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05 How To Organize Your Thoughts And Ideas

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When you begin to write, your mind may give you random, disjointed thoughts. Your ideas probably won't come out logically or sequentially, but write them down as they appear, without worrying about order or logic. Don't judge and evaluate, simply collect them. Later you'll evaluate, sort, and organize them. At this stage you just want to get them down on paper, on tape, or on computer disk.

It is easier for most people to write this way, because the creative part of your brain isn't very logical, and the logical part of your brain isn't very creative. Don't expect your mind to perform both functions at once (although some can).

Use the "card trick" to organize your thoughts Sometimes it helps to put all your thoughts on individual index cards, exactly as they come to mind. Later, you can sort the cards to get a finished product, eliminating cards that don't fit.

This is also a beautiful way to write a magazine or journal article with very little stress--and very little "writer's block," because nothing you write down has to be said perfectly or accurately. Everything can be sharpened up later. Your first goal is simply to collect your rough thoughts. Once you've accomplished that, here's what to do next:
  1. Spend time on your letter. Someone once said, "With part-time effort, you get part-time results." This is especially true in letter writing. You can expect to spend several hours, or even several days, on a letter.
  2. Write a draft, then let it cool off overnight.
  3. Rewrite if necessary.
  4. Use a strong close, like these: "After you have had a chance to review this letter, I will call you to get your reactions." "I will call your office next week to arrange a time when we might be able to get together. If you have any questions before that, please call me at (555) 771-4357."
  5. Avoid weaker endings like these: "Please call me at your earliest convenience." "I believe that a meeting could prove to be mutually profitable, and ask that, if you agree, you contact me so that we can arrange a convenient time." "Thank you for your consideration. I am available for a personal interview at your earliest convenience and look forward to hearing from you." "In the next week or two when your schedule permits, let's meet and discuss my aspirations in more detail. Please give me a call." "I look forward to your reply."
  6. Ask for opinions, advice, and feedback from friends, and from sales, marketing, and advertising experts.
  7. Mail a small sample to test your letter. This is important. A consultant friend once mailed 76,000 brochures at a cost of nearly $15,000, and only got three responses. What a shame! The material was poorly written, badly designed, and poorly tested. Test your letters before you roll them out on a large scale.
  8. If you're getting the kind of response you want, mail larger numbers.
  9. Enclose a response form to increase your response. (See note on page 183, and letters #184-196.)
  10. Remail the same letter to the same people two or three times. Repetition often helps.
  11. Don't mark letters "Personal and Confidential," unless there's a solid reason why they can't be opened by an administrative assistant. If the letter is persuasive enough, it will get through.
Give yourself time You can't expect to produce an exceptional document overnight. Letter-writing is actually harder than resume-writing because you're starting with a clean slate. In resume-writing at least you have your background--which is definite--to work with. In letter writing, you start with nothing. Letters can be about anything. That's why they're so difficult.

I once took a class called "How to Market a Book." The class focused on writing query letters to publishers to get a book contract. The course lasted six weeks and met for two hours each week. I spent several hours per week on homework--staying up all night several nights--and the end product was a one-page sales letter to publishers. Lots of work for just one letter.

I mailed the letter to about 30 publishers and got 13 responses. No one bought the book, but one publisher did offer to publish it for royalties only (no advance), which I declined. That book was the forerunner of this one.

Writers often say, "I don't like writing, but I like having written." That's how many of us feel. Writing can be hard work. Don't take it lightly, and don't feel bad if you can't write a high-impact marketing letter in half an hour. Neither can professional copywriters! Writing is a profession, like rocket science. Don't expect to learn or perfect it overnight.

Don't copy someone else's letter Take these letters as samples and modify them to fit yourself, but don't copy them verbatim. I've found that people who copy someone else's letter seldom get a good response, regardless of how good the letter is. Be original.

It would be easy to take the letters in this collection and use them word-for-word. That would be quick, but probably not effective. Your letter has to be "you." It should sound like you, feel like you, read like you--because you have to follow it with a phone call, or answer questions about it.

So, don't send a really "hot," aggressive letter if you're introverted and laid-back. You'll have trouble following up on the letter and you may not come across well. Send a letter that mirrors your style--and only you can write that letter.

Get professional help If you're a skilled writer, fine. The project may be easy for you. But if you're not, you may need help. Consider hiring a professional freelance writer to help you compose and edit your letters, but not to do them for you.

Where can you begin to look? Call your local ad club for the names of direct mail freelance writers. Read the classifieds in Writer's Digest. Check the Yellow Pages under "Writers." Contact your local writers' guild. Check with local advertising and PR firms. They use lots of freelancers. Newspaper and magazine editors know writers too.

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William S. Frank, M.A.,
25 Reasons I love consulting.
by William S. Frank
  1. Brand. You are your own brand, and you can define it any way you want. For many years, I provided outplacement to the ex-employees of Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield service corporation. When departing employees left the company, they didn't request outplacement in their severance package. They said, "I want Bill Frank."
  2. Demand. The world will always be full of terrible problems that need solving.
  3. White Hat. I can be a helper and get paid for it.
  4. Pay. I can be paid to do things I'd gladly do for nothing.
  5. Variety. Every day is different.
  6. Happiness. At this stage of my career, I only work for people I respect and care about. If a client micromanages me or is otherwise no fun, I complete the assignment and replace them.
  7. Talent. I'm using 110% of my talents and stretching myself to the max.
  8. Change. I can change my focus any day I want. If you're a McDonald's franchisee, you don't say, "Hey, I've got this great idea for a meatball sandwich—let's try it out today." In consulting you can adjust your focus hour-by-hour, as long as your clients still understand and appreciate what you do.
  9. Income. No one else would pay me as much as I pay myself.
  10. FUN. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.
  11. Retirement. I can write and consult as long as I am physically and mentally capable. Peter Drucker worked into his 90s, and when asked which book was his best, he said: "My next one."
  12. Job Security. Although clients come and go, no one can come into my office and say, "Pack up your stuff . . . You don't work here anymore." In 29 years, I've only had one employer: ME.
  13. Travel. I don't have to travel unless I decide to. I travel if it's both FUN and profitable—or at least FUN.
  14. Commute. I live five minutes from my office, a corner office in an upscale six-story tower. In winter, I leave a heated garage at home and drive to an underground heated garage at work. There's seldom time to hear even one song on the radio.
  15. Vacation. Consulting is more fun than vacation (except on Wailea Beach in Maui).
  16. Friends. I have developed hundreds of close acquaintances and several lifetime friends.
  17. Time. I can work as much or as little as I like: four-hour days or 18-hour days. (Of course, my income will reflect that.)
  18. Employees. I can work with employees, subcontractors, partners, or alone—I've done it all.
  19. Passive Income. I've developed several products that provide "mailbox money." I earn while I'm sleeping.
  20. Ethics. I've never had to violate my values or personal code of ethics. I've never had to lie, purposely deceive or harm others, or promise things I can't deliver. I go to bed with a clear conscience. That doesn't mean there's never any conflict. But the conflict is conducted according to generally accepted business practices.
  21. Virtual. My career is fairly portable. With the Internet, e-mail, cell phone, and FedEx, I can work nationally, even internationally from my office—or anywhere in the world.
  22. Purpose. I make a difference in peoples' lives every day. I see it in their faces, hear it in their voices, and read it in their thank-yous.
  23. Experience. Every painful or joyful life experience makes me a better consultant. So does every person I meet or book I read. Grey hair can be good in consulting.
  24. Structure. I have to work very hard, and the clients expect superb results—but I get to structure my days, weeks, months, and years.
  25. Boss. Most of the time, I love my boss.
As I was posting these letters online, I realized I want to communicate my love for consulting. It's just a great business. The single letters, taken together, may create a picture of enjoyment, but in a burst of creativity I listed some of the reasons consulting is such a good fit for me—and perhaps for you, too. They are not prioritized; this is just how they came out.