If I Were A Carpenter

Despite the inevitable negative impact on my bid for the US presidency, I’d like to make a confession: I’m not a physically rugged kind of guy.

I can’t swing an ax; I don’t play touch football; I have no military record (real or imagined). I do own a power-tool, but in fairness it’s just a drill, which frankly is kind of the “placekicker” of power tools — on the team certainly, but much smaller than the other players, and by and large incapable of causing any real harm.

And so when my three kids cornered me one day last Spring with their request for a tree house in the backyard, I handled it the way I do most home improvement project inquiries: I took it “under advisement,” in the hope that it would simply blow over.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t happening, and the requests kept coming with more and more frequency. One day in mid-August (OK, I admit I had been watching the Olympics), I suddenly jumped up from the couch and yelled, “Let’s do it!”

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how stupid that was. I literally had no idea where to start, and after spending 45 minutes roaming the aisles of Home Depot the following day, I walked out with a box of nails and 50 feet of rope (don’t ask, I don’t know either).

Now, it’s often said that in our time of greatest need a solution will appear, and in my case, that solution came in the form of my wife’s brother, Neale.

Neale and I live at opposite ends of the, “People-who-are-attracted-to-dangerous-and-physically-grueling-outdoor-activities,” continuum. While I prefer to spend my days writing newsletters and thinking up stupid jokes, Neale is drawn to kayaking, mountain biking (down real mountains) and airplane piloting. He’s also a professional carpenter, having built his own house and those of many others.

And so when he came to stay with us for a few days, I wasted no time. As soon as the kids were in bed, I pounced on him at the kitchen table as he drank a cup of coffee (black). Over the next two hours, using what little information I could provide, he sketched out a design, wrote out a list of materials and answered all my questions.

What struck me over the next month, as each day of tree house building raised a new set of phoned-in questions, was how easy it was for Neale to respond. No matter what I threw at him, he had a perspective — if not the exact answer — at his fingertips:

Me: Should I use 2x8s?

Neale: No, that’s the base of the entire thing; I’d go with 2x10s.

Me: Do I need locking washers?

Neale: You can if it will help you sleep better, but they’re a lot more expensive and not really necessary.

Me: You know Neale, I’m starting to feel pretty darn rugged out there.

Neale: Do you have a question?

Were Neale to write an E-Newsletter, I’d recommend that this type of simple, short, obvious (to him ) questions become the basis of his content.

I mention this today, because many of you feel compelled to introduce groundbreaking findings in your newsletters. In most cases however, not only is this unnecessary, the target audience that you want to reach — potential clients for your services — knows so little about the topic, that the really valuable information is the stuff that spills out effortlessly over a cup of coffee.

The challenge in fact, is not inventing new insights in your field. It’s putting yourself in the position of your target reader, and identifying what it is you know that somebody with a need for information — but only a passing interest in your specialty — would want to learn.

Bottom Line: In my experience, most newsletter writers attempt to “reach too far” in their selection of topics. If your audience lives outside your specialty — as is the case with most professional service newsletters intended for clients and potential clients — it’s the basics of what you know that are of the greatest value. Write to attract an audience of potential clients, not to impress a panel of expert colleagues.

See you next time, and don’t forget to cast your vote for me on November 2nd.

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