“Hi honey, how was school? Did you kill anybody today?”
I’ll be the first to admit, this is not a normal, end of the day greeting for one’s 18-year-old daughter.
Then again, May is not a normal month here in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. At least, that is, if you have a child who is a high school senior, as I do.
Because every spring, in our town and in many others across the country, high school seniors engage in a month-long game called “Senior Assassin.”
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Don’t worry, it’s not as sinister as it sounds; it’s more or less an elaborate game of squirt gun tag.
Here’s how it works…
1. You team up with a friend.
2. Each week, you and your friend are randomly – and secretly – assigned a team to “kill” (i.e., squirt with a water pistol).
3. Meanwhile, another pair of waterlogged hit men is out there trying to kill you.
4. To advance to the next round each week, you need to both kill your target and avoid being killed yourself.
I have to confess, the whole thing is kind of exciting, if only for the fun of stumbling upon an unidentified teenager dressed in full camo, hiding in the rhododendron as you wheel the trash down to the curb in the morning.
It gets better. As of this writing, and from an initial field of 108 teams, I’m proud to report that my lethal daughter Emily and her homicidal friend Kayla are among the 15 or so pairs remaining.
But it hasn’t been easy for them. In fact, it’s been interesting to watch as Emily and Kayla plan their strategy, something which has necessarily gotten more complex and refined with each passing week.
It’s even made me realize how much survival in Senior Assassin has in common with survival as a solo professional (you knew I’d get to this).
Two things in particular stand out:
- The only way to stay in the game is to kill someone.
You can’t expect to win if you simply hide in your room doing nothing all week long (that’s what the other 11 months of the year are for). Sure, you’ll be safe. But to advance, you also need to squirt someone.
The same applies to us as solos. Yes, I know it’s fun and oddly mesmerizing to fool with your web site, tweak your tagline or ask one more weary friend what they think of your logo.
But most of that falls under the heading of “setting the table.” Necessary, yes, but sooner or later, and to score points in the game of solo professionalism, you need to make your mark out in the world – by networking, by publishing, by marketing, by selling … and by doing other things that require interacting with potential clients.
- The only way to kill someone is to risk your own safety.
Stalking people at their own house isn’t that productive. Particularly with the kids who have connected garages, you can wait in the bushes for hours for someone to come home, only to watch them drive in and close the automatic door, safely behind them.
And with school property, moving vehicles and places of employment officially off limits, the craftier kids quickly figure out that the best place to catch a killer is to stalk them while they’re away from home, stalking someone else. As a result, going out to score points is about the riskiest thing you can do.
Being a solo works the same way – there’s risk in going public. What if your newsletter stinks? What if you announce a webinar and nobody signs up? What if you post a comment on a blog and somebody tears it apart, arguing that you are both clueless and guilty of poorly grammar?
All possible. But I have an even scarier “What if?” What if you go out of business because you’re too afraid to try anything?
Here’s the bottom line. Working as a solo can be scary, no doubt about it. Everything about your business, good or bad, is on you. And when things go wrong or don’t work out, there’s nobody else to blame.
But you know what? When things go right and do work out, there’s nobody else either. You get to stand back and enjoy whatever it is you’ve created, something that people with jobs often go years without experiencing.
Win or lose, I know one thing for sure. I’d rather get water-pistoled out of the game than simply be disqualified because the clock ran out and I still hadn’t left the house.
P.S. Congratulations to Emily who will be attending the University of Puget Sound in the fall!
P.P.S. You may have noticed that the typeface on this site is now about 50% larger. It took a bit of getting used to, but I find it easier to read now. What do you think (comment below!)?
Great advice…and I love the type size, too!
Thanks so much, Claudine. I’m glad you like the new size!
The larger typeface is nice–doesn’t look clunky or exaggerated. However, want to be *really* easy to read? Go with black rather than gray for the font color. Gray (any shade) is SO not easy on the eyes, regardless of size.
And it’s funny you mention that. The old font we used here was black and I’ve been recommending that as “best” for years, for the same reason you describe. We found though, that with the font this big, the black was overwhelming, like reading something in all bold. Always looking for the balance with this stuff!
Great article Michael!
UPS is a good choice. Just on campus last Saturday (no I’m not a 40 something weirdo that hangs out on campus…daughter was playing harp). Unbelievable beautiful campus! She’ll enjoy the Pacific NW. Good gifts would be 1. nice umbrella, 2. fleece jacket and 3. travel coffee mug. With these she’ll fit right in with the rest of us.
Thanks, that’s great to hear. I have not been there (I’ll see it in August), but it seems to have all that Emily was looking for. I’ve heard that many who move to the PNW never leave, so I may be making trips out there for a long time!
Congrats to Emily, both for her assassin skills and her college acceptance! I’ve heard that the Puget Sound area is just gorgeous.
(And not too shabby advice for us solos, either.)
Hi Jen and thanks. Yes, we are very proud of her for many reaaons!
Larger type on webpages is a trend that needs to catch on!
My old eyes agree Dorothy!
I went with a larger font when I launched my first website 4 years ago and my web developer said “Everyone uses the smaller size.” My response: “I’m not everyone.” Glad to see you on the bandwagon. If your ideal client is over 40, to me this is a no-brainer.
Congratulations to Emily on her UPS acceptance. Your kids are going all over the country and you have to just smile about it, because you left the country to go to college!
P.S. I find the Senior Assassin thing a little disturbing. Glad Emily is having fun, but also glad that our town doesn’t engage this way (to my knowledge).
Yes, I have to say I had a similar, initial reaction to the “assassin” thing, the first time my older son got involved three years ago. But it turns out to be a nice bonding experience (you interact with kids you may never have otherwise) and much (half, I think) of the $5 per kid entry fee goes to charity. As a class, it’s one of the nicest activities they get involved with.
That font’s not too big! It’s just right, at least when you’re as old as I am. And thanks for today’s post. I really needed that. My comfort zone’s been getting a little tight, now that you mention it.
Haha! Those tight comfort zones are killers! Glad it hit the spot today, Margy.
Great advice. It’s so easy to hide from the “real” world.
And your larger type size is an excellent idea. I’m a business consultant who’s changing his business over to writing because of a family health need to be home more and not travel anymore. One of the things I’ve told my consulting clients for years is that small type size is a mistake, especially if you want to reach the largest market out there. That market are people over 50. They have more money than any other age group and yet as we age, starting somewhere around our mid-40s and up, we start to have issues with vision. High contrast, bold and large fonts are important. If someone doesn’t need them you won’t offend them by using them. But if someone needs them and you have the usual default fonts that everyone uses in email, word processing, etc., they will just move on to something that’s easier to read. The same is true on product literature and packaging.
The number one rule in business is to make it easy for people to do business with you. Using a larger type, and even a little bolder font, is a good way to make it easier for people, especially those who are a little older to read what you’re presenting.
Always great to see you here, Doug! And a great point that you make: “The number one rule in business is to make it easy for people to do business with you.”
Yes Michael, I have made that my theme as a business consultant. It’s amazing how many businesses make it hard for customers to do business with them. Whether it’s a brick and mortar business that has long lines and not enough people at the checkouts for customers or it’s a business where a solo professional works from home that doesn’t return calls and emails quickly, it all drives people away. Ever wonder why some retail store managers think it’s more important for an employee to hear what they have to say than to drop everything and wait on the waiting customer first? It’s because they really don’t have a clue about who the most important person in business is (for those who are wondering, the answer is THE CUSTOMER).
Thanks again Michael. Love what you do for all of us.
the larger font is GREAT. Beats me why so many designers insistent on visitors having to use magnifying glasses.
The funny thing is that when I work with a client on a newsletter, the one element in which I pretty predictably clash with the client’s designer is font size (I want it larger and darker than they do). I think it’s because smaller and lighter is often more aesthetically pleasing, even if a bit harder to read.
Very nice article, Michael. Nice job inspiring us solos to go to the war room.
Keep banging those drums Paul!!
Font size is good but, hey, I’m at the age I’m still wearing glasses to read it! Gray is good as well and actually easier on the eyes than the black.
New hiking boots! That’s just what a gal needs to live in the great Northwest.
I’m at the age where I’m wearing glasses just to find my glasses.
And thanks on the boot recommendation. I think Emily is going to love it out there (I miss her already).
Betsy, you make a good point about what’s easier on the eyes. Studies by ophthalmologists have shown that a dark background like black or dark blue with a light colored font, preferably yellow, is actually the easiest on the eyes. When people first start to read things that way it seems odd because we’re used to white backgrounds with black print, but once you’re used to it it really is easy on the eyes, especially if you’re doing a lot of reading.
Hey Doug, no cross talk with Betsy, you’re only supposed to talk directly to me.
Ha! I’m kidding of course. In fact, I think this element of commenting is what we, as “blog owners” want to happen as much as possible.
There’s definitely benefit in writing content and having people comment back to you, but when you get the community (or “Tribe,” to use Seth Godin’s term) interacting with itself, there’s a lot more to it. It starts to really feel then like a virtual gathering, as opposed to just multiple one-on-one conversations.
So thank you Doug and please carry on, everyone. (I’m going home soon to drink a beer.)
Michael … as you know I’m “not from around here” so this is maybe more of a sign of a different culture than anything else, but this post creeped me out.
As I said, my exposure to American culture is mostly via TV coverage and sadly, the gun related incidents involving school children, are the most horrific.
As a local, and many of your readers, may well think that this is an over-reaction .. after all they’re only 17-year olds playing with water pistols … but I sense more than that.
The ease with which, and quantity of times that, you substitute “squirt” with “kill” made this post difficult to finish … in fact as I’m writing this I can’t remember what the point was.
I writing this not to criticise … but to realise that if you’re writing for an international audience sometimes writing about specific issues may be counter-productive.
Yes, I was well aware that writing about this would bother some people for exactly the reasons you mention. And as I said to Evelyn above, my first response when I heard about this going on each year was not all that far from yours.
I guess the big question is where to draw the line, and there’s bound to be no agreement on that. Kids around here (of all ages) go to arcades to play “laser tag,” which also uses “guns.” People of all ages – kids and adults – go to places to play “paintball,” which is a war simulation. And then there’s video games and violent movies, not to mention professional football.
For me, I consider the spirit of it and this event is quite friendly and benign, despite the assassin framework.
It does raise an interesting question too about what *not* to talk about when writing which, interestingly, was one of the points in the post. Some things, whether guns or bad words or a particular point of view are going to annoy some readers who see things differently. I tend to err on the side of revealing your authentic point of view and letting the chips fall.
All that said, your point that there’s a lot of “where you happen to live” bias in what feels right is no doubt correct.
And thanks for writing, as always,
My point was not really about the game … we have all those games/ activities here in Oz.
On one hand, I think you should always write for your audience; however that’s defined. The danger is in “going global” and only “writing local” … it erks me getting emails that start with “summer holidays are almost here” when it’s neither summer or close to holiday time “here.” That’s just laziness.
But on the other hand, the majority of your subscribers are in the US and there’s only 2 comments about the game, and I’m the only one who has mentioned relacing “kill” with “squirt” or some other playful word.. so obviously it’s not an issue that rates any consciousness with the majority of your readers.
So maybe it really is as the saying goes, “I don’t know the formula for success, but the formula for failure is to try and please everyone.”
What’s more important is communicating what you stand for.
Have a great Memorial Day weekend (I’m kidding, I’m kidding).
Michael … Here’s another thing that may be worthy of a newsletter.
Why is it that the majority(? well a lot, anyway) of comments actually relate to the newsletter’s PS and the PPS?
Is this the stuff we notice, or remember first, or what? Is this what you really wanted people to comment on?
My theory on comments, Mark, is that it’s the daily stuff of life that people connect with, things like “how do you like this font?” or here’s a story about my dog. The comments I get from newsletters are easily 5 to 1 regarding the stories over whatever the business lesson is.
Just human nature, I guess (that’s what makes marketing so interesting!). As people marketing our respective businesses, the goal is to get readers to engage with us, so I don’t think it matters what they decide to comment on.
What do you think is the reason?
How refreshing is your newest newsletter that does not require that I take out my reading glasses.
In a Goldilocks world of e-newsletter publishing, you have truly found the font that is “just right.”
I can’t imagine — no aspersions intended — how UPS, small and on the Left Coast, managed to rise onto Emily’s radar. That said, my best wishes to her for a personally and academically rewarding experience there.
Thanks for writing David, I’m glad you like the font!
And Emily had one big advantage: her mother is a college coach for high school kids (http://www.rightfitcoaching.com/) and so is aware of every institution on earth!
We do recommend this book though, for those who are on the college hunt:
Both UPS and Rhodes, where my son goes (also below the radar for many people) are among the school recommended.
I didn’t notice the change in type size Michael, nor a shift from black to gray. I get lost in the story and read quickly through to get to the point where the premise becomes the lesson.
I think, if what you are saying is so well received, it could be purple and go unnoticed.
I think that’s true TJ! As is the reverse: if the content is no good, excellent formatting doesn’t fix it.
Another good post, Michael – what a surprise!
Even 6+ years into the solo gig, I would still describe everything I do – not including the actual client work – as outside my comfort zone. I’m an inside-the-company Ops guy, so promoting me and my services, asking for intros or business, writing like I know what I’m talking about, even running big and small networking events are activities that don’t come easy.
But if I don’t do them I have to go back to “working for the (wo)man”, and that just isn’t about to happen. (Unless we’re talking about my wife, and I’m hoping to work for her for lots more years! Tough boss.)
And if I don’t take action, well, nothing happens.
We also play Assassins in Concord, but our high school in its never ending battle to strip away every scintilla of camaraderie and spirit works hard to douse any participants with threats to not walk graduation. I’m glad the kids still play. (I really like the contrib to charity y’all do.)
Lastly, when website font is too small, I hold down the Control key and tap on the “+” sign to improve readability.
Enjoy the holiday weekend!
As someone who’s not comfortable with the marketing side (especially creating events that bring people together), you sure do it well!
And sorry to hear about the rules in your town. The kids here make school property off limits, so there’s nothing the school could do to stop it, I guess. And it’s pretty impressive, actually, with a dedicated twitter feed and all the coordination involved, all run by a few ambitious kids who put it together each year. (Now if I could only get them to create a game that involves mowing my lawn….)
>> (I really like the contrib to charity y’all do.) <<
The charity angle strikes me as "cosmetic" rather than particularly meritorious.
If they wanted to be philanthropic, instead of donating half of the $5, they could
collect and donate 100% of $3, and leave the squirt guns home.
Yes, but the winning team gets the other half!
Hi David –
1. In our town, none goes to charity, so half is a huge improvement.
2. Supporting those in need is incredibly important. So is kids having fun.
I love the interaction in this email. I learned as much from the feedback on this article as I did from Michael’s original article (no offense, Michael.) I am glad I waited to read this email in the evening after all of the posts. There were many good points made that I would not have thought about. I wonder how many times I miss learnings from comments by reading the article early and quickly deleting them?
That hurt. Steve.
Seriously, I think you’re right. It’s one of the reasons I switched to this click to read format (https://bluepenguindevelopment.com/2014/04/to-click-or-not-to-click/). The comments themselves and the conversation make the original post more valuable!
I am 51….definitely easier to read. Just go on and make it bigger every 3 years. Thank you.
I like that Hernan. In fact I think we should call this the “Hernan Adjustment” going forward. By the time you’re 91 (yes, I plan to still be publishing then) we’ll more or less be able to fit one word per page!
Thanks for reading.
Congrats to the empty nester to be. Another benefit of the writer’s life. You will be able to get out of the house and see some more of the world. Great article Michael, thank you.
Waterproof foot gear will go well with the umbrella.
Thanks Steve! The nest will still have one chick in it, though. 15 year old Jonathan. Not that I’m in any rush, frankly, a little too quiet around here now as it is!
Finally catching up on newsletter reading (I agree with previous comments about the value of the comments), and appreciate your points about stepping out and taking risk. I also love the new font size. Thank you!!
Congrats to Emily. As a Seattle area native and current resident I suggest a gift of a winter get-away to a sunny destination. November to February can be very dreary here. The rest of the year makes up for it, though. That and the hilarity of the public reaction and news coverage of a dusting (or potential dusting) of snow!
Thank you Lisa! Maybe we’ll bring home in the winter to sunny (but frigid) New England!
good advice…love how you take day to day life to make your points….I now have no excuse for hiding in the bushes….who knew taking my biz seriously would result in such self awareness and self development….
Hi Stephanie. And I agree, there is a lot more of self awareness and development that most people realize in starting a business. So much more than just figuring out how to make a profit! To me, that’s a big part of the advantage of being off on your own.
As a newsletter and various other email marketing producer, my biggest challenge is actually getting clients to have a face-to-face with me. No one seems to be able to make time to have me come in and show portfolios of my photographers’ work these days, so the best thing seems to be meeting for lunch or a drink after work (everyone is too busy to meet for coffee). Still not easy to schedule, but I get better response if I’m buying (as in food and drink) rather than selling (as in photography). It gets expensive but it gets me out of the office and relating to my clients on a much more personal level. We usually don’t talk about business, but mostly our families, vacations, news items, etc., and it gives me more info about the clients which I can then refer back to later on every time I’m in touch with them. I’ll let you know at the end of the year if this creates more than just good will!
BTW, as you know, I think, my daughter goes to college in Olympia, WA–just finishing her second year. It took a year for her to get comfortable with the people and the weather, but now she really likes it. Rubber boots and thick socks are a must.
Yes, that is the ultimate question – does it create more than just good will. In my experience, goodwill isn’t just a nice to have, it’s THE differentiator. After all, for most of us, what we do is very comparable with what our competitors do. Good will, and precisely because it’s hard to create instantaneously, is also why it’s hard to steal. When it comes to being a likeable expert, likeable is more than half of what matters. Keep me posted!
And thanks for the reminder about your daughter in the PNW (I had forgotten since that part of the country was not particularly on my mind until about a month ago!). I think Emily will love it and the school tool