Uncategorized

10 Tips for an Awesome Coffee Meeting By: Sean Blanda

The coffee meeting is the Swiss Army knife of networking. It’s a low-risk way to meet new people, swap advice, and lay the foundation for a more substantial relationship.

CoffeeDate572x429-425x319

 

If the concept of a coffee meeting is foreign to you, you only have to remember one guiding principle: never, ever waste the other person’s time. They are providing their time, their most precious resource. The good news is that the bar for coffee meetings is pretty low. Most creatives can likely tell you of meetings that started with “let’s grab coffee” and ended in an unproductive conversation.

However, you’re better than that, dear reader. Here’s how to be the best coffee meeting participant around.

1. Be clear when asking for the meeting.

When you email your potential coffee meeting participant, don’t simply ask to “pick their brain” or “see if there’s any potential” in you getting to know each other. Those phrases usually show that you only have a vague idea of what you’d like to talk about. Instead, introduce yourself, show that you have specific knowledge of the person’s work, offer why you’d like to talk, and (most importantly) propose potential times. An example:

“Hey Josh, 

Sean Blanda here, managing editor of 99u.com. I’ve been following your work and really enjoy your email newsletter. We’re trying to launch something similar here at 99U, and I’d like to talk to you about any advice you’d have for us.

Are you up for a coffee meeting sometime next week at the Midtown Starbucks? I’m available Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11-2 each day. Hope to hear from you!

–Sean”

2. Do your homework.

When you meet someone, it’s normal to ask a series of biographical questions such as “What do you do? Where are you from?” That’s fine for your friend’s birthday party. It has no place at the coffee meeting.

It’s likely the busy person you ask for coffee has some degree of notoriety and has articles, talks, and LinkedIn profile pages online that can offer more information about them. Coffee meetings are usually 30 minutes or less, so don’t waste your time talking about subjects you could easily Google. Additionally, a busy person has given their “elevator pitch” many times to press, colleagues, and others. Stand out from the crowd by moving past this base level of interaction.

3. Never, ever, ever be late.

Any meeting is about respecting the time of the other person. Leave early. Make time for traffic. Know where you are going. Being late for a meeting you asked for is the ultimate selfish act in business. Never be late.

4. Offer to pay.

Ask the other person what they’d like before placing your order. Then, pay for both. It was your idea to meet and grab coffee, it’s only fair that you cover the (admittedly minor) costs. If you’re a student, chances are they wont let you actually pay, but offer any way. If the person objects and wants to pay for their coffee, let them. Don’t spend more than five seconds on this interaction.

5. You don’t have to drink coffee.

Meetings over beer are for open-ended discussion. Meetings over coffee are for getting things done.

But even if you meet at a coffee shop, you don’t have to get coffee. More important is that whatever drink should take the same amount of time to consume as a cup of coffee. As for snacks, it’s hard to have a short conversation with your mouth full of croissants.

6. Have one clear, specific ask.

Let’s say you and I are deciding on where to go out to dinner. I say, “I don’t know, I’m up for anything, I guess.” Frustrating, right? But if I say “I’m really in the mood for the Mexican place down the street. If you don’t like that, let’s get Thai from downtown.” Now that you can work with.

The same goes for asking. There was a reason you wanted to get coffee with the busy person, so don’t be shy in telling them point-blank how they can help. They should have a general idea as to why you’d like to meet from your email, so don’t be afraid of being direct. By accepting the meeting, they have already agreed to provide assistance, so make it as easy as possible for them. Some examples:

Bad: “I need help finding a job”

Good: “I’m looking for an entry-level position as a junior designer at a small advertising firm like firm x, firm y, or firm z. Do you know anyone at those places?”

Bad: “Can you help me with my writing career? I’m struggling to pay the bills.”

Good: “Do you know of any literary agents looking for short young adult fiction?”

7. Take notes and follow up.

When you sit down at the table, take out a pen and a notebook. If, at any point in the conversation you say something like “I’ll send you that video.” Or they mention the person they’d like to introduce you to, write it down. I like to create two columns on the paper with the headings “My Homework” and “Their Homework.” On the top of the page I write the person’s name, company, and the date.

The moment you arrive back at your computer, make a note to follow up in a day or two. Doing it immediately can be a tad aggressive, but don’t let yourself forget. In the follow up, make good on anything you promised to send, as well as providing a gentle nudge on anything they offered. An example:

“Hey Josh, it was great to meet you, thanks for being so generous with your time. To follow up on some of the things I mentioned: 

Also, you mentioned you had a contact at firm x? I’d love to speak with her, let me know if I can provide you with anything to make this easier.

Thanks again,

–Sean”

8. Offer to add value.

Throughout the conversation, keep your ears open for anything you can help out with. Many simply ask at the end of the conversation if there’s anything they can do. But the best way is to have this mindset ready during the actual conversation with anyone you speak with, coffee meeting or no. In Maximize Your Potential, master connector Sunny Bates shares the right way to approach:

“You want to do it in an authentic way. I always appreciate when people ask in a way that’s somehow embedded in the conversation rather than as an add-on at the very end. Like, ‘Oh you gave me this, and so I have to ask you.’ It’s always good to try and steer the exchange away from debt and obligation and more into the spirit of generosity.”

9. Offer to end on time.

It’s likely you agreed to meet for 15 or 30 minutes. As those times approach, even if you are in the middle of a fruitful conversation, stop and ask the person if they have to go. If they agree to keep chatting, great. If your reminder kept them on schedule, even better. Be someone who respects the time of others.

10. Communicate any outcomes.

Author Ramit Sethi calls this the “closing the loop” technique.

After you send the follow up email (see #7) set a calendar alert 2-3 weeks in the future to follow up one final time. In this second follow up you should tell the person the results of anything the suggested. Example:

“Hey Josh, just a simple note to say that I met with Mary as you suggested and her an I are discussing a possible freelance gig. Thanks again and let me know I can ever return the favor!”
Read more →

How To Ask People for Things Via Email: An 8-Step Program by Jocelyn K. Glei

TheAsk572x429-425x319

One of the golden rules of writing is: Respect the reader’s intelligence. This rule gets magnified by a factor of 10 when it comes to composing unsolicited emails.

Most people who receive any significant quantity of email in a day have developed extremely refined bullshit detectors. They can identify an impersonal templated email in 0.5 seconds, and they can spot a time-wasting “let’s explore the possibilities” ask from a mile off.

In short, getting someone that you don’t know to pay attention to you—and respond—is a delicate art. One that requires craftsmanship, charm, concision, and a lot of self-editing.

Based on years of drafting, redrafting, observation, and misfires, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when composing an email “ask”:

Step 1: Make it easy to say, “Yes.”
When it comes to giving good email, making it easy to say “Yes!” is objective number one. Sadly, it’s also where most people fall down on the job.

I frequently receive emails from people who are interested in some sort of knowledge exchange but never clarify how they would like for me to take action. Do they want to have a coffee? Do they want to do a phone call? It’s unclear, which means that instead of saying, “Yes!” I have to respond by asking them what they’re asking me for in the first place. Or, not respond at all.

If you are asking someone to take the time to answer you, it should be very clear what you are asking for. Look at your email and ask yourself: “Can the recipient say ‘Yes’ without further discussion?” If the answer is yes, you’re doing well. If not, you need to redraft.

Step 2: Write an intriguing subject line.
Composing a good email subject line is akin to writing a great headline. If you’re cold-emailing someone you’ve never met, it’s important to strike a balance between being direct and being interesting.

If I were asking someone to speak at our annual 99U Conference, for instance, I might use a subject like: “Jessica + Behance’s 99U Conference?” (Analysis: Using someone’s name feels personal; mentioning Behance in addition to 99U gives more chance of name recognition; and the question mark gives a sense of possibility/ creates curiosity.)

Keep in mind that while it’s always good to be clear, you also don’t want to give anyone a reason to dismiss your email before reading it. For that reason, you’ll want to avoid stock or cookie-cutter phrases that might get your email lumped in (and glossed over) with others.

For instance, for a speaker ask for the 99U Conference, I typically avoid run-of-the-mill phrases like “speaking opportunity” or “speaking invitation,” because they can turn people off before they’ve really assessed my particular opportunity.

Step 3: Establish your credibility.
“Why should I care?” is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds every time they open an email from someone they don’t know. This is why establishing your credibility is crucial. Tell your reader why you are different, why you are accomplished, and why they should pay attention to you.

If I’m contacting someone about contributing to 99u.com, I might share stats on our monthly pageviews and social media reach to do this. If the ask is related to one of our events, I would share audience size, years sold out, and a power-list of past speakers.

If you don’t have “data points” to share, you can also establish credibility by being a keen observer of the person you are contacting; you could tell them how long you’ve followed their work, how you enjoyed the last blog post they wrote, etc. As long as it’s not fawning, most people appreciate being noticed.

“Why should I care?” is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds every time they open an email from someone they don’t know.
Step 4: Be concise & get to the point.
Never assume that someone is going to read your entire email. You should make it clear from the get-go exactly what you are asking for. That means clarifying why you’re reaching out in the first sentence or two, and no later.

However, sometimes everything you need to say can’t be explained in 1-3 sentences. If this is the case for your ask, go ahead and say your piece (as concisely as you can) but assume your reader will be skimming it. This means using bolding, bullet pointing, and so forth as much as possible.

If it’s necessary to give some backstory prior to the ask, I like to just go ahead and break out the ask in paragraph two with a bolded preface that reads, “The Ask:” If you’re asking for something, there’s no point in beating around the bush. Make your objective clear.

Step 5: Give a deadline if you can.
People are often shy about including deadlines in emails, especially when cold-emailing. While it’s never a good idea to come off as presumptuous, deadlines do have great utility. In fact, most busy people like them. Bear in mind when you are emailing someone that—surprise!—they are probably also getting tons of emails from other people.

Most of those emails fall into one of two categories: 1) Things they have to do, and 2) Random requests for things that they might like to do, time permitting. Chances are, your email falls into group two. Which means it’s really important to know when something needs a response by. In other words, do whatever you can to help the receiver put the requested task on a timeline and prioritize it.

Step 6: Be interesting and interested.
At the most basic level, this means do not ever send anyone a templated email. If you are asking someone to take the time and energy to reply to you, make it clear that you actually know who they are.

That doesn’t mean being obsequious and singing their praises, it does mean talking to them like you are one human talking to another human. It’s nice to articulate why you’re interested in them. It’s also nice to articulate why they should be interested in you. Try to have a voice and say something funny, meaningful, or thoughtful—preferably all three!

Step 7: Never ever ever use the word “synergy.”
No single word lights up the experienced emailer’s bullshit detector like the word “synergy.” No one worth their salt wants to spend their time talking about exploring synergies. Emails with this language typically mean that the person asking for something hasn’t really thought through their ask enough to offer any specificity. If you want someone to take a chance on you, show them respect by thinking through what you are asking for and being up front about it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and theirs.

No one worth their salt wants to spend their time talking about exploring synergies.
Step 8: Preview your email on a phone.
You probably write most of your “ask” emails on a desktop computer. Bear in mind that your recipient will be receiving and reading your email on their mobile phone in almost all instances. And what looks “digestible” on a desktop computer looks like an epic poem on a mobile phone.

As per point 4, you may think you have already confirmed that your email is concise. But is it still concise on an iPhone? Once you check, you will probably realize there are a few more things you can remove. Edit your email again, and then send.

Read more →

Design Quotes I Live By

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”

– Charles Eames

“Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.”

– Brian Reed

“There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.”

– Massimo Vignelli

“People ignore design that ignores people.”

– Frank Chimero

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.”

– Joe Sparano

“The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.”

-Marty Neumeier

Read more →

SEO Professional Services How to Hire Right the First Time

Hiring and finding the best SEO professional services to plan and execute a Search Engine Optimization or website optimization campaign can be a difficult task yet vital to the growth of your business. With more integrity being placed in the methods of SEO developing companies, many businesses are springing up all over the Internet claiming to have the secret to getting your company those top rankings. But which do you choose and why is it important?

With Google (and other important search engines), social media and other online platforms driving the force on which your company’s traffic is dependent, the better the SEO professional services, the better chance you have of reaching those top spots. If your SEO expert is not right for the job, they could have detrimental effects on the rankings of your business in search engines, which in turn devalues your brand.

The benefits, however, of working with an expert that provides good SEO professional services can be outstanding and can push your business forward leaps and bounds.

Not only does it save you time personally as you have someone with a wealth of knowledge on the subject doing the job for you, it means that you can achieve your goals in a shorter timeframe with a more consistent and efficient approach. The benefit of this, is that your company will appear higher in the rankings on search engines, receive more website traffic, which will eventually lead to more sales and better brand recognition in the public forum.

 

 

Read more →

The Psychology of Creativity: How to Come Up With More Creative Ideas & Beat Creative Block

Creative-Thinking

Have you ever wished you were more creative?

 

If you do creative work, have you ever suffered from a creative block and been stuck wondering what exactly is wrong, and how you can get yourself out of it?

 

Of course you have, I mean, who hasn’t!

 

Today, you’re in luck — you are about to read one of the most comprehensive posts on understanding creativity and spurring on creative thinking that’s ever been compiled.

 

With over two-dozen research studies and academic papers cited, you’ll finally get a clearer view on the creative process out of the muddy advice often found on un-scientific takes on the subject.

 

Let’s dig in!

How to Boost Your Creative Thinking (and Be More Creative)

When it comes to creativity, one of our biggest concerns is usually how we can be more creative, or come up with better ideas.
Be More Creative

Research in this area is all over the place, but I’ve gathered some of the most practical studies out there to help you utilize specific techniques that can boost your creativity.

All of these studies are useful for everyday creativity in daily life, so try a few out for yourself and see which ones work best for you.

1.) Restrict yourself

Later on I will show you how external restrictions can hurt creativity, but right now I’m talking about internal restrictions, which can actually be used to boost creativity!

The research shows that an insidious problem that many people have is that they will often take the path of “least mental resistance,” building on ideas they already have or trying to use every resource at hand.

The thing is, the research also suggests the placing self-imposed limitations can boost creativity because it forces even creative people to work outside of their comfort zone (which they still have, even if they are a bit “weirder” than most).

One of the most famous examples is when Dr. Seuss produced Green Eggs & Ham after a betwhere he was challenged by his editor to produce an entire book in under 50 different words.

I’m no Dr. Seuss, but I’ve found (and I’m sure other writers can relate) that when I’m suddenly restricted to writing something in 500 words when I had planned to write it in 800 words, it can lead to some pretty creative workarounds.

Try limiting your work in some way and you may see the benefits of your brain coming up with creative solutions to finish a project around the parameters you’ve set.

2.) Re-conceptualize the problem

One thing that researchers have noticed with especially creative people is that they tend to re-conceptualize the problem more often than their less creative counterparts.

That means, instead of thinking of a cut-and-dry end goal to certain situations, they sit back and examine the problem in different ways before beginning to work.

Here’s a candid example — as a writer who handles content strategy for startups, my “cookie cutter” end goal is something like “write popular articles.” The problem is, if I approach an article with the mindset of, “What can I write that will get a lot of tweets?”, I won’t come up with something very good.

However, if I step back and examine the problem from another angle, such as: “What sort of articles really resonate with people and capture their interest?”, I’m focusing on a far better fundamental part of the problem, and I’ll achieve my other goals by coming up with something more original.

So, if you find yourself stagnating by focusing on generic problems (“What would be something cool to paint?”), try to re-conceptualize the problem by focusing on a more meaningful angle (“What sort of painting evokes the feeling of loneliness that we all encounter after a break-up?”).

3.) Create psychological distance

While it’s long been known that abstaining from a task (again, more on that later) is useful for breaking through a creative block, it also seems that creating “psychological” distance may also be useful.

Subjects in this study were able to solve twice as many insight problems when asked to think about the source of the task as distant, rather than it being close in proximity.

Try to imagine your creative task as being disconnected and distant from your current position/location. According to this research, this may make the problem more accessible and can encourage higher level thinking.

4.) Daydream… and then get back to work!

Although study after study confirms that daydreaming and napping can help with the creative thought process, there is one piece of research that everybody seems to leave out…

One study in particular shows that the less work you’ve done on a problem, the less daydreaming will help you.

That is, daydreaming and incubation are most effective on a project you’ve already invested a lot of creative effort into.

So before you try to use naps and daydreams as an excuse for not working, be honest with yourself and don’t forget to hustle first!

5.) Embrace something absurd

While I’ll be covering the case for “weird” experiences in more detail later on, for now you need to know that the research suggests Absurdthat reading/experiencing something absurd or surreal can help boost pattern recognition and creative thinking.

(Subjects in the study read Franz Kafka, but even stories like Alice in Wonderland have been suggested by psychologists)

The conclusion was that the mind is always seeking to make sense of the things that it sees, and surreal/absurd art puts the mind in “overdrive” for a short period while it tries to work out just exactly what it is looking at or reading.

I like reading interesting short stories like The Last Question or browsing absurdist art at places like r/HeavyMind when I’m looking for some inspiration.

6.) Separate work from consumption

Also known as the “absorb state,” this technique has been shown to help with the incubation process (much more on that later) and is far more effective than trying to combine work with creative thinking.

It makes sense too — we are often in two very different states of mind when absorbing an activity and when we are trying to create something.

I’ve found that my writing breaks down when I try to handle research + writing at the same time, and I’m much better off when I just turn off my “work mode” and consume more inspiration in the form of reading, watching, and observing.

 

Read more →

The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

When it comes to doing creative work, it’s important to not only look for ways to let our creativity thrive, but to also be mindful of insidious “creativity killers” that can sneak up and strangle our ability to come up with our best ideas. According to research from Harvard University, there are five main culprits that are responsible for killing our creativity.

It’s important to recognize these impediments to the creative thought process because many are insidious, and worse yet, most can be made on the managerial end, meaning we may be stifling our creative workers without even realizing it.

 

For those of us doing creative work, we must be mindful of these deterrents of the creative process so we can continue to put out our most novel ideas.

 

1. Role Mismatch

 

As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

 

Placing people in roles that they are not fit for is a surefire way to kill creativity. Although this may seem like a managerial concern, there are personal consequences here as well. Additional research has shown that we are at our best when we are “busy” (and pushed to our limits), but not rushed. In the wrong role, we can struggle to keep up and live in a constant state of creativity-crushing panic.

 

2. External End-Goal Restriction

 

Although self-restriction can often boost creativity, the Harvard study shows thatexternal restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative thinking. This includes subtle language use that deters creativity, such as bosses claiming “We do things by the book around here,” or group members implicitly communicating that new ideas are not welcome.

 

3. Strict Ration of Resources

 

While money and physical resources are important to creativity, the Harvard study revealed that mental resources were most important, including having enough time.

 

Creative people re-conceptualize problems more often than a non-creative. This means they look at a variety of solutions from a number of different angles, and this extensive observation of a project requires time. This is one of the many reasons you should do your best to avoid unnecessary near-deadline work that requires novel thinking. Also, when we are faced with too many external restrictions we spend more time acquiring more resources than actually, you know, creating.

 

4. Lack of Social Diversity

 

Homogeneous groups have shown to be better able to get along, but it comes at a cost: they are less creative. This even applies to the social groups you keep, so beware of being surrounded by people who are too similar all the time, you may end up in a creative echo-chamber.

 

5. Discouragement/No Positive Feedback

 

It’s tough to continue working on novel ideas when you haven’t received any positive feedback. This feeling is backed by psychological research that shows people who’ve started a new undertaking are most likely to give up the first time things come crashing down, also known at the “what the hell!” effect.

 

Creative people thrive on having others impacted by their ideas. Without feedback, their motivation begins to wither and die.

by Gregory Ciotti

 

Read more →