Lost in translation: The joys of creating a second blog

My first blog is called The Five Laws of Business Communication. It can be found here. I moved a couple of key posts (okay maybe several) from that blog to here, my website blog, because I felt they contained important information. Anyway, the transfer didn't go that smoothly. Much of the text got split or became wonky. I hope you'll accept my apologies as I endeavour to fix what got lost in translation.


How much is content actually worth?

Why is everyone starved for content?

In its present, content-rich form, the web is really not even a teenager. Yet every day it becomes a richer and more intricate tapestry as new content is poured into it. The majority of today's customers begin their buying process by researching online -- seeking out content in order to educate themselves. Yet much of the content they find is overly promotional or poorly thought out, as if written as an afterthought, even as the business need for higher quality content continues to grow.

Content was "pretty much considered a commodity three years ago," according to Beth Maxwell in a Hubspot article from November, 2013. Today, the demand for quality content far outstrips supply. Yet the value attached to that content is rising slowly -- surprisingly so. How is that possible? Could the market for quality content simply be dysfunctional? More importantly, what are the implications for businesses that are trying to promote their products and services on the Web?

The New York Times and other high quality content sites have put up online pay walls, and millions of paying customers are anteing up, proving them right. But how valuable has content become to businesses as they search for new customers? Where are they finding their content? Are businesses even using content correctly? An excellent article by journalist Beth Stackpole, The Content Conundrum: Everyone wants quality but nobody wants to pay, attempts to provide some answers.

[Most customers] were looking for cheap Search Engine Optimization (SEO) copy that would drive traffic to their site and they didn't care much about quality or the pedigree of the writers. "They weren't looking for established writers. [...] That started to change about a year ago when companies recognized that prospective customers do a whole lot of research before going to a website. Thus the real requirement is for higher quality content that educates. And content plays a role far earlier in the buying process.

If demand were the barometer for market value, you would think high-quality content and the talent to produce it would be worth its weight in gold. But until recently, content has been viewed as a bargain-basement business, with a lot of companies simply unwilling to pay much for the stuff they put on their websites. That's changing, however, as companies have discovered that cheap content is often lousy content, and lousy content doesn't accomplish anything.

In other words, you get what you pay for. That's one reason why companies are increasingly seeking out smart material with strong storytelling. Corporations have developed a big appetite for material to stoke the content marketing machine and win the hearts and minds of customers.

...[The competitive landscape] started to change about a year ago when companies recognized that prospective customers do a whole lot of research before going to a website. Thus the real requirement is for higher quality content that educates. And content plays a role far earlier in the buying process.

To read more, go to:

Everyone wants quality but nobody wants to pay

People don't want creativity, they want results

As the frigid start to 2014 begins to recede from our memories, it's worth remembering that risk is a four letter word for many people. Especially those in large corporations.

But risk is, well, a risk worth taking. Entrepreneurs -- more than most other groups except perhaps gamblers, skydivers and other adrenalin junkies -- are associated with the word risk. But the kind of risk they take on is nothing like the gambler's risk. The gambler is playing the odds. The entrepreneur isn't playing at all. He or she is in the creativity business. He or she is trying to create something out of nothing, trying to build something usable out of existing spare parts, technology, inner resources and willpower. But people don't want creativity, which is part of the reason why entrepreneurs face so many financial hurdles. This article sums up the "creativity problem" very nicely.  
Creativity drives innovation and entrepreneurship. It's the essential skill that leads to new and more efficient solutions to old problems. In theory, creativity is widely praised and desired. But, in reality, creative solutions are often met with pushback, sometimes even open hostility.Why? A creative idea is usually a novel one, which means it's inherently more risky than the tried-and-true alternative. (People say they value creativity, but what they really celebrate are the successful results after the fact).
 See the full article at: entrepreneur.com

Want to self-publish? This Forbes article is an eye-opener

Considering Self-Publishing? Don't Bother

(Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki's Advice)

....If you’re writing a book simply as a means to an end – to get rich, or to get the word out about your expertise, or to attract more consulting or coaching business – forget it.  Stop what you’re doing right now.  If you’re thinking just about what you can get out of it, you’re probably writing a “crappy” book (Guy’s word), and your “crap” will be forever immortalized in black and white.  Something you definitely don’t want.
Guy advises, “Write a book because you have something important to say. If you have a life story that inspires, or information that you believe everyone in a particular niche NEEDS to know, then do it.”  But don’t just rush to get something out because you think it will enhance your career, profile, business, or bank account.  You just won’t succeed with those inner motives....
Read the full article at:

An Action Plan for Women Entrepreneurs (Part 2)

If you’re a woman entrepreneur, your time is now. 

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I talked to Andrea Guendelman and Fran Maier about the challenges facing women entrepreneurs. Female tech entrepreneurs, in particular, are few and far between, and they get funded far less often than men. Part of the reason is that angel investors and venture capitalists are predominantly male (85 per cent and 95 per cent, respectively) so they tend to relate better to male than female entrepreneurs. There is clear evidence that a subtle gender bias is at work in the VC industry.

That said, women entrepreneurs need to shoulder some of the blame, too. They’re less inclined to be “dealmakers” and they tend to shy away from math and computer science, the bedrock of countless tech startups. Nevertheless, a 2012 Harvard Business Review report gives women entrepreneurs plenty to cheer about. After interviewing over 7,000 business leaders, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, co-authors of A Study in Leadership: Women Do It Better Than Men (2011), reported that women’s leadership skills are superior to men on many levels. It’s definitely worth a read, but it also raised some important additional questions in my mind:

  1. Do women “think big”?
  2. Where are the female VCs?
  3. How can women entrepreneurs get on a more even footing with men?

For answers to these questions I turned to three fast-rising entrepreneurs: Sara Sutton Fell from FlexJobs, Kelly Hoey from Women Innovate Mobile and Meena Mansharamani from GoGo squeeZ and Pup to Go.

Do women “think big”?
Does it matter? Yes it does. It can mean the difference between getting funding for your startup or not. When funders are being pitched, whether it’s on Shark Tank or Sand Hill Road, there’s one question they never fail to ask: How big is your market? Behind this is the unstated question: Does this person “think big”?
Serial entrepreneur Sara Sutton Fell remembers her personal experience pitching VCs. Fell, who is CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a global provider of telecommuting, freelance, part time and flex time job opportunities, says that for venture capitalists “… it’s go big or go home. VCs are simply not interested in a 10 per cent return over ten or twenty years.” That just ties up their capital – capital they could use to buy into businesses with high growth and highly profitable exit strategies. VCs invest to exit.

Fell bootstrapped her first company, JobDirect, by raising money from friends and family, and then attracted funding from angel investors and venture capitalists. But it took time. And vision. And big thinking. “We weren’t playing small. We couldn’t. Not when you’ve spent $200,000 on three relational databases and don’t have any revenue for eighteen months!” Women entrepreneurs “tend to have smaller visions and goals than men, but investors aren’t interested in financing a startup unless there’s a big return.” Fell certainly had a big vision for a potentially huge market. This attracted venture capital and an exit plan, and within a couple of years she and her partners sold JobDirect to Korn/Ferry for 8 digits.

Where are the female role models?
Fell says that one reason women entrepreneurs don’t think big is simply the lack of high profile female role models. Just as today’s male entrepreneurs look to role models like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg for inspiration, women entrepreneurs look to other entrepreneurial women. But unlike their male counterparts, they often come up empty. Even the best and brightest need inspiration. Google’s Sergey Brin admitted that “whenever Larry and I sought inspiration for vision and leadership, we needed to look no farther than [Steve Jobs].”
Where are the female rock stars? There’s no doubt that Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer are extremely influential role models for women, and rightly so. But they do not technically qualify as entrepreneurs, because they didn’t start a company or build one from the ground up. As a result, their experiences and challenges are not always that relevant to startup women. The closest high profile role model for women entrepreneurs might be Oprah Winfrey, but her climb to success is an unusual one.
Corporate executive and entrepreneur Meena Mansharamani has a slightly different perspective. She believes there are plenty of women role models. “What’s needed is more high profile promotion of successful entrepreneurial women.” Mansharamani knows whereof she speaks. She’s managing director of Materne North America which owns GoGO squeeZ, a leader in squeezable 100% fruit pouches for kids and families. She’s also the co-founder (with Cie Nicholson) of Pup To Go, a Manhattan start-up that manufactures, markets and sells a high quality, high comfort dog carrier that keeps dogs (and their super busy owners) happy. “Women need to be showcased the same way men are,” she says.

Women-focused promotional conferences such as Startup Phenomenon WomenWomen 2.0 and Astia help do that. But based on my limited research, the business press could do a better job covering these events. They could send more reporters to profile more of the participants, and feature their stories more prominently, rather than tuck them away in the “Life and Culture” sections.

Mansharamani thinks women need to be a little more assertive. Of course, for women there’s a very fine line between being assertive and being confrontational, and women have to be careful when walking that line because, as Mansharamani notes, “assertiveness in women is not always as well received as it is in men.” She advises women entrepreneurs to make good use of their networks because networking is definitely a strength for women. Her own entrepreneurial experience backs that up. When she started Pup To Go, she was surprised at how big her own network was. She tapped it to find the designers and tailors and marketers she needed to help her turn her concept into a business.

Where are the female VCs?
Who better to answer this question than Kelly Hoey, “one of five women changing the world of VC/Entrepreneurship” according to Forbes. Hoey is co-founder of Women Innovate Mobile, a startup accelerator focused on women entrepreneurs. In her LinkedIn profile, Kelly refers to herself as a catalyst, but non-stop global business networker might be an equally good description. Hoey is well aware that she’s a rare bird in the VC world, because less than 10 per cent of high-level venture capitalists are women.

Why so few female VCs? Hoey responds with a question: “Why are there so few female investment bankers? Lack of role models. If women don’t see role models in a particular sector, it becomes harder for them to see themselves being successful there.” That’s a big reason why venture capital hasn’t been a career path that women even considered. At least until now. “The rising tide of female entrepreneurship has brought with it a new wave of female VCs,” says Hoey. “This wave includes Katherine Barr at Mohr Davidow, Jeanne Sullivan at Starvest, Kathleen Utecht at Comcast Ventures, Aileen Lee at Kleiner Perkins, Joy Marcus at DFJ Gotham, and others.”

Hoey certainly believes in the power of women entrepreneurs. That’s why she and her partners Deborah Jackson and Veronika Sonsev founded Women Innovate Mobile. WIM is the first accelerator program to invest in mobile startups with gender diverse founding teams, and provides women-owned mobile tech companies with seed funding along with mentoring, resources and office space. WIM’s investments include AppguppyLoudly and SQL Vision. Hoey and her partners understand how vital it is for women-owned startups to get early “seed stage” funding (“concept” stage funding) so they can hire people and generate revenues so they’re eligible for next stage (Series A) funding by institutional VCs.

When I asked Hoey who was most likely to become the next female billionaire, she quickly mentioned Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal fame. Nasty Gal is a hugely successful online fashion emporium. Seven years ago, Amoruso began selling one-of-a-kind vintage clothing on eBay, and Nasty Gal was born. Today, the company boasts revenues of $240 million, and sales growth is in the triple digits.

How can women entrepreneurs get on a more even footing with men?
The data show that high growth companies – meaning scalable tech companies, for the most part – are the biggest drivers of employment growth in North America. Yet tech startups have traditionally been the preserve of young men. The good news is, more and more women are entering tech fields, and according to informal polls by Women 2.0, the number of women starting tech companies nationally has doubled in the past three years. Inc magazine’s Abigail Tracy notes that the number of venture capital deals going to female founders is on the rise in 2013 according to the data from PitchBook.

Over the course of these two blog posts (see part 1 here), we’ve covered a lot of ground and in the process gathered a checklist of the strengths and weaknesses of women entrepreneurs. What’s been missing so far is action. What can be done to inspire and create more female startups? Here is a quick summary of the recommendations I received from Andrea, Fran, Sara, Kelly and Meena:

  • Build a company that targets women and women’s products
  • Take advantage of social media networks which women already dominate
  • Become more assertive
  • Become more deal oriented
  • Pitch female VCs
  • Accelerate the “cycle of inspiration” – more female entrepreneurial role models are needed to inspire more women to become entrepreneurs
  • Fund more startups owned by women
  • Learn to code. Web-based tutorials such as Skill Crush help women learn to code, and there’s even a comprehensive training program for women called, appropriately enough, girls who code
  • Make an entrepreneurship class mandatory for all business students
  • Think big
  • Tap into your home-grown network and expand it
  • Find a market need and fill it

The bottom line: women entrepreneurs are starting to come into their own. You might even argue that there’s never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur because, as awareness for the “female advantage” continues to grow in financing circles, there will be an initial period where demand for women-run businesses with exceed supply. Given that timing is everything in business, if you’re a woman entrepreneur you might want to consider that your time is now.

Where are all the women entrepreneurs?

My thanks go out to Andrea Guendelman and Fran Maier for taking the time to share their thoughts on an important subject: women entrepreneurs and startups. Here is the first of two articles I wrote as a result:

Building a business is never easy, but do women entrepreneurs have an extra hurdle to overcome?

"Only 8 per cent of venture backed companies are women-owned. Only 11 per cent of venture capital partners are female. Only 15 per cent of angel investors are female."
By now, nearly everyone with a pulse knows the names Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Bill Gates. They’re not just entrepreneurs, they’re rock stars. They started their startups from the ground up, and out of their sandcastle dreams they managed to build an empire or two. But what about their female counterparts? Where are all the female rock stars?

Actually, they’re everywhere.

From Silicon Valley to Sydney; from Bahrain to Brazil; from Manchester to Mumbai and everywhere in between, women entrepreneurs have been starting and building multi-million dollar companies and doing so at a faster rate than men over the past decade. Currently, there are more than 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States alone, generating over $1.3 trillion in revenue. So why does the public know so little about them? And why, in spite of this rapid growth, are there still so many more male-run than female-run startups?

Only 8 per cent of venture backed companies are women-owned. Only 11 per cent of venture capital partners are female. Only 15 per cent of angel investors are female. And only 9 per cent of board members are female, which is even lower than the already low percentage of women on public boards (16 per cent).

- See more at: http://www.feedthebeast.biz/blog/index.php/where-are-all-the-women-entrepreneurs/#sthash.OHFouvuu.dpuf

Sell without selling

I wrote the following on my website and also my LinkedIn page and felt it was important enough to reiterate it here.

Story = Value
The old ways of advertising and selling are disappearing fast. Today, selling is all about telling the customer's story, not the seller's. Relevant, useful, findable content has replaced glitter and gloss because the only thing more relevant to the customer than money is WIIFM -- What's in it for me? 

So how do you best answer your prospect's unstated WIIFM question? By articulating a clear value proposition. Value is the tipping point. If you can articulate it effectively and concisely (not an easy thing to do) you will hook your prospects nearly every time. If you can't, you will have wasted your money contacting them.

We all know that perceived value is often as important as actual value. Clarity, cut and colour became the value proposition for diamonds, along with a marvellous ad slogan, Diamonds Are Forever, that completed the story. Why else would something not that scarce and not that hard to make continue to be so expensive? Your own value story can make or break your company's future. It's the foundation underlying all your customer interactions, whether told directly by a salesperson or indirectly through marketing. Make it a good one.

Story = value. Value -- well told -- builds sales.

How to write a compelling business plan (Part 2)

"It's the narrative, stupid"

"Despite Steve Job's aversion to selling by PowerPoint, pitch decks have become the preferred option, and for early stage startups, narrative is more important than hard data. Identifying a secular trend is the key. Maybe it's the Zuckerberg effect."

In Silicon Valley, for example, most venture capitalists (and entrepreneurs) have foregone the bulky Business Plan in favour of a short PowerPoint (pitch deck) plus an Executive Summary, plus a pro forma, that lets them understand the entrepreneur's business proposition, market size, goals, direction and management team in just a few moments (VCs are very busy people). Despite Steve Job's aversion to selling by PowerPoint, pitch decks have become the preferred option, and for early stage startups, narrative is more important than hard data. Identifying a secular trend is the key. Maybe it's the Zuckerberg effect.

Do you even need a business plan?

Neil Patel says no. Patel is the founder of KISSmetrics, a software firm which offers customer analytics to small business. In a post on his blog, he explains Why Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Write Business Plans, and says business plans are a waste of time. "If you think having a business plan is going to increase your odds of success, it won’t," says Patel. "There are no stats proving that writing a business plan is going to help you succeed… so do yourself a favor and save your time." Interestingly, the number of comments (pro and con) he received on his article were quite staggering. He clearly touched a nerve because his article sparked a lengthy debate on his site, QuickSprout, one that has raged on for three years.

There are three kinds of business plans 
(so say the pros at accounting firm Deloitte & Touche)
Summary Plans -- A summary plan of 10-to-15 pages works best for early stage companies without an extensive history, or for entrepreneurs with a history of success.
Full Business Plans -- A traditional business plan of 20-to-40 pages is typically used to get for financing. It spells out a company’s operations and projections in detail.
Operational Business Plans -- For established companies, a business plan can be an important source of guidance to top managers. [...] an operational business plan must be lengthy — typically well in excess of 40 pages and sometimes as long as 100.

And then there's this

Executive summary developed by Massive Damage

This is not some MBA student's artistic fantasy. This is an actual one-page executive summary developed by an Ontario gaming company called Massive Damage. You can see the full page here

Here are the guidelines they used to create it, according to Massive Damage's founder Ken Seto.

Keep it to one page if possible, it’s a summary, not a pitch.
If you have no eye for design, hire one or get a designer friend to help out.
If you have metrics, put the good stuff front and center. Feel free to use vanity metrics for big impact but make sure you also have engagement metrics.
Leave enough room for your Team section. Use pictures and previous startups/accomplishments.
Include awesome visuals. Sure you can’t use zombies for every startup but give it some personality. Use bold infographics or charts.

One word I would use to describe it? 

How to write a compelling business plan (Part 1)

Ever wondered if your business plans are as compelling and persuasive as they could be? For many top executives and entrepreneurs, a business plan is the most important document they will ever write, because the future of a company or product is at stake and once in a lifetime monetary gain often rides on the outcome. Yet business plans are seldom written as persuasively as they could be.
Why? It's often because the executive summary (the only part most people read) isn't compelling enough. If you believe that your company's executive summary is strong enough to "sell itself", you may want to think again.

An executive summary is your one chance to tell a story that will excite and impel time-challenged investors to sit down and actually read your Plan. Perhaps you've heard the expression, "the facts will speak for themselves." It's mainly used in the context of legal proceedings. But while an experienced judge might be swayed solely by the facts of a case, facts alone will hardly win a case presented in front of a jury. That's because people need to hear a story -- the full story -- before they make a decision. Even the most hardened financier can be tipped towards your side of the fence if he or she reads a compelling story shaped around facts. We know that people "buy" based on emotion, not just logic. Even business buyers. 

A winning business plan takes the facts and shapes them into a compelling story

So how do you write a winning business plan? Rethink your executive summary, make it unique, says Eric Markowitz in an article in Inc. Magazine (click on the link below). He interviewed a number of experts in the field and put together a pretty good "how to". 

How to write an executive summary

For example, tell us what makes your company unique or exciting? More specifically, do you have a unique partnership? Do you already have customers and traction? Do you have patents or technology? Is your marketing plan special in a certain way? These are some of the questions raised in Markowitz's article. It's well worth a look.

I will explain more of the storytelling techniques behind a winning business plan in Part 2.

The Five Laws

  1. Truth
  2. Experience
  3. Hero
  4. Goal
  5. Obstacle

1. Always tell the truth

2. Every story is an experience

3. Every story has a hero

4. Every hero has a goal

5. Every hero must meet obstacles

Why truth?
Because in an age of information overkill, truth is rare.
(And in business, it's even rarer.)

Why experience? 
Because the audience must connect and be transformed.
(And in business, it's always about the prospect, and WIIFM - "What's in it for me"?)

Why a hero? 
Because someone must drive the story.
(And in business, the customer is usually the one driving the bus.)

Why a goal? 
Because the audience must always feel there’s a finish line.
(And in business, why spend money communicating if you don't want something?)

Why obstacles? 
Because nothing worthwhile - in business or life - comes without a struggle.

The following are two excellent references that helped deepen my understanding of the rules of good storytelling. I was influenced by the first book a long time ago, the second much more recently.

1. The Hero's Journey (Joseph Campbell)

2. The Elements of Persuasion (Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman)

Why managers need to become storytellers (Part 2)

When interviewed by the Harvard Business Review a while ago, the interviewer asked media mogul Peter Guber a very pertinent question:

Why does a regional manager at a branch plant need to understand and practice storytelling for business? 

Guber certainly has the chops to talk about storytelling. For years, a major studio head in Hollywood, his credentials as a billion-dollar storyteller are impeccable. And his book, Tell to Win, is pretty good, too.

Here's his answer to the question

Why managers need to become storytellers (Part 1)

The very short video (below) touches on the most compelling reason why businesses of all sizes should concentrate their efforts on to writing stories that are relevant to their customers and prospects.
The reason?

All buyers -- yes, that includes business buyers -- make their purchasing decisions based on emotion, not reason. 

Only after their emotions have come into play (their "gut instinct", after all factors have been considered) will a decision be made. Essentially only after the decision to buy is made, will logic and reason come into play, as the purchase is justified and rationalized.

Here's the video:

Why businesses, large and small, need to be experts at telling stories

Want to win more business? Articulate your value proposition.

It's amazing how easy it is for us to miss the obvious, simply because we can't see the forest for the trees. We sometimes forget why we're in business. Our knee jerk reaction is to say that we're in business to make money. If you think that's the answer..

You would be dead wrong.

Making money is the result, not the goal. It's the after-effect of your day to day efforts to perform and produce and complete whatever it is you do for a living. Because what you do for a living isn't making money, it's making satisfaction. Remember that old Stones song: I Can't Get No Satisfaction? If you can't satisfy customers and clients in some monetizable way, you won't be in business very long.

Some of my clients are wealth managers. Their job is to manage money for wealthy people. Of course, it's a lot more complex than that, and while most wealth managers (and financial advisors) understand their value, they forget the big picture. They forget that their prospects and clients don't readily understand their value the way they do, which is why they need to be told in clear and certain terms. This is why articulating your value proposition is so important to winning new business -- and at the same time, so hard to do. (Shameless plug:  you can find a whole chapter on value, and value propositions, in Feed the Startup Beast).

Anyway, as part of my research for one of my wealth manager clients, I found an excellent article on value props for financial advisors. I've emphasized some of the points made, but otherwise left it intact. Even if you're not in the wealth management business, you might find it useful too.
I sure did.

Going from Good to Great with the Right Unique Value Proposition
By Ken Haman
Financial advisors know there’s a lot of competition in the marketplace today. And they know they need a unique value proposition (UVP) to help market their services and attract new clients. Most of the more than 300,000 client-facing financial advisors have attended at least one workshop or training class on creating a unique value proposition. 
Creating a unique value proposition is one of the most common subjects we are asked to speak on. As a way of lending you our expertise without having you attend yet another workshop on the subject, I’ve gathered three good unique value propositions and two great unique value proposition statements from some successful teams we’ve worked with—and provided insights on why they work and how they can be improved. Think of this as coaching in a can. 
Good UVP #1: Our team helps business partners turn their business into a secure lifetime income. This is a good, basic unique value proposition. It’s brief and very much to the point. There’s a focused target group (business partners) and a clearly defined benefit (secure lifetime income). It doesn’t get much clearer or more direct than this, so this is a very good effort for a first attempt at a UVP. Here’s how it can be improved: Don’t “help”; specialize. No one thinks they need help—certainly not business people and especially not entrepreneurs. Consider instead: “The ABC Team specializes in…”“Business partners” is a bit confusing. Does the team really specialize in helping “business partners”? If you really specialize in partnerships, that could be a very interesting target group (very specific). If you mean “business owners,” say it, but be more specific. Consider highlighting the industry, type of business or particular point in the business’ lifecycle. 
What’s the pain? The UVP clearly defines the benefit—lifetime income—but people are more motivated to avoid pain than to achieve pleasure. How can you relieve the client’s pain of worrying about income for life? Can this be rewritten as “guaranteed income,” or is it just “secure income”?For a unique value proposition to be truly great, you need to specify the target group as much as possible and then articulate the group’s pain as clearly and powerfully as possible. A great unique value proposition causes the audience to go, “Hey, that’s me they’re talking about!” and then, “Yes, that’s how I feel!” and then, “I’ve got to go talk to those guys!” 
Good UVP #2: I provide wealth accumulation strategies for small-business owners who realize they are behind in saving for retirement.This is a very solid UVP that is consistent with the model. It is tight and focused, and will work as it is. However, to improve it from good to great: Avoid buzzwords. “Wealth accumulation” is a buzzword in our industry. How can you reword this so that everyone in your target market understands and can relate to it? Avoid jargon. “Small-business owners” is jargon. A UVP works best when it meets the audience members in a way they can relate to. Very few business owners think of themselves as a “small-business owner.” They think of themselves as part of an industry, as an entrepreneur or through other criteria they can relate to personally and emotionally. If this could be more specific (like dry cleaners or franchise owners or chiropractors), it would be stronger. 
What’s the biggest concern? Is feeling “behind in saving for retirement” the deepest concern of the target group? Is this the group’s strongest pain? A UVP works when it touches a hot button. In this case, many entrepreneurs are so focused on the survival of their business that they aren’t thinking about a retirement savings plan. They imagine that they’ll fund their retirement out of the sale of their business. To make this UVP truly great, consider taking a closer look at your target market and make sure you have found the hottest button to push.A great UVP is always about the target audience, its members’ pain and their needs rather than the features and benefits of the advisor’s practice. As marketing guru Jay Abraham reminds us, “It’s not about you. It’s all about them.” Advisors limit the motivational force of their UVP when they describe their valuable services rather than speak to the emotional needs of a particular group of people.Keeping the UVP “all about them” is important. When forming your new UVP, return to the fundamental questions: Who (specifically) is the target group? And what (specifically) is the group’s greatest concern? 
In my experience, advisors almost always think about their UVP in terms of what they have to offer rather than what the target clients are most interested in receiving. Keep returning to the needs of your potential target group. 
Good UVP #3: I specialize in providing comprehensive financial planning to successful business owners and executives who are unable to devote the time necessary to ensure their financial goals and dreams are being most effectively met.This is a good UVP and will work effectively to start a conversation. It could be better in some important ways: Avoid generalities and jargon. You probably already noticed the generalities and jargon in this message: “comprehensive financial planning,” “business owners” and “the time necessary.” Being too busy is a very general problem shared to some extent by most successful people.A great UVP deals with specifics and pain—a specific solution to a particular problem that a certain group of people have. 
Great UVP #1: I provide monetization strategies for owners of closely held corporations who are interested in liquidating some of their ownership and have concerns about taxes.Notice the specifics: not just business owners but owners of “closely held corporations who are interested in liquidating,” and not just financial services but “monetization strategies” that address “concerns about taxes.”Great UVP #2: I provide asset protection strategies for anesthesiologists who are concerned about litigation and the loss of personal wealth.I’ve found that many advisors worry about getting too specific because they fear that the group of potential clients they will attract may be too small. This is a mistake, because you need only 10 to 20 new clients a year, each with $2 million to $5 million in investible assets, to become extraordinarily successful. Think of your UVP as setting you up to “own” a group. 
A Truly Great Unique Value Proposition Should Be…Specific: The more you specify a business or industry or situation, the more you can define the painful problems the investor is likely to have. Technology start-ups are really different from multigenerational family businesses. Each of these business owners will have different needs and will engage the Financial Advisor on different solutions. 
Different: Detach from what you know and what everyone else is doing. Create something truly unusual. The idea of a UVP is to think very differently from everybody else, and that starts with getting clear about the needs of a particular group of highly desirable clients and defining what causes them the most pain.  
Focused: Prospective clients and referral advocates don’t have the time or emotional energy to listen to a long, rambling self-description. A unique value proposition should be no more than a sentence or two.  
Unique: Ask the questions “Can anyone else make this claim?” and “Can a prospective client find this/hear this elsewhere?” A UVP points to a particular expertise that distinguishes your business from similar providers. 
Relevant: For example, one client team included in their UVP that they provided refreshments at every client meeting, as evidence of their hospitality and concern for their clients’ well-being. It was very nice that this group provided a beverage service to their clients, and I’m sure their clients value this extra, personalized touch. I wish more advisory practices would do this; it’s easy to do and makes a great impression. However, I doubt a prospective client would select his or her new advisor because a beverage service was provided. This information has no place in a great UVP.A UVP should point to a unique, compelling and valuable dimension of what your advisory practice delivers that will make a prospective client say, “I need to find out more about that group—they sound like they specialize in my situation.” 
As a way to sharpen your assessment of your current UVP, I offer here a “test” for a great marketing statement: Imagine that you have written the UVP in big, block letters on a white billboard out on the highway. All you get to write is the UVP and your telephone number. Imagine that lots of people will look at the billboard every day. Would anyone call?Unique. Specific. Valuable. Motivating. That’s a great UVP.Ken Haman is the Managing Director at the AllianceBernstein Advisor Institute,
 Going from Good to Great With the Right Unique Value Proposition

Can a story be too short? (Part 2)

How long should a blog post be?

How long is a piece of string? The answer is the same to both questions.

Blog posts, as with stories of any kind, do not have a ceiling. They do not have a prescribed length, contrary to what the experts say. These same experts say that people don't have the time or inclination to read long posts. But what they fail to tell you is they won't read short posts either - if the posts don't interest them.

Blog posts, like any story, can be any length they need to be, to tell their story and communicate their message. No shorter, and definitely no longer.

In Part 1 we asked, how short can a story be? Hemingway gave us a terrific six word answer. Margaret Atwood equalled Hemingway's achievement with her own six word story:

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.

Not bad, eh :)

See Part 1 for the full story.

Can a story be too short? (Part 1)

Perhaps you've read the short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway. His fellow writers bet that he couldn't write a story in six words. They lost the bet:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

This may be the shortest story ever told. And it works on every storytelling level. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It tells the truth, it has a hero (probably two), a goal,  and an obstacle which in this case turned the story into a tragedy. Above all,  these six words created an experience that made us think and feel and imagine.

But can a story be too short? The answer is yes and no. Hemingway's story wasn't too short. But many of the stories we read today are too short or too long. Examples abound. In fact, many of the blog postings that appear in my mailbox are far too short, if I define short as un-meaningful. Not to pick on a posting from Good Life Fitness, because they are one of many examples, but they do provide a great example of a story that is too short. Here's the story. Below the post I will try and explain why it was too short.

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Fitness partners for life: How one couple really is living the good life

Most people walk into a gym to make their life better through fitness, little did I know walking into the gym would lead to finding my ultimate partner in life and fitness! Last year my husband Kevin and I met at a GoodLife Fitness gym. Minutes into our first date it was clear, a shared love of health and fitness would be the most stable building ground for an amazing connection.
I’d always seen my commitment to health as a solo event. Our relationship has taught me true lasting commitment is built on same values and true passion which we held separately before finding the other. Now, each day when we work out together as we support each other and cheer each other on through every pull up or curl it reminds to do the same in our daily lives. Just over a year after that first interrupted workout we are now husband and wife have hundreds of sets under our belts and thousand more workouts to do together, there’s barely enough time in our lifetime to get it all! We love living the good life!

Why is this "story" too short?

There are at least a couple of reasons. I think part of the problem is that we don't know who these people really are. They could almost be a fictitious couple, given how little we know about them. As a result, let's face it, they come across as cardboard characters. And because we're human and not termites (who care mightily about cardboard) our emotional commitment to their story fades away rather quickly.

It's also because there isn't really any obstacle. "We met at the gym, we got married." Great. But where is the test? Where are the trials and tribulations? I read somewhere that stories are heightened versions of our own reality. They're not simply tales of our day to day lives. Even soap operas are more than that.

Sometimes it's important to remember that reading a great story is like watching Wayne Gretzky (or Sydney Crosby) play hockey. It seems effortless, but in reality what we are witnessing is years of training combined with talent. Training is critical to superior achievement, and the craft and the skill is as important as the innate genius - whatever genius is.

More to come in Part 2.