Be the First One on the Dancefloor.

If it’s alright, I’d love to tell you about one of my favorite random things on the internet.

It’s a video of Eric Clapton playing his hit, “Cocaine,” at the Royal Albert Hall, in 2015. It starts with that legendary riff, in E, and you can see the crowd recognize it immediately. But here’s the thing that amazes me the most: You’ve got one of greatest guitarists of all time, in one of the most famous concert halls in the world, and people are just… sitting there. They’re not, up they’re not dancing. Eric Clapton is playing freaking “Cocaine,” and people are sitting on their butts like they’re watching someone perform at an open mic night.

And then comes one of my favorite random things on the internet.

It happens at about 2:19 in the video. Clapton’s in a guitar solo, and the camera pans across the crowd: 5,000 people, lots of butts in seats.

But there, in the bottom corner, at the edge of the stage to Clapton’s left, is this one couple.

They’ve snuck up to the front, and they’re dancing like — excuse the cliche, but it’s accurate here — no one’s watching.

They shimmy. They shake. They twirl.

They — and I mean this in the best possible away — do not appear to give even the slightest shit about the fact that no one else is dancing.

The camera cuts to the band, and they’re loving it. They cut back to the couple: Now jumping up and down, cheering wildly for Clapton.

And then something happens: People notice that couple, and seem to snap out of their stupor. They remember: They’re watching Eric Clapton! One of the great rock and roll musicians of all time! And he’s playing one of the most famous rock and roll songs of all time! People start to get out of their seats. Some folks rush to the stage to cheer. The crowd gets loud.

Sometimes, it takes two people, getting up and showing everyone else the way. Sometimes, you have to be the one to give everyone else permission to get up and do something — to dance, to experiment, to try something bold.

We’re moving into this next phase of the pandemic, and I don’t know what happens next. But here’s your permission: Don’t stay seated. Don’t idle. Get up and dance, even if you feel like you might look a little silly. You never know who might be right behind you on the dancefloor.

“I Made It to Here.”

https://twitter.com/PGATOUR/status/1381004272477814785

I’ve been watching The Masters this week, and there’s a golfer I’ve never heard of who’s really impressed me. His name’s Will Zalatoris, and he’s currently tied for second, heading into the final round. He’s 24, and he’s not yet on the PGA Tour — he’s in the field thanks to an exemption. He has five top 10 finishes this year, and has made over $1.7 million golfing in 2021, so it’s not like this is a Tin Cup type of story — but still, it’s impressive for a 24-year-old in his first Masters.

But the thing I like most about Zalatoris is that he doesn’t seem afraid of the moment. He got asked about it at a press conference earlier this week: Did he feel nervous? Was he scared of the spotlight?

“There’s no reason to feel intimidated now,” he told reporters. “I made it to here.”

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to perform without pressure. Watching some of the other golfers today — guys who’ve been here before, and who have real weight on their shoulders — you can see how tough it is to hit shots on such a big stage. But Zalatoris seems free of that burden, able to play as though he’s playing a practice round.

He made it to here. He belongs on this stage. And it’s OK to believe that tomorrow, he just might win the whole thing.

How to Make An Introduction.

a handshake

One of my absolute favorite things is getting the chance to connect two people who don’t know each other — but who I know are immediately going to hit it off. In a typical week, I’ll make a handful of these intros, so I’ve had quite a bit of practice in getting it right. Here’s what I’ve learned about making an introduction that leads to impact.

Step 1 — Reach out to both parties and make sure there’s mutual interest

You’d be surprised how often an intro shows up in your inbox with no previous warning! When those arrive, you often feel like someone is imposing on you, even if that’s not their intent.

But there’s a simple fix: First reach out to make sure each person is interested, understands the nature of the intro, and has the time do so. Is the person you’re being connected to looking for professional help? For a a 20-minute call? For a reference or advice? You’re setting up a blind date here, so it’s up to you to make sure each party is interested and excited to come to the table.

Step 2 — Follow a simple formula for the intro

Here’s what every one of my intros looks like:

here's what one of these emails looks like

Keep it brief, be positive, and make sure each party leaves feeling like you’ve presented them in the best possible light. If there’s a small point of connection that might spark a conversation — say, there’s a mutual friend in common, or they both have a shared interest — mention that to help them kick off the conversation.

One more thing: Make sure you’re introducing them at the right email address. Maybe this person wants to be connected via their personal email, or maybe this is for business and they want an intro at their work email. Double check to make sure you’re introducing them in the correct space.

Step 3 — If you’re the one being introduced, bcc the person who introduced you!

Here’s how I typically reply to an intro: “Thanks, Person Who Introduced Us, for making the intro! I’m moving you to bcc to spare your inbox.” It lets them know you’ve taken the reins here, but also keeps them from having to witness two people make plans on a lengthy email thread. This person’s taken the time to make an intro for you — the least you can do is keep them from receiving a dozen extra emails in the process.

And that’s it! Connect with both parties, make the intros, and make sure you get moved to bcc. Do that, and you’ve just made a proper digital introduction.

———

That photo of a handshake comes via Sincerely Media and Unsplash.

I Don’t Have All The Answers. But I Do Have A Few Questions.

here I am giving a talk back in 2019 in Sydney.

Last week, a friend was giving a presentation for work, and asked if she could include a slide with a few email tips she’d learned from me. At the top of the slide was an explanation of who I was.

“Here’s some advice from Dan Oshinsky,” she’d written, ”newsletter guru.”

I cringed.

The truth is, I’m not a guru, or an expert, or any of the other titles that people throw around. I’ve seen a lot in my time in this space, and shared a lot with others. But the thing I like most about my job isn’t that I get to share what I’ve learned with my clients.

It’s that I get to keep learning.

Often, as I get to work with a client, we’ll realize that there are things they want to try that I don’t have the answers for. And to me, that’s the most exciting part of the job — the chance to learn something completely new!

So we’ll start asking a few questions. We’ll dig into the issue. I might even reach out to others who’ve tried something similar, just to get their perspective.

And then we’ll start to test and learn. We’ll keep asking questions until we get some answers — even if they’re not the answers we expected.

I know that I don’t have all the answers. But I have a lot of the questions to help me figure out how to get the answers that me and my clients need.

———

That’s a photo of me giving a talk at an event in Sydney in 2019.

See If It Works. Then Build It Yourself.

When I’m working with a team on a project, one of the first questions I’ll ask is: How do we start as quickly as possible?

Let’s say we’re working on a new design for an email. Instead of hiring someone to do coding — on a concept that may or may not work! — I’ll use an email builder that allows us to build an email that’s pretty close to what we want. Will it be exactly what we want? No, probably not. But we’ll get 80% of what we want in 20% of the time.

Once we’ve got that built, we can test it out, see how it goes, and make additional tweaks and changes. Maybe we’ve got a winning concept, and if that’s the case, that’s when we’ll go to the designers to get it to 100%. Maybe we don’t, and we’ve got to keep testing. The good news is, we won’t have wasted valuable resources on a concept that didn’t work.

There are so many tools out there that allow you to test and iterate quickly. Instead of building your own stuff, or wasting time on ideas that might not work, utilize those tools, and see if you can get something live that allows you to collect feedback, learn, and move forward.

First, just see if it works. You can always keep building from there.

———

That photo of a construction site comes via Unsplash and Shivendu Shukla.

Slowing Things Down.

turtle

Time’s moved in a strange way during the pandemic. In the early days, the weeks seemed to draw out for ages. But an odd thing’s been happening lately: Time’s seemed to be moving much more quickly. It’s like I’ve accidentally sped up a podcast — from 1x speed to 1.2x speed, a change small enough that I didn’t really notice it at first. Over the past few weeks, though, it became pretty clear that something had changed. On Tuesdays or Wednesdays, I’d start thinking, “The week’s almost over, and I haven’t accomplished enough!” The time between certain monthly tasks seemed to shrink. Everything just seemed to be moving a little faster.

I’ve got a thought as to why this might be happening. I’m reading Tom Vanderbilt’s “Beginners,” in which he talks about why it’s so important to keep learning, especially as we get older. In one chapter, he learns how to juggle, and writes:

The more things you have to pay attention to, the faster time seems to move. But as you get better, you learn what to pay attention to. You have a better sense of what to expect. Suddenly, you’re not thinking about the balls at all. You’re just tracking a pattern in the air. You have all sorts of spare attention. You can carry on a conversation while you juggle. Time seems more unoccupied, and thus slower.

As I started to think back on the past few weeks, it hit me: Something actually has changed this spring. I’m working on a few big projects unlike any I’ve tackled before. I’m — apologies, but it’s the right phrase here — juggling also sorts of new work and tasks, and with so many new things to keep track of, I’m much more aware of everything that needs to get done.

I know that over time, as I get better at these tasks, things will slow down. But I’m also trying to do what I can to slow time down on my own. I’m building breaks into my day to do more reading. I’m trying to find excuses during the week to step away from the work — after I finish this post, I’ll take a long walk down to the farmer’s market in my neighborhood. These moments are an opportunity to pause, to reset, and to prepare to jump back into the work.

———

That photo of a turtle comes via Unsplash and photographer Patti Black.

Do We Have to Do It That Way?

We went on a road trip this week up into New England, just to get away from work for a few days. On the road, we stayed in a few different hotels.

At pretty much every hotel room I’ve stayed in over the past decade, there’s been a tiny coffee machine in the room — something like this:

hotel coffee machine

To me, they’re like the alarm clocks in hotel rooms: Something that’s purely decorative. In all the nights I’ve stayed in hotels, I don’t think I’ve ever used one of these machines.

But one night on our trip, in Burlington, Vermont, the front desk explained that they’d recently renovated the rooms, and made a small change. Instead of a coffee machine in each room, they’d built a coffee bar on each floor, available to all guests. We’d find it at the end of the hall.

When we went upstairs, we noticed it right away: They’d built out a full bar area with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, as well as sparkling and still water on tap. And in the room, where there’d usually be a space for a coffee machine, the hotel had been able to carve out a bigger space for a desk.

It was a small thing, but it got me thinking: What else are we doing simply because we’ve always done it a certain way? Sure, a coffee bar instead of a machine in every room is a small tweak for a hotel. But to me, it suggested that this hotel had asked some interesting questions when redesigning their rooms. They’d clearly asked guests what they wanted, and likely heard that guests wanted a better selection of coffee and water on demand. (Why is it that at most hotels, to fill up a water bottle, you have to go to the hotel gym?) They’d almost certainly noticed how many of those coffee pods were going unused by visitors. (Do those get thrown away? Do they just sit there, waiting for another guest?) And they’d considered how costly it is to maintain hundreds of small coffee machines instead of just a single machine on every floor. (Where do you even get the in-rooms machines repaired?)

The result was a simple but really smart innovation. And I’m betting that if you took a step back and looked at your work, you might find a few opportunities for improvement, too, simply by asking two questions:

Why do we do it this way?

And: Do we have to?

———

I took that photo of a tiny coffee machine at a different hotel. In retrospect, I probably should’ve taken a photo of the coffee bar, too!

Ask Simpler Questions.

people raising their hands

When I sit down with a potential client, the first thing I do is start asking a few questions.

Often, I’ll be excited to interject a few suggestions or ideas. (“Oh, I love that you’ve tried that! You know, I’ve got a client who tried something like that last year…”) I know that if I start talking, I might ramble on for a while. So I’m always working to quiet that urge. When I give the client space to open up, I typically get the best answers from them.

Whenever possible, I try to keep my questions as simple as possible. I start with the big questions:

∙ Where do you see opportunities to improve?

∙ What do you hope to achieve with this project?

∙ What does success look like for you?

And then I start to drill down further. A question about success, for instance, might lead to other specific questions:

∙ What metrics matter to you?

∙ Where are you tracking those metrics?

∙ How much do those metrics influence the choices your team makes?

If I can ask a question in a single sentence, I do. Be direct, and give them room to reply. After that, it’s up to you to listen — and when they’re ready, ask another.

———

That photo of people raising their hands comes via photographer Edwin Andrade and Unsplash.

Brand = Trust + Time.

clocks

How do you build a great brand? It’s simple, at least in theory: By establishing trust over time.

Trust is about relationships. It’s about setting expectations for your reader, your user, or your customer, and then exceeding them. It’s about being there when they need help. It’s about doing good work that serves them well. It’s about asking questions, and listening to their answers. It’s about doing the right thing for them, and being transparent about your choices. It’s about offering them good value for their money. Trust is hard to win and easy to lose, so you have to treat your audience with respect, and hope they keep placing their trust in you.

Some might disagree, but trust can’t really be bought. It’s something that must be earned, through thousands of tiny actions, over the course of months and years. There is no shortcut to establishing trust. You can hire a spokesperson to recommend your product, ask your clients to refer their friends, or spend big on marketing. But those merely accelerate the process — they put you in position to build relationships faster. You still need to do the hard work of establishing trust with that audience, and that’s only going to be done over time.

Trust and time, trust and time. To build a brand, it’s the only way forward.

———

Those clocks come via Heather Zabriskie for Unsplash.

Do The Stuff That Doesn’t Scale.

So here’s a story: It’s September 2019, and I’m flying to New Orleans for the annual Online News Association conference. It’s my first one representing my own business. I’m not Dan from BuzzFeed or Dan from The New Yorker anymore.

I’m Dan from Inbox Collective.

I want to do something to make as many connections as I can while I’m there. All year, I’ve been doing stuff that doesn’t scale — guest posting on other blogs, doing podcast interviews, sharing my content 1-to-1 with friends in the industry. My newsletter’s growing, but I know there’s more room for growth.

So I announce that Not a Newsletter is throwing a happy hour. (Naturally, I call it Not a Happy Hour.) I invite anyone to come out — drinks are on me. I hand my credit card to the bartender and hope the bill won’t be too extravagant.

50 people showed up that day. A bunch of readers brought friends, which meant that I got a few newsletter subscribers out of it — but I also landed three new clients from that night, and got asked to give a keynote talk at a conference. (The total bar bill: About $400.)

When you’re growing an audience and building a brand, do things that don’t scale. That’s where your initial growth is going to come from.

And remember to tip your bartenders well in the process, too.