The Awesome Power of LinkedIn: What I Picked Up from Lewis Howes

By Dan O'Sullivan
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If you’re tuned in to the social media scene, you’re probably familiar with Lewis Howes. Lewis has carved out a niche as a LinkedIn expert and, among his most impressive achievements, was featured in a Hired Pens blog post last October.

Earlier today, I sat in on “How to Generate More Traffic, Leads, and Sales on LinkedIn,” a Webinar hosted by Lewis along with Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. Here are seven things I took away.

1. Accept all invitations to connect on LinkedIn.

I’m somewhat picky about whose invitations to accept. Do I connect with someone I don’t know well? What if it’s someone I wouldn’t necessarily vouch for? Lewis says don’t worry about it. The more contacts you have, the better, because it allows you to reach more people on LinkedIn (and beyond).

2. Put your list of connections to good use.

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn lets you export your list of contacts into a spreadsheet — which makes for a great email list.

3. Improve your search ranking.

Unlike optimizing your website, optimizing your LinkedIn profile is pretty straightforward and makes a tangible impact right away. Lewis identifies five key areas where you should include a targeted keyword (e.g. “copywriter”):

  • Headline
  • Summary
  • Current work experience
  • Past work experience
  • Specialties

The goal: When people search for your keyword on LinkedIn, your name comes up high.

4. Give and get recommendations.

It’s an effective way to build up goodwill and your credibility.

5. Think local.

If your target audience is local, optimize accordingly. For example, a real estate agent serving Somerville, Cambridge and Arlington should specify that. Otherwise, you risk getting useless inquiries from elsewhere.

6. Join LinkedIn groups.

Start by searching for groups using relevant keywords (e.g. “marketing”). You can join up to 50. Lewis suggests joining some of the biggest ones in your areas of interest. Once you’ve joined, you can do things like share status updates (“Here’s my blog post on …”) that show up on the wall feed of fellow group members. A great way to start conversations, promote stuff and drive traffic to your website.

7. Start LinkedIn groups, too.

Launching your own LinkedIn group opens up all kinds of marketing opportunities. Your name is prominent, so many people try to make contact and/or check out your website. Everyone who joins becomes candidates for your email list. The “Send an Announcement” option lets you email everyone in your group. And you can create an automatic “welcome” email for new members that includes a link to your website, newsletter sign-up page or anything else you like.

Great advice from Lewis, and much of it is quite easy to do.

Advice for Would-Be Job Seekers

By Anna Goldsmith
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Our company was featured recently in The Boston Globe Careers section. Or, more accurately, I was misrepresented in an article here. Not in a terrible way. But if you read the article and know The Hired Pens, you know that:

a)   I haven’t worked 40 hours in a single week in approximately two years. My exact quote was, “Since Leo was born I feel like I have become so much more efficient with my time that I get 40 hours’ worth of work done in two-and-a-half days.”

b)   The company was described as “virtual.” It’s not. Sure, we let our writers work at home, but we actually have a real honest-to-goodness office with a real waiting room with real magazines and everything.

c)   We don’t actually have any “employees,” as the caption noted. We have contractors we hire on a project-by-project basis. Yes, this is a small point of differentiation, but worth making because …

We keep getting resumes from people asking us if we have open positions and wondering about benefits, etc.

So, yes, this seemed like a good time to clear that up and explain how we run our company. A few years ago, we realized we had neither the time nor the expertise to handle the wide range of projects now coming our way. But since we are both greedy opportunists, we hated to turn work away.

We thought, “Hey, just because we’re not smart enough to know what they heck an enterprise-ready API management solution is doesn’t mean someone else isn’t.” So we began dedicating ourselves to identifying some good people who did.

The writers we’ve found have a remarkable amount in common even though they have such different specialties.

  1. They are (already) damn good at what they do. While we love the enthusiasm of junior writers, we don’t have time to train them. The writers we like to work with are senior-level and require zero handholding. You know, unless they want to take us for a romantic walk or something.
  2. “No problem” is their favorite expression. Our deadlines are often hardcore and sudden. And our clients can be really demanding. It’s stressful. Our writers know that while they were hired to make our clients happy, their secret job is to make us happy. Or at least make us feel like we can confidently back away from the cliff because they are there.
  3. They know no middle ground. Nothing is worse than finding a writer you love and having them leave you for a full-time job. That’s why our writers either don’t want a full-time job or are total workaholics for whom 40 hours of a full-time job is just not enough.

Finally, a few more do’s and don’ts before you get in touch.

Do specialize. It’s overwhelming when we ask you what kind of writing you do and you say “Everything.” While you may have in fact done “everything” at some point in your writing career, surely there are one or two things you are best at. That’s what we want to hire you for.

Do get personal. We keep getting emails that start with “Dear Sir or Madam.” Really? You couldn’t be bothered to look at our site long enough to write “Dear Dan and Anna”? This doesn’t give us a lot of faith.

Don’t ask us how much you should charge. Even if you’re flexible on rates, know the industry standard and throw out a number that reflects your level or expertise. Otherwise we’d be happy to pay you $2/hour.

Don’t be so stiff. We like to work with people we like. So make us like you in your email. We can’t say how. This would be kind of like asking someone to tell you that you’re pretty and then have them say, “You look pretty.” It just wouldn’t mean as much.

In closing, we feel really lucky to already have such an amazing team of writers, but projects and writers do come and go. So if we haven’t scared or turned you off with this post, we’d love to hear from you.

Sharing Lessons Learned from a Wildly Profitable Email Scam

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Email Train

Photo courtesy jepoirrier

If you’re like me, you’ve received dozens of those emails trying to bilk you out of money. You know the type — the sender is near death and needs your help handling millions of dollars.

And if you’re like me, you’ve lost hundreds if not thousands of dollars through these scams. Well, I decided it was time I got a piece of this action. So I concocted my own sob story and gave it a shot.

Let’s just say the results have been amazing. Since sending out the below email earlier this month, I’ve made nearly $54 million. People are so gullible.

Feel free to try it too, then kick back and blow your nose with $100 bills while the ill-gotten cash starts piling up! Best of luck.

Date: June 3, 2011
From: Dan O’Sullivan
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Proposal for Mutually Beneficial Transaction

Dear Friend,

I realize we have never met before, but my instincts tell me you are an honest, reliable and, by the way, very attractive individual.

Recently, I had the misfortune of contracting a fatal disease due to an incident involving a rabies-ridden baboon and a lack of judgment. (Let’s just say a cross-species knife fight wasn’t one of my brighter ideas.)

In any case, my doctor just informed me that I have six to eight minutes to live. After re-watching the final minutes of the season finale of The Killing (Detective Holder is a bad guy?!?), I decided to spend my last moments on earth writing this email. And then sending it to you.

Here is my story: Over the past 10 years, my copywriting business, The Hired Pens, has generated revenues in excess of $1.2 billion. My partner, Anna Goldsmith, cannot be trusted to spend her share of these riches wisely, so I have had nearly all of these profits deposited into a Swiss bank account.

With my impending demise, however, I do not want my hard-earned money to go to waste. Would you help me put it to good use? All I ask is that you disperse 10% of the $1.2 billion to a worthwhile charity (ideally, an organization that fights rabies in baboons) and keep the rest for yourself.

In order to assist with my quest, please email the following information to my barrister, John Doe, at jdoe@thehiredpens.com:

  • Full name
  • Phone number
  • Social security number
  • Credit card number and expiration date (don’t forget that weird three-digit number on the back)
  • Bank and account number
  • Hat size

I await your good response today. Thank you and remain blessed. God is great! Also, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

Kind Regards,

Dan O’Sullivan
The Hired Pens, Inc.

Ten Years of The Hired Pens: What Anna Was Afraid to Tell

By Dan O'Sullivan
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LogoEarlier this week, Anna was kind enough to post a virtual toast celebrating The Hired Pens’ 10 years in business. Clearly, though, she didn’t have the courage to tell the whole story. So here’s a timeline with all the sordid details.

March 2001: Dan and Anna meet on a park bench in Arlington to discuss starting a business. Unemployed and expecting the arrangement to last no more than four months, Dan signs on. … Anna soon comes up with company name, causing Dan to seethe with jealousy every time someone says “I love your company name.”

The Hired Pens 2001April 2001: Thwarted in attempt to buy domain name “hiredpens.com” by someone who seems to have nothing to do with pens or copywriting. … Later that month, thehiredpens.com goes live, much to admiration of Web designers around the world.

June 2001: The Hired Pens, LLC, is officially registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Item somehow escapes mention in Wall Street Journal and Boston Business Journal. … Go to our first networking event and spend much of evening cowering in the corner of ballroom.

July 2001: Land our first paying gig: $300 to rewrite a Web page for ArsDigita. Wild, champagne-infused celebration ensues!

2002: Land one of our first big-name clients, Hasbro. Work involves driving to corporate headquarters in Pawtucket, R.I., picking up car-full of toys and driving back to write about the toys. Would have been more fun if we already had kids.

2003: Run a wildly unsuccessful postcard-based marketing campaign, losing hundreds of dollars in the process.

2004: Adopt new tagline: “Words matter. We care.” Several months later, receive nasty letter from another copywriting agency threatening legal action because (unbeknownst to us) our tagline roughly resembles theirs. … Dan soon comes up with new tagline: “We choose your words carefully,” thus avoiding lawsuit while helping him get over Anna naming the company.

2005-2006: Spend six months dealing with IRS in attempt to change tax status from LLC to s-corporation. Experience reduces Dan’s projected lifespan by six years.

2006-2007: Gain enough financial security to start developing a moral compass. Turn down opportunities to write for a soft-porn website and for a Disney-affiliated credit card. Anna decides not to write for NAVY Seals, a decision she later regrets after they take out bin Laden. (U.S.A.! U.S.A.!)

2007: Move into first real office, ensconced in corner of unkempt woodworking studio. Decide to leave after nine months due to fear of developing fatal respiratory disease.

2008: Move into our current office, located in the heart of Somerville’s Davis Square. Enjoy overhearing drivers’ arguments with meter maids, random conversations screamed back and forth across Elm Street and annoyingly insistent come-ons of money-seeking workers with Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood and countless other organizations. … Scent of grilled peppers and onions from Chipotle downstairs occasionally rouses hunger and inspires 11 a.m. lunches.

2010: Finally get around to posting photos of Dan and Anna on website. Realize that wasn’t very hard.

May 2011: Spend two-and-a-half hours trapped on a Red Line train on way back from networking event. Vow not to take Red Line or attend networking events ever again.

June 2011: Scrap plan for extravagant party to celebrate 10th anniversary due to lack of initiative. Opt for two lame blog posts instead.

A Virtual Toast to 10 Years in Business

By Anna Goldsmith
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Image credit: sethtowerhurd.com

So Dan and I are celebrating 10 years in business this month. If you’d asked us last year how we’d be celebrating this momentous occasion, we’d have said “huge party at a swanky restaurant with all our clients, writers and friends. It will be sick!” (If we used words like “sick.”)

But instead, we got really busy with work and forgot about it. Which is not so bad as forgetting, say, your 10-year wedding anniversary, but still a little bit sad. So, although I’m not standing in front of you while toasting with champagne in a commemorative Hired Pens glass, here’s what I’d say if I were …

Hired Pens, you’ve come a long way. I remember when you were just two crazy kids with a dream, a couple of crappy laptops and cell phones that still had antennas. You were born in 2001, shortly before the world fell apart. But you didn’t complain or even feel sorry for yourself. You just wheeled your $99 Staples swivel chair up to your 2×3 wood composite desk (also from Staples) and got to work.

And as the world put itself back together, you began to find your own footing. Oh, the laughs we’ve shared, Hired Pens. Like the time we forgot to get a contract and then didn’t get paid. Or before we realized it was imperative to run everything through a professional proofreader or have to give all that money back, contract or not. Oh, did we laugh! But boy, we never made that mistake again, did we, HP.

Then there was the big move — remember that? When you were tired of working in coffee shops and decided to get your own place? But all you could afford was the back of a woodshop studio, where it was either hot or freezing and you had to walk 500 yards to use a bathroom where the soap was perpetually cracked and those cracks, filled with black dirt.

Still, you powered through, Hired Pens, bringing in your own hand soap and trying not to stare when the woman across the hall, not to be outdone by her bare-chested, sawdust-covered coworkers, strolled into the bathroom stripped down to her industrial-strength bra.

You were just proud to have your own place, Hired Pens. And you trusted that if you kept working hard, making connections and not pissing off your clients, things would get better. And you were right. Soon you had your own office, a real professional office where you would not be ashamed to bring clients. Where the bathroom was not “your responsibility” and there were always new magazines in the waiting room.

So here’s to you, Hired Pens. You’ve made our lives way better than we ever could have imagined. Even on the days you drive us nuts. Where would be without you? Okay, we’d be unemployed. All the more reason to toast to your future!

And finally, a very sincere thank you to our clients who have become friends, our friends who have become clients and everyone else who encouraged us to keep going. Or at least didn’t make us feel crappy about still being in our pajamas at 2 in the afternoon back in the day.

Why Fictional Raccoon Attacks Require Legal Disclaimers

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Raccoon AttackAt some point in the past 15 years or so, advertisers recognized the inherent humor in small animals attacking humans. Of course, I first had this revelation roughly 25 years ago.

It was late in the evening on the East Coast, and my Red Sox were playing the Mariners in the old Seattle Kingdome. During the game, either a cat or a rat (my memory is hazy) ran onto the field. A goofy-looking groundskeeper — who sported a long, droopy mustache — was dispatched to corral the little critter.

What ensued was unintentional comedy of the highest order. After chasing the cat/rat around the artificial turf for a minute or two, the groundskeeper caught his prey. While heading triumphantly back to a dugout, the animal bit his finger. After which the groundskeeper started jumping up and down while vigorously shaking his finger in pain. I can’t remember if the cat/rat was ever brought to justice.

The image of the stricken groundskeeper comes to mind every year or two and never fails to make me giggle. Which, I guess, makes me a bad person. But it also explains why advertisers have turned to this storyline in their commercials.

Case in point: this Blockbuster ad, which was running a few months ago. A man gardening is bitten by a raccoon, which refuses to let go of his arm all the way to the hospital. In the emergency room, the receptionist says someone will see him in 28 days. (The point being, you’ll never have to wait 28 days to see hot new movies with a Blockbuster membership.)

Funny enough for those who enjoy their humor sophomoric. But what gets me is the disclaimer shown at the beginning of the ad in tiny type: “Fictionalization. Do not attempt.”

Does Blockbuster, its ad agency or its lawyers really think this paean to animal-inflicted pain would make a gullible viewer follow suit? I had to know. So I asked my lawyer friend, who wishes to remain nameless for fear of being associated with this ridiculous blog post.

His response:

When it comes to disclaimers, warranties, warning signs and even general contract language, every client asks for strategies on how to avoid getting sued. The truth is, however, that nothing can ever be done to avoid being sued. Rather, the best legal advice offers strategies on how best to ensure a victory when you do get sued. Most lawyer types believe that warnings provide a healthy deterrent against lawsuits.

Now, why would anyone need to warn people that they shouldn’t reenact a raccoon attack? Well, the law imposes liability on people whose conduct would foreseeably cause injury to another. That’s how negligence is defined. So, if you show kids jumping off a roof in a show that is directed to kids, is it reasonably foreseeable that it would influence another kid to follow suit? Maybe. Will a disclaimer insulate you from liability? Maybe.

All of those questions can be decided by a jury, who will be asked to determine what is reasonable under the circumstances. But every time people hear that a lawsuit has been filed as a result of a commercial or TV show, then it starts to make liability seem more foreseeable. And hence more disclaimers.

Wow, I had no idea. Thank you, lawyer-friend-who-shall-not-be-named for your legal insight.

Now back to the show.