Capture And Release

I have to confess, I’m not the most process-oriented person you’re likely to meet. Sure, I get the important stuff done – things like hitting deadlines, remembering my wedding anniversary, defragging my hard drive.

But it’s not very direct. Like a dog settling in for the night, I prefer to circle around the problem a few times before actually getting down to business.

It’s for this reason, in fact, that I bill on a flat fee basis. I like to shoot the breeze before starting work and I’m quite certain that if I were charging by the hour, clients would be less inclined to indulge my insatiable interest in idle chitchat.

But you know what I’ve noticed? It’s this very same chitchat that is the source of most great E-Newsletter stories.

Here’s what I mean…

Many people (I’m hoping you’re one of them) appreciate the benefits of including personal stories in business communications. Stories reveal your human side; stories are easy to tell; stories are memorable and, perhaps most importantly, stories based on your own experiences are yours and yours alone to share.

All good stuff. The problem for many of us, however, is that when we need a good story as a lead-in to a particular point, we can’t think of anything. Like a clumsy bear swatting at a mackerel in a fast-moving stream (or whatever), we come up empty.

Back to the idle chitchat.

What I’ve come to realize is that the time spent on “non-business” conversations with clients often leads to newsletter story ideas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the front end of a call and, while discussing the weekend, the weather, or something similar, have interrupted the conversation by shouting, “That’s a newsletter!”

For example…

  • It was Mariko Gordon telling me about her visit to the Los Angeles Lakers “Fan Jam” with her 13-year-old son that led to this newsletter on evaluating investment opportunities.
  • It was Tim Withers sharing his thoughts regarding how much allowance to give to his children that led to this newsletter on long term care options.
  • It was Ernest Hemingway muttering incoherently about driving an ambulance in World War I that led to this (admittedly long and cynical) newsletter on the human condition. (He’s not a client of mine anymore.)

The point is, you’ve got – we’ve all got – an endless supply of life stories parading by every day. Your job, if you want to have plenty to choose from the next time you sit down to write, is to capture them.

Two simple suggestions:

  1. Capture now, figure it out later. You don’t need to know today how you’ll use a given story next month or next year. If it’s intriguing enough to share with a neighbor over the weekend, it’s probably a keeper. One day, when you’ve got a great business point to make and need an interesting lead, you’ll look in your Story Place, pull this one out, and share it with readers.
  1. You need a Story Place. Keep them in a Word document, write them in a notebook, carve them into a bar of soap, whatever. Just make sure to designate a consistent, standard place for storing your stories. (Hint: If it’s on a computer, please back up the file.)

Here’s the bottom line. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to begin a newsletter (or white paper or business presentation or toast to the bride) than with a story. But if you’re hoping for the perfect tale to appear at the precise moment you need it, you’re rolling the dice unnecessarily. Instead, capture them now and release them later.

P.S. If Hemingway calls, take a message. That guy wastes more time than I do.

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