneapolis to the Phoenix area. Nevertheless, I managed to get some writing done. Here is a list of 12 posts I wrote that were published outside of this blog last month.

Building An Audience

Knowledge Bombs

Damage Control



Stuff I Wrote: June 2014

Depositphotos 2902188 xs 300x300 Stuff I Wrote: June 2014Here are 20 posts I wrote that were published outside of this blog in the month of June. I’m really grateful to be writing for some of my favorite sites in the planet, and I hope you get a lot of value out my writing.


Content Strategy




What I Learned From My Failed Crowdfunding Attempt

avatar aa368c6d5c31 128 What I Learned From My Failed Crowdfunding AttemptAs you recall, I was working on getting 40 backers for a crowdfunding project on Beacon, to write about people overcoming odds to learn new skills. I unfortunately did not get all of the backers needed for the project to be a success. This really bummed me out because I love what they are doing and think the cofounder I interviewed is a genius… and because I really believed in the project–and still do. But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and I learned a few things in the process. Here are the lessons  got out of it.

1. Details are really important.

I hired one of the best editors I know to take a look at my project draft and help  me flesh out the concepts. And I think it was the best investment in the project. It helped me get incredibly clear on the stories I wanted to tell. Even though the project didn’t get enough backers on Beacon, I plan on pitching and writing articles in the same vein, and possibly working on a book proposal. Having great clarity on the approach for each segment will be my guiding light.

2. Did I mention that details are important?

Along the process in getting the project posted, I was asked some probing questions about my project description, which made me realize that the person asking wasn’t really clear about what I was trying to do. Some suggested changes would have given off a different impression than what I had intended. And a couple of times, updates with typos or errors were sent out, which I felt reflected poorly on the project and on myself. One of the biggest mental blocks I have right now is my often unrealistic expectation that people who manage projects I work on will have a greater understanding of them than I do. I’ve found that my desire for a de facto meritocracy is compounded even more when it’s a project I care very deeply about… the more passionate I am, the more I really need to work on my own patience.

3. Crowdfunding can feel like groveling.

I usually have no problem selling, but for some reason, asking people to pledge felt like begging. I was even more leery of asking multiple times. Although I got a lot of exposure about the project and thought it would sort of sell itself, I felt weird being very salesy and overly promotional when it didn’t. Even asking people to share the project with their friends felt a little icky to me. The truth is that you burn through a lot of social capital doing so, and I had a feeling the project wouldn’t be backed the entire time, so it felt like wasted effort.

4. Passion projects can make selling even harder.

Knowing that even 40 people at $5/month wouldn’t cover my expenses made it more difficult for me to work hard to reach the goal.

5. Timing is everything.

I was hesitant to launch this campaign so close to my wedding, when I already feel like a mere wedding invitation could come across as a request for gifts, and before a planned move cross-country. In retrospect, I wish I would have waited, even knowing that summer launches don’t work as well.

6. It is hard to mobilize people around a common idea rather than a theme.

I’m thinking a campaign based on just one central topic, such as weightlifting or programming, would have gotten more support within that specific niche than the way I went about the campaign.

7. Recurring subscriptions make people nervous.

They’re worried they’ll keep paying even when no updates are made. I think it’s a valid concern, since I subscribe to a Beacon writer who hasn’t updated in months. Having access to every other story in Beacon is pretty great, though.. In any case, a lot of people wanted a non-recurring model that was lower than the two we set (at $30 and $55), which would’ve been okay if I had reached critical mass. Otherwise, though, a$5 donation toward what is supposed to be an ongoing project doesn’t mean very much, which is why Beacon uses an ongoing subscription model I think people used to Kickstarter are more comfortable with a non-sub model and magazine/literary journal people are more comfortable with subscriptions. Both rely on a critical mass or a certain amount of cash in order to work and help fund a project. In any case, it seems that we are still learning what works and doesn’t work in the crowdfunding space.

8. Sometimes it may be easier to go through a gatekeeper.

I have never had luck building an enormous email list and selling people on my list info products. However, I’m really great at getting publishers and brands to pay me to write. Most people have the opposite experience. I don’t know that one is  necessarily easier than the other, but perhaps different people are geared towards different models. In any case, there’s no way I am giving up on this idea, though perhaps Beacon isn’t the answer.

9. There is no real sense of closure when a project isn’t backed.

Once my project didn’t get funded, I didn’t have a nice debrief call or anything. It just sort of fizzled and died.I don’t even have email addresses for everyone who pledged, though  plan to try to find them so I can keep people informed on the status of the project. I still don’t feel like the idea is any less valid and the amount of support I did get feels like a partial win for me, but I still feel like the whole thing isn’t really resolved yet.

10. Some projects are really sticky. Others aren’t.

In the middle of my crowdfunding attempt, I was asking friends on Facebook if they knew of a magazine that read like a cross between Wired and Made Man, or Men’s Journal, but was geared towards women. Women who like gear and tech, and want to decorate but only if it’s done in 20 minutes and costs $30 or less. Women who want to know the best beer bars or burger joints rather than the best grapefruit and yogurt. Women who don’t wear heels and like to go camping and are addicted to apps. A lifestyle site that’s less political than Bitch or Jezebel, and with less fashion and celeb news than PureWow or Refinery29. That post got hundreds of comments, with writers and readers alike very interested in getting involved. For some reason, some types of projects just get people excited more than others. I’m aware that this could be entirely different than how they’d react once it comes time to actually pay for it, but it’s interesting to me what people react to strongly, and what they don’t.

Why I Want To Write About “Impossible” Things (And How You Can Help)

Screen Shot 2014 06 21 at 2.23.22 AM Why I Want To Write About Impossible Things (And How You Can Help)“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…” -Lewis Carroll

It was 1998 when I first stepped foot into Shimer, a very bizarre, non-traditional college, as a student. Our motley crue, which would best be described as a ragtag group of idealists, didn’t look like much. We had off-the-chart standardized test scores and poor grades. (Mine? 1240 SAT–out of 1600 back then– 28 out of 32 on the ACT,  and 2.3 GPA.) Many of us would pool our money together to make sure weed was always plentiful, but couldn’t always do the same for food. Our student body included high schoolers who evaded becoming dropouts by making it into the early entrant program. We also had a handful of adults juggling work and families with school on the weekends.

Some of us struggled with basic social skills. Some of us (me!) struggled with basic hygiene skills. And I’ve sadly watched year after year as my dear friends and classmates lost their lives to everything from drug overdoses to suicide. If there’s a central theme that binds us together, it may very well be our  existential crises and consistent collective struggles with addiction, depression and every other issue under the sun.

And yet there was one thing we could always do, no matter what else was going on in our lives. We could read any book in the entire Western canon, sit around an octagonal table,  and figure it out together.

One time I got stuck in Chicago with a new used bike I’d just gotten. Apparently I read the start date wrong because they didn’t yet allow bicycles on the Metra, not until the next day. The kind bike shop owners offered me a ride–a really long ride–to campus, which was close to the Wisconsin border, and asked me to ‘work’ while I waited for the bike shop to close. I secretly idolized one of the women working there. She wore clunky bike jewelry and had lots of tattoos, sure, but what I really loved was that she seemed to know more about bike repair than anyone else in the store. But when she handed me tools and told me to do something and instructed me to figure it out when I asked questions, I didn’t think I had it in me. I asked someone else for direction and she later told him he wasn’t supposed to help.

What is the difference between these two situations? What makes a group of students, many of who had failed at just about every academic skill they’d ever attempted, get to the point where they expect to be perfectly able to not only puzzle through every book but analyze it, no matter how undecipherable it may be? And what makes someone who’s perfectly capable of wielding a combination wrench AND a patch kit decide that paying someone to replace a tire is the only legitimate option?

These questions are fascinating. How is it that some people overcome blocks, real or perceived, to figure out how to do things they know they’ll never master, whle others struggle with the basics? Why is it that some non-technical folks can figure out how to code in their 50s, while other people decide they’ll never even learn how to use email? How come some city folk can learn wilderness survival and others decide to try to avoid anything outdoorsy altogether? How do you teach yourself a sport in which you’d always have a handicap?

Is it a mindset issue, where you simply will yourself to learn something and won’t give up until you get there? Is it just a burning desire to beat the odds? Or are there particular subsets of skills that can be developed that are transferable across disciplines?

If you’re as interested in these nuanced stories as I am, please consider sponsoring my crowdfunding campaign on Beacon. Just $5/month gets you access to stories about people who gain proficiency in seven different areas, despite handicaps. Topics include coding, drawing, music, Olylifting, language acquisiton, and more! A subscription gets you access to hundreds of writers on the Beacon platform… and you can cancel any time.

If a recurring subscription isn’t your cup of tea, you can pay $30 just one time for a non-recurring 6-month subscription.

Check out the information here:

Many people focus on underdogs who beat the odds to become truly amazing, and many people focus on the prodigies, champions born and bred. Most of us exist in the murky area between the two. We’ll never be world class, but can make a choice between proficiency and ignorance. What makes some people choose one over the other?

Back me and I promise to explore this in depth and come up with answers that are more nuanced than truisms and more accurate than doomsdayers would like you to believe.


Travel Hacking 101: How I Flew To New York For Five Bucks

800px El viaxeru dUrculo 300x225 Travel Hacking 101: How I Flew To New York For Five BucksSo I’ve been visiting New York for the amazing Contently Summit, which I’ve got a lot to share about, but the question I’ve been asked the most is how I managed to land a five-dollar flight to New York City.

People often ask for travel hacking information, and it’s incredibly complex. I really recommend Chris Guillebeau’s ebooks and courses on the topic, as well as the many resources available online.

But a lot of people don’t want to hear theoreticals. They want nitty gritty details about specific trips. So here are the steps I took for this particular trip. (And by the way, this is all completely legal.)

1. I got a Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express. The annual $95 fee was waived for the first year.

2. As a promotion, they offered 30,000 SkyMiles for anyone who meets a $1,000 minimum spend.

3. Since I’m not in the habit of putting that kind of cash on a credit card, I went to CVS and bought two Vanilla Reload cards. I used the credit card to put $500 on each card. (Total cost: $3.95 X 2 = $7.80) This process is referred to in travel hacking circles as”manufactured spend.”

4. I also got a free BlueBird card.

5. I transferred the money from the Vanilla Reload card to my BlueBird card.

6. I transferred the money on the BlueBird card back into my bank account.

7. This got me a $50 statement credit, 30,000 bonus miles, and a free bag check on each flight, as well as priority boarding.

8. I got 2500 more points over about six months  by using the card and then immediately paying it off.

9. I redeemed the 32,500 points for the trip I wanted. The flight to NYC cost me 12,500 points and the return flight was at a higher 20,000 point tier. Cost: $5 for the flight. (The tickets I wanted went from $440 to $604.

Amount spent: $7.80 + $5.00 = 12.80.

Amount saved:  $50 credit, $50 for the bag check, $440-604 for the flight.

Total saved: $540- $704, minus the $12.80, equals $527.20 to $691.20 in savings.


Crowdfunding Campaign Update

Screen Shot 2014 06 11 at 6.45.55 PM 300x165 Crowdfunding Campaign UpdateA few days ago, I wrote about my crowdfunding attempt to get 40 sponsors for a book project called Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I have received 13 backers in 6 days, and am looking for 27 more backers in the next 8.

Please read about the project and consider becoming a sponsor.

$5 per month will help make this reporting possible and also give you access to hundreds of other writers on Beacon.

Again, that site is

Why You Should Stop “Building Relationships”

Paul Klee WI In Memoriam 1938 274x300 Why You Should Stop Building RelationshipsAsk anyone for networking advice, or how to monetize your social contacts, and they’ll likely tell you to “build relationships.” What does this look like? Instead of hitting up strangers for work, you get all dressed up for networking events where you eat small bites of cheese and stale crackers and pretend to be really interested in their lives, in hopes that they’ll one day hire you for something because you seemed really nice. A plethora of business card exchanges take place, and you go home exhausted from all that fake smiling, and then do the whole thing over again.

My advice? Stop. Just stop.

Why? Because “building relationships” by being fake nice to people in hopes of something in return is manipulative, and it poisons the well. Enough new “friends” who are secretly–or not-so-secretly–scouting for work and everyone is suddenly paranoid when someone is genuinely nice to them, wondering what it is that they actually want.

I’m not saying that getting to know people is a bad thing. I am saying that treating people like numbers to help you on the way towards your goal is ruining “real” networking for people who actually just want to associate with like-minded folks without expectations of anything in return.

People are not numbers.

If you’ve ever been to a store to buy an appliance and felt like your newfound friend was very upset after spending a ton of time showing you options when you didn’t go with the one they selected, or even (gasp!) decided to think about it and come back another day, you know what it feels like to be treated like a number, or a stepping stone to someone’s quota. It’s not fun. But hey, at least you expected it in a store. Attempts to build one-sided relationships at industry events create a bad dynamic, and ultimately stop people from wanting to attend altogether.

So instead of attending networking events in hopes of meeting people who will give you a cookie in the future, why not try being real?

Beyond “Schmoozing”

Here’s my strategy:

  • I don’t go to any event that I’m not absolutely intrigued by. That means that I might go to the Hack Factory to learn lockpicking because I think it’s fascinating, but I won’t go to BNA meetings, even though I could probably profit off of their nepotism with a slew of referrals.
  • I don’t talk to anyone I’m not genuinely interested in, and not just because I’m hoping to get something from them. I only talk to people I actually like and want to get to know. (I only work with people I like and want to get to know, but they’re a teeny subsection of people I want to talk to either at industry events or cocktail parties.)
  • I don’t engage in weird politics where I feel like I’m competing for someone’s attention, or surrounding them when they’re trying to leave the room. This creates a competitive, cutthroat-like dynamic, and I’d much rather bow out.
  • If someone is in line to talk to someone, I gracefully step aside to give them their turn. I already talked to someone, now they get to, and we can both follow up when we want. It’s all good.
  • I don’t give people referrals just because we’re friendly. I only pass on names if I’m absolutely sure their work is high quality or if I’ve had experience with them in the past. Likewise, I don’t expect referrals from people just because we’re friends. I’m perfectly happy keeping referrals and friendships separate.
  • Again, if I happen to be meeting with someone socially, even if they can potentially do something for me in the future, I don’t make that the point of our meeting, nor do I expect it. I apply like everyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love meeting new people and talking to them about their projects, and helping people with whatever it is they’re working on. And I am absolutely not afraid of selling or marketing. I just try not to muddle the two.

(For more on my approach to ethical selling, see Skip Miller and Jill Konrath‘s books.)


Podcast Preview: Age Dynamics & Generational Gaps at Work

podcast 300x300 Podcast Preview: Age Dynamics & Generational Gaps at WorkTomorrow, I’ll post the third episode of The Elephant in the Room. My guest, Holden Page, is a freelance writer and former corporate community manager.

We’ll be discussing generational gaps and age dynamics at work.

We’ll delve into political/cultural problems that arise, how to deal with a distinct lack of experience, and whether or not these situations are necessarily due to someone’s age, anyway.

We’ll talk about what organizations need to do in order to address dysfunctional dynamics and work together as a team.

Stay tuned!

In Defense of Mediocrity (Video)

20110329 084413 300x201 In Defense of Mediocrity (Video)I was lucky enough to be selected to speak at Ignite Minneapolis 7 last night! My five-minute talk was in defense of mediocrity! Check it out below (at 1:13:57), check out the other speakers, and please consider pledging for my crowdfunding campaign if you’re especially intrigued by the topic!

Seeking Serendipity: Birchbox, Quarterly & Other Miscellaneous ‘Gifts’

White paper bag on white and black background 261x300 Seeking Serendipity: Birchbox, Quarterly & Other Miscellaneous GiftsI’m addicted to boxes with miscellaneous items. Perhaps this stemmed from my middle school days playing AD&D (Second Edition!) and being unreasonably excited about the bag of useless objects, a funner version of the infamous bag of tricks.

In my adult life, my obsession with boxes started as a foray into the world of, where I could pay to have a box of random curated goods sent to me quarterly. (Nitinol! Music boxes! Lock picking kits!) I’ve also tried Good Box, handmade care packages based around a specific theme. I get Birchbox once a month. There are countless others: Barkbox for dog lovers, Loot Crate for gamers, PlaceInABox, you name it.

Some subscription services are based on convenience. If you can have clothes sent to you through StitchFix, or Bomb Fell or TrunkClub for men,why go to Nordstrom’s to try on clothes?  Heck, True & Co. will even send you bras you can try on in the comfort of your own home and return the ones you don’t like.

Another reason for subscription services is to support the person making the products. It’s the same reason you sign up for a CSA to support local farmers, no matter what ends up growing.

But the big reason, in my opinion, is that we’re missing a bit of serendipity in our lives. As shopping moves more and more online, and sites — and ads — become increasingly targeted, picking up something random on a whim is becoming a rarity. If you happen to run across the same product twice, it’s likely because of ad retargeting, not coincidence. And so we buy boxes of random objects, to pick up items we could have obtained for a much lower cost. I’ve unsubscribed from a Quarterly curator because I felt like I was paying money to get stuff I didn’t need sent to my house. And as much as I appreciate the well-designed products, I’m noticing that they’re merely stemming a profound desire for something different in a world where random and different things are becoming more and more difficult to find. Have we optimized the serendipity out of our  lives?

Boxes also allow us to explore items we normally wouldn’t have bought. If it wasn’t for BirchBox, I’d never wear bright pink lipstick or silver eyeliner. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I’d like to purchase products that are specific to my style (and skin tone). On the other, I’m tired of an overly regimented world and staying in my little box, and sometimes trying something that seems completely wrong for me can be a lot of fun.

I’m not sure if random boxes are a solution for an overly sterile shopping experience. Ideally, we’d all send boxes of random objects perfectly selected for each other. I am always looking for excuses to send people miscellaneous gifts, which is just as much fun as getting an unexpected package on my doorstep. Perhaps we need to curate more presents for one another, in a world of gift cards and registries and rigid expectations.  Gift boxes seem to be a more artificial version of this.