Less is more… or is it?

July 1, 2015

When you work in coffee shops, you overhear a lot of interesting conversations.

(Especially if you’re like me and can’t turn off that part of your brain that listens in on other people. Consider yourself warned if you ever see me nearby when you’re meeting a friend or colleague at Starbucks.)

The other day, the gal next to me (who just happens to be a freelance website producer) was chatting with a guy who, like us, uses this particular coffee shop as his office on a semi-regular basis. He was talking about the new website he’s building for his business, and she was (very generously) giving him a lot of (pretty legit) advice — which platforms to try, how to choose stock photos, where not to spend his web marketing budget.

But then they started talking about content strategy, and she told him, “When it comes to your website content, less is more.” As he continued to talk, she repeated it twice more: Less is more. Less is more.

And I thought, but is it really?

Sometimes, less is less. And other times, less is lazy.

Less is less when it doesn’t create meaning or give insight. And less is lazy when we simply don’t take the time to consider (and then meet) the needs of the people we want to work with.

I’ve been both of these less-es. Designers are notorious for being the cobblers with no shoes, and I was one of those designers who had nothing but a logo, a contact link, some pretty imagery, and a couple of sentences on my own website. I defended it by saying things like “less is more” and “I’m just too busy doing work for other people.”

The truth is, less was just less — and I was using a busy schedule as an excuse for not caring for people well.

Less is only more when the less is carefully considered and precisely crafted.

A good writer will tell you that it’s harder to make your point concisely than verbosely. That’s because less content doesn’t mean less information. When your words are fewer, your words have to work harder.

When less is done well, you give your customer exactly what they need — no more and no less. Too little content will prevent a prospect from becoming your customer in the first place. Too much content puts the burden on your customer, to sift through it to find what they need to know. But less content done well puts the burden on you — to know what your customer needs to know and connect them with it.

At the same time, for some kinds of consumers, less will never be more.

They’re the researchers, the meticulous decision makers, the get-your-facts-in-order people. The people who read all the way to the bottom of squeeze pages. The people who read Amazon reviews for every product (and all similar products) before they buy.

You need to have the more for these people — but not as a replacement for the well-crafted less.

When it comes to your website content, you need less *and* more.

Your well-crafted less will take the lead, introducing your customer to your business or product. It could be a video, a slideshow, or text copy. For some (or even most) customers, this will tell them everything they need to take action. But those researcher-types can read on for answers to their every question — presented in a way that’s engaging, simple and clear. For a one-to-one offering, like coaching, this could be an in-depth description of your process. For a one-to-many offering, like an online course, this could be an outline of the modules in your class or a tour of your digital classroom.

In the end, less isn’t more. Less is you doing more — creating more meaning, giving greater insight, caring better for your people.

Twelve months

June 13, 2015

Dear Eva,

One year ago, I met you for the first time. You were so tiny, laying on my chest — this strong, beautiful, perfect little person. Over the last 12 months, we watched as all the parts of you unfolded like a flower: your features, your body, your personality, your voice. I know this is only the beginning, but I also know that I will look back at this day in years to come amazed at how much you were already yourself.

You are the epitome of a one year old: pointing at everything, starting to wave hello and goodbye, smiling with eight little teeth, babbling for minutes at a time, right on the verge of walking, able to answer questions like where’s the lion? and which one is the dog?. You also happen to be exactly the same size I was at 12 months: 27 pounds, 32 inches, in some percentile that doesn’t even have a number.

You had many adventures this month, including your first trip to the zoo. Granny and I held you up so you could see all the animals, and you pointed and squealed — especially when you saw the elephants, even though they were so far away.

We also took you on your third camping trip, this time with two of your favorite people (and ours too). Our beloved camp baby from last summer returned, and your highlights included crawling around to gather sticks and rocks, napping outside, and playing on the playground.

And did I mention how much you love your Auntie Krystal? You think she’s pretty much the best.

The grand finale of your first year was your best adventure yet: our week-long trip to Tahoe with the Rices. Seven days of exploring new places, swinging at parks, splashing in the water, and figuring out ways to be your cousin’s partner in crime.

On your birthday, we got onto the guest list for a residents-only park and had the most perfect day there, sunbathing and standing in the lake and playing in the wading pool.

We came home and had your first cake, a funfetti cake that Aunt Lindsay decorated with sprinkles and your name and the white bear candle holder that granny bought for you nearly a year ago. You cried when we sang Happy Birthday, too overwhelmed by the commotion, by being the center of attention. But I think the cake made up for it.

Everyone brought you such sweet presents — books and toys and new clothes — but you were particularly smitten with one toy in particular: a little stuffed dog that I’ve been waiting to give you for months. As soon as you saw him peeking out of a bag on the table, you had to have him. We named him Uno, and he’s the first toy you’ve really seemed attached to. I’m sure it’s my own childhood affection for my own stuffed dog (his name is Brandon and you can meet him someday), but it brought such joy to my heart to watch you carrying him around all night.

When you’re older, I hope you look back at your birthday and think, wow, I was so loved. Because you are, profoundly, by everyone around you. You are constantly charming them all, strangers and friends alike — and then when you’re done being our little people person, you crawl over and curl your body into mine and press your cheek against my chest and you’re my baby girl for a few more minutes. The independent moments and the astonishing moments and the mundane moments and the tender moments alike, I tuck them all away in my heart, thankful for the way each one is a part of who you are, of who you will be.

I love you with my whole heart. Happy first birthday, Eva Joy.

How and why to be less available

May 28, 2015

We live in an age and culture of hyper-accessibility. Email. Twitter. Facebook Messenger. Mac OS Continuity (that thing where phone calls ring on your phone… and your laptop… and your iPad). And notifications for all these things. On all your devices. All the time.

Yet the challenge I’ve been posing to everyone lately — clients, family, friends, mentees — is to be less available. And every single person I’ve encouraged to do so has said it was the right move.

But that isn’t to say it’s an easy shift. It’s tough both logistically and emotionally: logistically, because we still want to care for people well; and emotionally, because (if we’re honest) it feels good to be needed.

Fortunately, there are a lot of good reasons to be less available:

1. It frees you up to be fully present with whomever or whatever is in front of you.

2. When you’re less accessible to everyone, you’re more accessible to the right people. (For example, if you’re less available to any kind of client, you’re more available for clients who are the right fit. Or if you’re less available to your whole group of acquaintances, you’re more available to your inner circle of close friends and family — the people you truly nourish and who nourish you in return.)

3. Intentionally creating a barrier to accessibility means that people who make an effort to call on you are really invested and engaged. In other words, it weeds out prospective clients who aren’t serious or friends of convenience or other people who are solely in the consumer mindset.

4. Self care. Solitude is vital to the emotional health of all people. Extroverts may need less solitude to recharge than their introverted counterparts, but constant connectedness isn’t healthy for anyone.

5. When someone has a question or a problem, it’s easier for them to ask you than to seek their own solution. If you’re always available, you become a human compendium of instructions and answers. Being less available is a way of encouraging and empowering others to learn and discover the way on their own. (It’s like how you may never remember how to get to someone’s house if you always use your GPS to get there. You aren’t actually learning the way; Siri is just dictating instructions to you.)

So how do you do it?

How can you make yourself less available without causing mutiny, disappointing everyone, and making them all feel abandoned? Here are some ideas that have worked well for me.

1. Manage expectations. This is the single most important thing you can do. People aren’t (usually) upset because they didn’t hear from you for a week; they’re upset because they expected a response in a day or two. I have an auto-responder on my email account that tells people exactly what to expect in terms of my availability, email response times, and office hours. It’s possibly (probably) annoying to people who already know what’s going on, but I decided that was a reasonable trade-off for setting expectations with my network at large.

2. Schedule time for engagement — and for disengagement. Less available doesn’t mean unavailable. I don’t check my email on the weekend, but I have regular times I do read and respond to messages. I don’t plan social outings on work days, but I am intentional about scheduling play dates and lunches on my off days. (Looking for techniques on how to schedule engagement? Check out The Intentional Day.)

3. Create your contact flow wisely. It doesn’t have to be easy to get in touch with you. But if it’s difficult, it should be because you made it that way on purpose — not the result of a poorly designed contact flow. Maybe this means hiring someone to handle your email — making your brand easy to reach but making you less accessible. For me, it means I don’t list a phone number on my website, and I point people toward a form instead of an email address for making initial contact. I’ve even had times that I took the contact link out of my main navigation altogether, so people had to read through (or at least scroll through) my services page before reaching out. When I had a contact link right on my homepage, I received substantially more emails from people who weren’t genuinely interested in working together.

4. Be socially selective. You don’t have to be on every social media platform in the history of the internet. Choose the ones that make sense for you and your customers. There will automatically be more time for solitude when you’re not covering as many access points.

5. Trust people to be both gracious and capable. At least a few times every week, someone specifically compliments my email auto-responder or time management — and almost as often, someone answers their own question before I’ve even seen their email. And it’s always a surprise, because I usually feel like I’m letting everyone down. People are much more gracious than I give them credit for, and much more capable too.

What about you?

How are you managing your availability? What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in the age of hyper-accessibility? What’s working (and not working) for you?

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