Is Your Brand Borg or Borzoi?

For nearly a decade, it’s been my personal mission to “rid the world of corporate babble one concise sentence at a time.” Almost nothing gets under my skin more than a brand that actively disconnects itself from its audience through poor communication. To me, these brands are like the Borg from Star Trek; an attempt to channel the collective consciousness of their entire workforce. They try to do good by appealing to everyone, but their efficiency trumps empathy and personality. “Resistance is futile!” Their jargon and their corporate-ese make them seem like a formidable enemy. So I put on my super hero cape, take off my black-rimmed spectacles, and transform into Content Girl.

In my adventures, I’ve learned that underneath these bureaucratic brands are good, decent, hard working people that really do care about their customers. It’s a challenge — finding a way to empower the individual while still adhering to a consistent brand voice. One step to this side and you’re wrangling cats. One step to the other side is what Jon Lovett, former presidential speech writer, calls the “culture of bullshit.” As he described in his Commencement Address to the graduates of Pizter College:

We are drowning in [bullshit]. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.

When I read this, I want to jump up and start a rally cry. How did we get here? And how can we change?

Let’s look at an example, shall we?

20130504-061014.jpg

American Airlines is a big, big brand that manages a massive amount of customer feedback. So when @DHH complains about their missing baggage, they reply with what feels like a very automated response. The result? The exact opposite of what they wanted. Their customer is even more upset and is pushed even further away from their brand. And, chances are that behind this tweet, there’s a customer service rep who really, really wants to help but feels bound by bureaucracy.

Brene Brown, a research-storyteller who specializes in shame and vulnerability touched on this in her popular TED talk from 2010.

Whether it’s a bailout, an oil spill, a recall — we pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge effect on people. I would say to companies, “This is not our first rodeo people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, ‘We’re sorry. We’ll fix it.'”

So how does a brand shift from a Borg mentality to being authentic and real?

They focus less on the collective and more on one distinct and specific person. Like dogs, brands often share character traits with their owners.

Be less like the Borg. Be more like the Borzoi.

Be less like the Borg. Be more like the Borzoi.

For alliteration’s sake, be less like the Borg and more like a Borzoi.

Another example? I’m glad you asked.

Virgin, the brand synonymous with Sir Richard Branson, is a trailblazing, forward-thinking, sophisticate — just like its owner. This isn’t a shiny veneer applied at the last moment by some snazzy design. These traits are part of their culture, and it permeates through every aspect of their business; from branding to operations to legal. Virgin Atlantic, has set itself apart from the monolith American Airlines by recognizing the humanity of their customers. The result? Virgin Atlantic doesn’t just have customers, they have raving fans.

So, which type of brand are you? Do you try to be all things to all people, thus ending up boring and Borg-like? Or, do you have the courage to be authentic? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

How to Source, Organize, and Publish Quality Social Media Content (Without Losing Sleep)

Amount of content

Don’t make your audience drink from a firehose. Focus on quality, not quantity.

What if I told you that you could publish a steady stream of quality social media content without:

a) pulling all the hair out of your head
b) quitting your “real” job
c) sharing content that you didn’t really read

You’d probably point and laugh. “Ha ha — that silly Andrea. She thinks that she can actually fit social media management into a workflow?” Well, yes — I do. And so can you.

When The Spark Mill asked me to present this topic I thought about myself circa 2006, when, as a freelancer, I was first trying to wrap my head around how to use social media and still find time for useful things like billable work. After seven years, and a whole bunch of useful apps later (I LOVE YOU BUFFER!) I finally figured out how to participate authentically in social media without being “on” 24/7.

Check out the presentation on SlideShare or Prezi. Hopefully you can learn from my frustration and set yourself on the path to social media sanity more quickly than I did.

To your success,

Andrea

Why LinkedIn Just Became My New CRM

Oh, LinkedIn! Just when I think you can’t get any better, you find a way to become even more useful. I think back on when we first met in 2005, I was a budding young sales executive, you were a new website that let me find new clients. Who knew that eight years later we’d still be so close.

In 2007, I wanted you to show me faces — and you did

In 2008, a recruiter at Capital One found me. I had fun there but had to spread my wings

In 2010, I launched a business with my best friend (who is now my spouse and father to my child). You gave me a jump start because so many of my co-workers wrote recommendations for me. 

And today, you just made my life even more awesome by launching LinkedIn Contacts and integrating with my Google Calendar. Why am I so excited, you ask? Well, when I worked in sales, I relied on my Contact Relationship Manager (CRM) to help me stay in touch with my network. I used ACT!, but when I switched over from PC, I could no longer get the software. Your system takes the two features I used most from ACT! (calendar and to-do) and integrates them. I’m really excited about the potential. The feature set today may be a little wonky (I can only see today and the iPhone app is only showing one contact), but I have faith that you’ll update soon and we’ll be on our merry way making the world a better place. 

Of all the social networks I’ve invested in over the years, you’re the one that has done the most for my career. Thanks for keeping me on my toes! 

Lord of the Ink: Return of the Freelancer

I’m back to freelancing. Although, when I think about it, did I ever really stop?

One Does Not Simply Cease to FreelanceI’ve tried working at other companies — big Fortune 100 firms, tiny startups, medium agencies —but no matter the flavor, if I wasn’t working for myself things just didn’t seem to, well, work. I crave the flexibility and variety that freelancing provides too much to work for anyone else. And now that I’m a new mama, that flexibility is more important than ever.

How about you? Do you love freelancing? Hate it? Want to give it a try but are nervous to take the leap?

Does Ugly Duckling Branding Work?

ugly ducklingI recently had lunch with a friend who said,

“I don’t want my non-profit to look too polished. Then people will think I don’t need the money. We go for the ugly duckling effect.”

This got me thinking. Does the ‘ugly duckling’ effect work?

First of all, let’s think about what branding is.

Branding is the way people interacting with your organization perceive you.

A polished brand is:

  1. Consistent
  2. Visible
  3. Unique

But wait — you might ask — where are the things like websites and brochures? Isn’t that branding? Well, yes and no. Branding elements, or tactics, (websites, brochures, public service announcements, social media, etc.) are extensions of your brand and combined give an overall impression about your organization. This impression is your brand, not the individual components themselves. Think of it like your reputation. If you generally punctual, prepared, and turn in assignments on time, it’s fair to assume that people will perceive you as responsible. It’s the consistency of these actions, together, that create your reputation (or personal brand, but that’s a whole other post).

So, when you talk about having an ugly duckling brand, you’re saying you don’t want a polished brand. You’re saying that you’d prefer mismatched materials, that no one sees, and you just want to be like everyone else. If that’s your goal, no doubt, it will be difficult to raise money. Think about non-profits that you admire. Is this how they present themselves?

I believe what my friend (and anyone else who believes in this philosophy) was trying to express was the fear of being perceived as not being good stewards of the money that was entrusted to them. Fair point. It doesn’t make good fiscal sense to spend $30,000 on a beautiful, custom-designed website, when your operating budget is only $100,000. But good branding doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

Here are some ways that you can achieve a polished brand without blowing your budget. All of these can be accomplished on your own, without spending a dime on consultants. But, should you find yourself stuck, there are definitely people out there (insert shameless plug here) who can help you out.

Conduct a Brand Audit (Consistency and Uniqueness)

The word “audit” can conjure images of grey-suited CPA’s threatening to shut you down. That’s not what we’re talking about here. An audit is just an objective lay of the land. There are two steps. 1) Gathering materials, and 2) Making an assessment. When you conduct a brand audit, you look at ALL your marketing materials: letterhead, business cards, social media, brochures, press releases, and a whole lot more. Then, you look for places where you can improve. Are your materials consistent? Is your logo easy to identify?  Does your writing convey the personality you’re going for?

Create a Style Guide (Consistency)

We use guides all the time. Think of traffic signals, flow charts, and “this end up” stamps on boxes. Guides are ways to help communicate how something is done. They prevent accidents, ensure progress, and help make sure that lamp your godmother gave you in college doesn’t get smashed in your next move. Style guides do the same thing, but for your brand. Typically, they’re broken into two different sections: visual and voice. Visual style guides will address things like which colors to use and how your logo should appear, while voice explains how the personality of your brand is conveyed in writing (along with nit-picky grammar topics like whether or not to use the Oxford comma). If you do a lot of work online, you might also choose to have a style guide just for the web. Nancy Schwartz has a great post called, “How to Create a Nonprofit Style Guide” that you might want to check out.

Study Guerrilla Marketing Tactics (Visibility)

Maybe you’ve heard of guerrilla warfare? Small groups find ways to capitalize on their flexibility when they don’t have a lot of funds. In war, this means ambushes, raids, and sabotage. I’m in no way suggesting you engage in unethical practices, but if you don’t have a lot of budget how can you make the most out of what you DO have? Jay Conrad Levinson literally wrote the book on guerrilla marketing. On his website, you’ll find tons of articles about direct mail, telemarketing, and email (hey, those sound like marketing tactics that you probably rely on). Most of the content is written for an entrepreneurial audience, but the core message certainly applies to the non-profit world, too.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to turn your ugly duckling brand into a beautiful swan? Or, do you still hold true to the idea that a brand that’s not quite polished is more effective? It’s a great topic, so I’d encourage you to leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going.

6 Tips for Writing a Powerful Non-Profit Mission Statement

If your organization were a car, your mission statement would be the tires. Without one, it would be really hard to go anywhere; it’s the part on which the rest of the components rest.

So, it’s important. You’ve got that. But what you need help with is creating a mission statement that’s strong enough to support your organization (just like you wouldn’t want car tires made out of silly putty) and flexible enough to allow you to respond to changes (just like how steel car tires wouldn’t get you very far either). Here are some tips on writing a mission statement that works:

Keep it short. One sentence. Maybe two. A good test for this is can you repeat it without having to “memorize” it? If you (and your staff) can’t repeat it often, it’s not going to do its job. The American Lung Association does a good job. Their mission is, “to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.” Easy. Short. Effective.

Stay specific. Yes, we have big hearts and want to help everyone. But being too broad can actually harm your programs. A mission I ran across when researching this article that demonstrates this well is:

Non-Profit XYZ exists to do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as we ever can.

Wait, what?! That sounds like a nice ambition, but it’s not a very effective mission statement. There’s a saying in the for-profit world, “the riches are in the niches” — and that applies in the non-profit realm as well. The more specific you can be about who you serve and why, the easier it will be for foundations and governments to fund you.

A program does not a mission make.  Many non-profits mistake a successful program for their mission. But remember, a mission statement describes the ends, not the means; it describes what you’re trying to achieve, your ultimate goal, not the programs you implement to fulfill your mission.

Using a program to describe your mission severely limits you. For example: The mission of AfricaXYZ is to collect personal computers in the United States and place them in schools in Africa. That’s an amazing thing, but it’s not a mission. It’s a program. Let’s say their program was really successful, so they wanted to start collecting computers from Europe. According to their mission, they can’t — they only collect computers from the United States. Or let’s say a cell phone company approaches them for a partnership. Well, darn. That wouldn’t fit their mission either, because they only collect personal computers.

See the difference? A better mission for this organization might be: AfricaXYZ provides technology to African students, so that they can achieve the same potential as children in first-world countries. Effective missions describe the why, not the how.

Use plain language. The people reading your mission are bombarded with millions of competing pieces of information vying for their attention. So, how do you stand out? Plain language. Use plain language by choosing a conversational tone and easy-to-understand words, among other things. Plus, for government agencies, plain language is required by law according to the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Don’t try — do! It’s easy to let wishy-washy words sneak into our mission statements. Words like “try”, “seek”, “influence”, “encourage”, “works to”, “attempts”, “aims”, “helps” give the impression that we’re not actually successful in fulfilling our missions. Put a stake in the ground and use declarative words. The American Lung Association doesn’t “attempt to save lives”. They save lives. What does your organization do?

Avoid writing by committee. Yes, you have to get buy-in from others, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the integrity of your writing. Watch this short video by Dan Heath with Fast Company to show how your really effective statement gets warped into a meaningless jumble of mess when other people get involved, and how to avoid it.

Your mission statement is the torch that will guide your organization for many years to come, so it’s worth the time, energy, and attention that you’re devoting. Have a tip you want to share? We’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Closing a door. Opening a window.

Today, we wrapped up the last client at Corgibytes. Sad, indeed.

For the past two years, I’ve worked with my husband building websites and apps. But, after three very expensive lessons in a row, we had to pivot. So, Scott accepted a full-time job and will continue to build apps in his spare time.

Where does that put me? For awhile I felt like I was in a professional vacuum. My job at Corgibytes was development, marketing and customer service. Now that we’ve changed our business model, there’s little need for me.

So, I’m going back to my roots, with a twist. For six years, I’ve worked as a professional writer and I’ve worked with some amazing organizations (especially over the past year). I started to notice a common thread — my favorite clients are all working to make the world a better place. So, that’s where I’m putting my stake in the ground. Communication services for non-profits and socially-conscious businesses.

We’ll see where this new adventure takes me — but the destination doesn’t really matter, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Have you ever had to reinvent yourself? How did it turn out?

5 Takeaways from Creating Change at Discovery Communications

create change posterI jumped up and down like a four year old when I received the email. Peyton Rowe, my “friend in reward (not crime)” was inviting me to join her at the CreateAthon -inspired event Creating Change at Discovery Communications. Sure, there were things that needed to be shuffled, but none of the life logistics even entered my mind when I replied with a resounding, “YES!!”

Now, here I am. Bouncing around between the 24 creative teams. A mission statement here. A social media plan there. All of this work is helping create professional marketing materials for different non-profits in the DC area. Imagining the positive impact that just this event boggles my mind in a good way.

I snagged a sunny spot in the atrium to share a few tidbits about my experience.

1. Past professional lives matter.
Immediately after registering, I was introduced to Jennifer Cortner, VP of Account Services at Discovery Creative. Yeah, she’s a big wig around here. So it was pretty amazing when we played the you-look-familiar game and recalled meeting each other at Success in the City’s Social Media Nouveaux conference in 2007. At the time, I worked as a freelance writer/social media consultant and Jennifer was President of EFX media. It just goes to show that good work and good impressions are always important.

2. Corporations are vital to creating social change.
Last week, when I posted a question on a LinkedIn group about non-profit development, I got a comment that struck me to the core.

[At our non-profit] all members work free of charge in our poorest community and not one cent of funding goes towards any administration, office rental or transport. This is our way of giving – selflessly. If you have the compassion to work with the poor, then do it voluntarily, and not turn it into a business.

This us vs. them attitude really affected me. After reflecting, I came to the belief that in order for REAL change to occur, it needs to be part of our social fabric at every level, not just with the seemingly selfless individuals who can afford to be full-time volunteers. The idea of changing our world for the better needs to be the forefront of our minds — all of our minds.

Corporations have the resources (not just money, but talent and infrastructure) to make a huge impact. Businesses are not bad — they are a critical part of the solution.

3. Shorter missions get greater impact.
A lot of the work today has been helping non-profits revise their mission statements (I think the longest I saw today was two paragraphs long). One of the amazing tests of whether a mission works is how easy it is to recall. For example, employees at Discovery can state without blinking or thinking that their mission is, “satisfying curiosity through non-fiction media.” Six words. That’s it. It’s easy to recall, repeat and reinforce.

A mission is more than a jumble of words written by committee. It’s a living, breathing statement about why your organization exists. Its goal is simply to get people to stop, think, and ask to learn more.

4. Action trumps ideas.
As I look around at the amazing-ness that is Creating Change, I have to think back on how it all got started. On a summer night in 1998, Cathy Monetti and Teresa Coles had an awesome idea — stay up all night and donate the work to charity. A great idea, truly, but it’s their courage and commitment to making it happen that I find most remarkable.

How many of us have had those light bulb moments? “We should……!” “Wouldn’t it be great if……!” “How about…..!” Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Because Cathy and Teresa followed through, they created change. Big change.

5. This is absolutely, positively, what I want to do with my life.
When I met my husband, I knew within a very short time that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Now, with CreateAthon, I’ve found the professional equivalent of a match made in heaven. I want to help CreateAthon grow. I want to help corporations and creative agencies implement the marathon model for pro bono services. I feel like all my experience; sales, social media, senior writer at a corporate conglomerate, social advocate, board member, and more, has all occurred to prepare me for this moment. To expand the reach of CreateAthon. To help non-profits get the professional communications they need to thrive. To make the world a better place and create lasting change. I couldn’t be more grateful and I’m thrilled to see what adventures await me as I skip merrily down this new life path.

Beach Reads for a Business Owner

In one week, I’ll be at the beach. My out of the office message will be set on my e-mail, but like many business owners, my mind will be still very much focused on my passion — building my business. So in addition to sunscreen and sandals, I’ll be packing a stack of books that I’m hoping will inspire me. Here’s what I’ve picked, and why. Have tips for others? Leave them in the comments below. Happy reading!

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

No venture capital. That’s how 37Signals has built their business, and it’s how we plan on building ours. We’re already avid readers of the 37Signals blog, and use this humbled-beginnings software company as a beacon for where we want to go.


Do More Great Work.
by Michael Bungay Stanier

This was a recommendation when I purchased Rework, but the subtitle got me — “Stop the busywork, and start the work that matters.” Having just come back from my corporate-world stint, I haven’t quite shaken the busywork bug. I feel compelled to be doing something all the time, almost like I have  a looming mid-year review over my shoulder. I’m hoping this book will give me ideas of taking control over my own schedule, and to, well, do more great work.


Making Ideas Happen
by Scott Belsky

When I freelanced, it was simple. If something needed to get done, I did it. In corporate, the team was so big that I knew my myopic role and did just that. But now, we have a small team, and a long list of things we want to do. I’ll be looking to this book for ways to get our ideas off of our index cards and into the hands of our customers.


The Official Scrabble® Brand Word-Finder
by Robert Schachner

One of the first things I do every morning is play a game of Scrabble on my iPhone. I find it’s a great way for me to wean in the day (I’m naturally a night-owl). Lately, I can beat the Normal setting without a challenge, but I’m stuck when it comes to Hard. I plan on using this study guide to beef up my Scrabble skills not only for my own enjoyment, but to ensure that I win at family game night (I have a slight competitive side, too.)


Ladies First: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners, and Mavericks
by Lynn Santa Lucia

Stories of others who have risen to a challenge are most inspiring. So what better fodder for dreams than a collection of women who have changed the course of history. From Christine de Pisan, Europe’s first professional female writer, to Dorothy Levitt, the first woman to compete in a motor race in 1903, I can’t wait to read the seventeen mini-biographies and maybe find a piece of myself among them.


Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

Mindful living has had a profound impact on my life. It helps me make better decisions in both business and in life. One aspect of mindfulness is around how we consume our food. Too often, I find myself gobbling down a breakfast bar because I’m running to a meeting. This book, written by one of the world’s preeminent Buddhist authors, shows how you can maintain a healthy weight and attitude simply by paying attention to your food.

7 Tips to Instantly Give Your Content Personality

Content with personality sells. Brands spend big bucks developing a distinct voice that makes them stand out. Conversational words engage your prospects instead of putting them to sleep, or worse, buying from someone else. This idea of copy that is personable and professional at the same time is what I built my career on. And here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help your brand stand out from the pack.

1. Keep words and sentences short.
Big words do not make you sound smart. (I actually had to re-write that sentence. Originally it said, “Big words make you sound pretentious.” I have to keep even myself in check.) Long sentences make you seem boring. Readers, especially savvy web-oriented ones, don’t actually read — they scan. Short sentences keep these scanners more engaged, which leads to more sales. I try to keep most of my sentences to one thought, or clause. Sometimes two. More that that, and I try to break it up into separate sentences. Another way to put this idea is, “write like you talk.”

2. Use contractions.
When we’re talking casually, we use contractions — those “shortcut” words like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc. We say – “I’d love to join you, but I can’t. Maybe next time, when I don’t have a conflict.”  In conversation, we’ll use the non-contracted form when we need to clarify or make a point. For example, “Joe, for the last time, I will not go on a date with you. Please, do not ask me again.” Using contractions instantly lightens the tone of your communications, and (you guessed it) makes your readers feel more engaged with your content.

3. Choose the “sparkle” word.
Which has more personality? “We’re happy to announce…” or “We’re thrilled to announce…” They essentially mean the same thing, but “thrilled” jumps out just a little more because it’s more exact. Happy is generic. It’s probably the first word you’ll reach for. Stretching just a little bit for that vibrant word can make your copy sing.

4. Write in the present tense, active voice, second person.
In non-academic terms, this means – avoid the words “have” or “been” and use the word “you”. Writing in this style is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your reader. It puts them in the here and now. It makes it feel like you’re having a conversation with them through the screen. Compare, for example, these two sentences: “We have enjoyed working with wonderful clients like you.” Versus, “You are a wonderful client. Thank you for your business. It makes ours more fun.” See the difference?

5. Know which (few) grammar rules you can break.
On occasion, I’ll start a sentence with “and”. I sometimes end with a preposition, too. That’s because these grammar rules help facilitate the conversational style. But there are some rules that when broken, make you look silly, or stupid, or ignorant. Here’s just a small sampling.

  • Your (you own it) vs. You’re (you are)
  • There (not here) vs. Their (it belongs to them) vs. They’re (they are)
  • Assure (give support) vs. Insure (to buy or sell insurance)
  • Affect (verb) vs. Effect (noun – can you put “the” in front of it?)
  • “A lot” is two words.

There are plenty more, and feel free to vent in the comments below. To keep your writing neat and tidy, try typing your opposing words in a search engine with “vs” between them. You can also check out The Grammar Girl.

6. Accessorize with styles.
Not to sound like your high-school English teacher, but rhetorical styles such as alliteration, metaphor, similes, rhyme, and repetition are marks of great writing. So use them. A word of caution though; too much of any of these styles, and you can easily swing to the other side of the personality pendulum (the one where you sound like an amateur and we don’t want that). It’s best to think of these styles like an accessory — add enough to accentuate your content, but not too much where you overwhelm the message.

7. Read out loud before you publish.
And by “out loud”, I don’t mean “really loud and slow but still in my head”. It means with your voice, at a natural volume. In addition to catching typos, this form of editing is perfect for making sure your content is conversational. Does it sound natural? If there’s a sentence that just doesn’t flow, work with it until it sounds right. Then, give your content to someone who hasn’t read it yet. Ask them to read it out loud. Then, massage any phrases that tripped them up.

With these simple tweaks, you can transform writing that’s bland and impersonal, into content that brings your readers closer to your brand. These are great tips for all sorts of business communications in both print and web. Have a question about how to implement these styles? Have a story about how you turned your copy around? Want to vent about your grammar pet peeves? Put it in the comment below.

Thanks, and happy writing!

On becoming a web “triple threat”

Tap Dancer

Believe it or not, I started school pursuing Classical Voice. My dream was to be on Broadway (it’s still on my list of things to do before I die). The only problem? I’m not a great dancer.

You see, to really make it on Broadway, you need to be able to sing, act, AND dance. Two out of the three won’t do. If you’re deficient in one area, that means countless hours of practice just to get up to par. I just wasn’t willing to invest the time, and so I changed my major to Marketing. Smart move, I think.

The same idea of a “triple threat” applies to the web. A web site or application is made up of three main areas: Content, Design, and Development. As clients demand more and more sophisticated sites, and as the web experience becomes more integrated (think mobile), it’s more important for those of us in the web field to cross-train in the different disciplines. Yes, it’s hard work, and countless hours, but this time, I’m excited about it!

Here are some of the resources I found most helpful while I was learning. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.

Content

Design

Code/Development

    Lynda.com (yes – they get a plug twice, it’s that good)

Image Attribution:

Taking the leap…again.

b&w photo of girl diving into a lake

Next Tuesday is my last day at Capital One. It’s been a great ride. I’ve made lots of friends and learned a ton, but I never quite shook the own-your-own-business bug.

I’m thinking it’s genetic. My brother’s an entrepreneur, too. And when you look at our childhood, it’s not hard to see why.

When I was five (1986) my father left his job as an IT big-wig, bought a Macintosh computer, and started a graphics design company with my artistically inclined mother. I asked him “Why?” for a project in 6th grade. His reply? “So I could see you get off the school bus every day.”

I grew up stapling blank invoices to manila folders for a penny a piece.

In middle school, I started running my own business doing “over printing.” This was before digital printing came along. My parents would create a shell brochure for companies with multiple offices. My brother and I would collect orders from individual offices and carefully feed the glossy paper through a bubble-jet printer, set it on the floor to dry, run it through a folding machine, and ship it out. My father and I still laugh about my mishaps with the (really finicky!) folding machine.

By early high school, my parents had merged their business with a pre-press and printing company. I came up with the name and tagline — Proximus; Next generation printing — by opening my Latin dictionary. That was my first foray into copywriting and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my idea scattered all over signs and stationary.

At the age of 24, I quit my job in sales because of an ethical belief. When I became frustrated in the job search, my parents bought me a laptop, desk, and a copy of Quickbooks. Within a month I had landed three clients. For three years I finessed my skills and made my living as a freelance copywriter. I started a blog. Capital One read it, a recruiter called me out-of-the-blue and asked me to come write for them.

That was two and a half years ago.

For a while, I really enjoyed the steady paycheck, vacation pay, sick days, and 40-hour work weeks. These were luxuries I never had when I worked on commission or freelanced. The first week, my manager would have to remind me to go home at 5:00. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Compared to the 14-hour days I was used to, I essentially felt like I was leaving at lunchtime.

I got a bonus and flew to Australia. I won the 3-legged race at the Brand Olympics. I went to some kick-ass conferences. But I also stopped blogging, watched my inspiration slowly fizzle, and became daunted by corporate politics.

Then, last September, I bumped into one of my best friends from high-school at our 10-year reunion. He owned a software company and needed marketing help.  The next day we sat by the pool and dreamed about offering copywriting and coding services to designers. In November, I became a Partner in Corgibytes. Two weeks later, we had our first client. In March, he proposed — at the same spot where we dreamed up our business plan (I said yes). Today we’re living that dream.

I suppose for some people, the itch to be an entrepreneur is just inherent. You do it because you don’t want to do anything else. Because you’d rather work for yourself 14 hours a day than work for somebody else for 8. And because life seems more fun after you dove in than it ever did watching from the dock.