Don’t Do These 2 Things

I arrived at my office yesterday morning as always.

But I kept on going, until I drove eight more miles, wandering aimlessly through my little town.

Why? Because the odometer of my 2013 Ford Focus read 99991, and I wanted to see it when it reached 99999.

I knew I’d forget to look if I didn’t make a deliberate effort, so I drove around until I reached this impressive milestone (see photo).

I’m quite pleased that my car has fared so well with few needed repairs, despite enduring many New England winters and the occasional visiting clutch-riding child.

Pleased, but not surprised. That’s because before I bought this car – my second Ford Focus in a row – I asked my mechanic what he thought about my buying another.

His answer was immediate: “That’s a simple car. It’s easy to fix and there are few surprises.”

Notice that he didn’t have to stop and do any research. He didn’t have to consult with anybody else. He barely had to think about it.

In the blink of an eye, he synthesized his experience repairing other Ford Foci, the contrast between these vehicles and the others that he sees every day, and whatever information or data comes to his attention as he goes about his work.

From there, he boiled out the most salient points for my benefit: “simple,” “easy to fix,” “few surprises.”

Could I have done some research and come to the same conclusion?

Maybe. But it would have taken me a lot of time; I would be unsure which information sources to rely on; and I would never really know if I had uncovered the on-the-ground, real world truth.

And that, my clutch-riding friend, is what being an expert is all about.

It’s also precisely the kind of insight that you should be sharing in your newsletter, blog posts, podcasts, presentations, etc. (I wrote “etc.” at the end there because I couldn’t think of another example.)

Insight, Not Information

I work exclusively with established professional service providers – financial planners, executive coaches, consultants, attorneys, cybersecurity experts (hi Rob) – all people who are very smart and very experienced.

And so when we consider topics for their newsletters, I’m always encouraging them to talk about things that highlight their experty-ness.

In practice, that means trying to avoid two things:

#1. Topics that are easily Googled.

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that in addition to being extraordinarily funny, I am big on keeping things simple. But simple isn’t the same as obvious.

For example, explaining to me how to change the oil on a 2013 Ford Focus may be useful, but it’s entirely fact-based. I don’t need to read your newsletter for that kind of thing – it’s just a google away.

Instead, choose topics that require a depth and breadth of knowledge within your profession – the kind of things an outsider (i.e., your prospective clients) can’t easily figure out for themselves.

In this made-up example, maybe it’s the best type of oil to use based on the age of my car and the part of the country I live in. Or whether I park in a garage or outside. Or the fact that I make lots of short, daily drives and few long ones.

It’s less “how to” and more about tradeoffs, considerations, and counterintuitive ways of seeing things.

#2. Topics that an equally credentialed, but novice professional in your field could address.

If you’re an experienced attorney, chances are, the newly-minted law school grad who took the bar exam yesterday remembers more straight up legal facts than you do.

But … what he or she doesn’t yet have is perspective.

For example, when I started my business, I assumed I needed a lengthy, iron-clad contract for my clients. You know, to protect my interests.

Thankfully, my then (and still) attorney, Marijo McCarthy, threw cold water on the idea:

“If you put a contract in front of a prospective client, not only will this slow things down, they are going to get their own attorney involved. You’ll end up spending time and money on me before you’ve earned a dollar.”

Instead, she suggested that for my specific type of work (it would not apply in all cases), all I needed was a simple “agreement” – one that lays out payment amounts, timing, and deliverables, but that is free of legalese and not at all intimidating. Twenty years later, I’m still using that same simple document.

Like Marijo and my car mechanic, you, too, understand lots of things that those who entered your profession recently do not.

You know how the pieces fit together. You know what matters and what doesn’t. You know who to call, what to say, and how things really get done with clients, partners, vendors, and others.

It’s that kind of insight that separates you from the beginners. And so, as much as possible, that’s what you want to be talking and writing about when you create content.

Here’s the bottom line.

I’m the first to admit that half the benefit of creating and sharing content regularly – in any form – is that it reminds others that you are still alive and still in business. That’s valuable.

But the other half is about quality. 

Your job is to choose topics that demonstrate to readers and listeners that you know more than just the facts and the rules – that you have actual insights and perspective.

It’s more valuable to readers/listeners, which makes you more valuable to them.


Discussion Questions:

  1. How many miles do you have on your car (extra credit if it’s a Ford Focus)?
  2. Do you ever write “etc.” when you can’t think of anything else to say, write, share, etc.?
  3. Where do you find your best content topics?

Share your answers below…


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33 thoughts on “Don’t Do These 2 Things

  1. Tara

    Two hundred thirty thousand. That is the number on my Toyota Rav. 4 that is a little out of style, yet still kickin GB at 28 mpg.
    Etc is underused. More people should use it, and more words, and more phrases, etc.
    What inspires me most is things that make me angry, actually. Issues that I feel I could solve, if given enough money, or if someone would just put me in charge, darn it.
    Like Lynard Skynard says- “All I can do is write (a song)” about it. So, that’s what I often write in my newsletters.

    Reply
    1. Michelle Morris, CFP®, EA

      Great newsletter Michael! My late father was a lifelong car guy and he would say your car is “just getting broke in”. He would also be pleased that you bought American.

      1. about 68K. A Subaru. My father never got over that.

      2. all the time.

      3. Things I’m talking to clients about. Things clients are talking to me about. Things my colleagues are talking about. Things I read in the news.

      Reply
  2. Bruce Horwitz

    Your example of talking to your mechanic about what car to buy reminded me of when my wife and daughter got new cars at about the same time. I asked my mechanic if I should buy the extended warranty. His answer: for the Volvo, yes, for the Toyota, no. Although we kept both cars for about 12 years, the Toyota essentially never needed warranty work; the Volvo… well I don’t like to speak ill of the dead. Both cars have been replaced with Toyota Corp hybrids.

    Mileage on my car(s)? Over 100k on 3 Toyota products since the late 70’s … but less than 10k on my current 2-year-old, pandemic Toyota

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Great story, Bruce. My mechanic also warned me away from the new VW bugs. I like the look but he said that everything in there is impossible to get to, so the labor on fixes is very high!

      Reply
  3. Barbara E StClair

    My 2021 Buick Envision has just under 10,000 miles in about 8 months of driving including multiple trips between Cape May, NJ and Lexington, Mass…with another one this week. My 2014 Honda is now living in Lexington and my grandson is loving it. I try not to use etc. – if I can’t name it, I don’t say/write it. Content ideas are everywhere – I learned that when I was writing a weekly humor column about home, kids, jobs and life in general….Just look around. I don’t use etc. but I do like ellipses – and probably use them too much!

    Reply
  4. Lindsay Gower

    Great article, Michael! I immediately went into my business documents and changed all instances of “contract” to read “Agreement.”

    My VW Passat is close to 100,000. Close? I drove it maybe 1,000 miles last year, and ~500 the year before that. Give me another 5 years, and the ol’ odometer’ll roll over 100,000!

    I do not write etc. I use, instead, a phrase in English, such as: “and such,” “and similar items,” “among other tools.” (I don’t write e.g. or i.e., either. I prefer “for example,” or “in other words.”)

    I edit content for small businesses, whose owners and managers likely did not attend college, or who speak English as a second language. I get my content ideas from simply reading the newspaper or web articles. I constantly see English used poorly! I have an opinion on all of it — such as using Latin abbreviations instead of clear English words.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I like those other phrases, Lindsay. I do use i.e. and e.g., but almost always within parentheses. It feels like a lot of space to write out “for example” (for example ) in something that is already kind of an aside, but do you think that is better in those cases as well?

      Reply
  5. Gina Longo

    1) Not exactly sure, but not far off 300,000 miles on the 1998 Nissan Altima that I drive. I like it because it gets me from A to B, it doesn’t have unnecessary bells and whistles, and most importantly, it’s not tracking where I’m going!

    2) Not if I can help it, and I can usually help it. 😉

    3) Films, commercials, holidays, music, history (lots of history), dog training tips, sports… wherever I see something that I can turn into a story that sells the point I want to make.

    Reply
  6. LINDSAY GOWER

    Yes, even in an aside, using English makes the sentences flow. The Latin causes a tiny hiccup; it makes the sentence suddenly look technical or academic. Not to mention, people often use i.e. and e.g. incorrectly. It’s e.g. that means “for example.”

    There are plenty of ways to phrase a sentence when you have an example.

    Cookies at Christmas time are delightful (e.g., gingerbread men).
    Cookies at Christmas time are delightful, such as gingerbread men.
    Cookies at Christmas time are delightful (my fav — gingerbread men!).

    I recommend that you, especially, Michael, deep-six the e.g. In your writing, you pack personality into every paragraph. But those Latin abbreviations? They’ve got no warmth at all.

    Reply
  7. Terry Matlen

    Great newsletter- really made me think about how to improve my newsletters. My homework:

    1. How many miles do you have on your car (extra credit if it’s a Ford Focus)? I’m guessing around 4K. Have had my car 1 1/2 years but COVID has kept me close to home.

    2. Do you ever write “etc.” when you can’t think of anything else to say, write, share, etc.?
    Yes, when I can’t think of anything else to say, write, share, etc. (don’t hit me)

    3. Where do you find your best content topics?
    From my real life- as a woman/mom with ADHD and from the people I help- women with ADHD. I love what you wrote today: give your readers a different perspective that they can’t find on Google. That’s exactly what I try to do.

    What I wish I could do better is to keep my articles (etc.- haaa) shorter. You’d think I’d know that most of my subscribers don’t have the attention span to read so much text. I also try to use humor, but don’t come anywhere close to your ability to pull in readers with yours.

    Keep up your great work!

    Reply
  8. Lisa

    Thanks Michael for the non-google-able (is that a word?) content. I so enjoy your insight and fun yet sensible delivery.
    My 2007 Ford Focus (2nd one in a row too), has 187,000 and has had minimal issues as well. I do love them, they are like energizer bunnies.

    Yes, I do use etc. when I can’t think of another word and when I can. I think it can simplify the reading process, but let’s the reader know there is more.
    I get my best ideas for just about everything in the car or the shower. Not sure why those two places work like they do, but I just go with it.

    Reply
  9. Brad D

    Car mileage? Somewhere over 85K on the car, about 137K on the truck, and my dad who does have a 2005 Focus with about 65K on it. Yes, just 65K. (I expect half-credit for mentioning my dad’s Focus.)

    About writing “etc.” when nothing more to say? I can only say, etc.

    Best topics come from looking at what others have said, and ask myself: What didn’t they say? What is missing? If I take this particular topic, put it in a daily life and look around at my day, or my client’s day? How does it affect me or others? What hasn’t been talked about which is an issue or advantage? I’ll write about the insight or solutions I’ve found. If there are tips which are more obvious, but still helpful, and I can bring them in a unique or different perspective, I’ll still make sure I have at least one zinger in there no one talks about.

    For instance, your mechanic said the Focus is simple, easy to fix, and no surprises. He might have also said it takes the most common size tires and are always piled high at tire stores, at low prices. No one thinks about tire cost when purchasing a vehicle, but some do take special, hard to find tires.

    He also could have said, since it is the opposite of a chick magnet, always keeping your eyes dead ahead with no natural blondes winking and your head beading up with sweat at stop lights, it offers a natural form of marital therapy on wheels .

    Reply
  10. Don Sadler

    Funny, I’m the same way with odometer readings. I like watching them turn over big round numbers but often forget to look!

    I’ve always had the same philosophy with “contracts.” I also have a simple scope of work agreement I created that includes the project details, price and payment terms — that’s it. I ask clients to sign it — most do, some don’t, doesn’t really matter.

    It’s not like I’m going to sue anybody for non-payment. Which has happened to me exactly twice in 13 years of self-eploymment for a grand total of around a thousand dollars in unpaid debt.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Just to clarify on that, I do require clients to sign the doc, as friendly as it may be. As my attorney pointed out, it’s still a legal document, and while I don’t have any interest in suing anybody either, I have had company ownership change hands (where the new folks may no longer want to finish the project) or, when I worked with large companies, budgets getting cut as the end of the year approaches. If it’s not signed, they toss everything overboard and only honor what is.

      Reply
  11. Mark Wayland

    Thanks Michael…. Two things… First, just a minor point…. If you Google “Imperial Measures” (like inch, foot, mile, and gallon) you’ll realize that there are only 3 countries that still use them… USA, Liberia, and Myanmar. So maybe a hidden hyperlink to a metric conversion site may be called for so that you can be more worldly, urbane, and inclusive… oh, and I get that 99999 (miles) is far more sexy than 160932.79 (kilometres).
    Oh, and by the way, extra trivia points if (a) you know in which continents Liberia and Myanmar are located and (b) the old colonial name for Myanmar.
    And second, this newsletter is an excellent segue from the last offering… my second main theme is “When you can articulate another person’s problem better than they can they automatically and unconsciously credit you with knowing the solution.”
    Continue staying warm, Mark

    Reply
    1. Jess

      I love trivia, and I think I can answer your questions, Mark (sorry if I’m stealing your thunder, Michael!)
      A – Liberia is in Africa, Myanmar is in Asia.
      B – Myanmar used to be called Burma.
      I promise I didn’t Google the answers (which will be obvious if I’m wrong!). I happen to live in a city that has a large population of Burmese (“Burmese” is how I have heard others refer to them). I don’t personally know any of them, so I don’t know if they prefer Burmese or…Myanmarian? Myanmarese? Something else? (Now you really know I didn’t Google anything!)

      Reply
      1. Bruce Horwitz

        Jess – I don’t know the preference of the Burmese in your city but I do know many people from Iran who self-reference as Persian to avoid being connected to the current government. Could be similar for Burma/Myanmar.

        I did just read that “In the Burmese language, “Myanmar” is simply the more formal version of “Burma.” The country’s name was changed only in English.” in an AP “explainer” article. Perhaps similar to calling our country “The United States of America” instead of “America”. [I’ve always wondered how citizens of the other countries in our hemisphere feel about the US A appropriating the hemisphere’s name as our (informal) country name.

        Reply
    2. Michael Katz Post author

      Haha, good point on the metric, Mark. I seem to recall as a child when the US was about to switch over along with the rest of the world until at the last minute we apparently changed our minds. So now it’s an exciting mix of both with added confusion!

      Reply
  12. Jonn Karsseboom

    Hi Michael! As usual, your newsletter was a complete joy to read. I’m most sure I’ve asked you this question a thousand times but apparently it takes a 1001 times for me to finally learn. (Just a personal estimate.) What comes first? The story? (Hey, I just drove for the beauty of seeing my odometer click to an even number.) Or was it the ultimate purpose? (Provide good, honest and helpful insights into some problems my customers must deal with and stay away from “how to” stuff that can be easily googled.) I imagine having two separate files: “Interesting stuff that makes a good story” and “Helpful insights for my customers” And then somehow take an item from one list and mind-meld it to another item from the other list? Or is this some other type of magic that is beyond a mere mortal?

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Jonn!
      I sure there are multiple ways to do it, but for me, the story comes first. From there, I try to think what it has to do with “my stuff” – professional services marketing. Just as you said, I have a file of stories and a file of business recommendations. The trick is finding the link between the two .
      In this odometer example, I thought at first it might have to do with why 99999 is much more interesting to me than 100000 even though there is just a one mile difference. Maybe it could be something about going the extra mile (hah!) for clients. Or I could have talked about my car itself and how taking care of it with little things over the years makes it last, just as small marketing steps each day lead to big payoffs down the road.
      What I love about the whole thing is that since the stories are infinite – even thought the business insights are not – we never run out of content.
      P.S. Speaking of stories, congrats on the new road near your garden center! Loved the video you did.

      Reply
  13. Sara Jane Lowry

    I really “chewed” on this article and appreciate your advice.
    I drive a Ford Ranger (also simple to fix) that is a 1994 and has over 438,000 miles. I did have to replace the transmission a few years ago.
    I don’t use etc. in most situations. It reeks of redundancy.
    I find my best content when something (like this article) makes me think on how to apply it to my own work of coaching others.
    Happy holidays. Appreciate your newsletters so much.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a lot of miles! I doubt I’ll be driving mine that long so I am envious. Happy holidays to you and yours as well!

      Reply

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