Why you should send a letter to the person you admire by Monika Kanokova

swissmiss

Do you have an idol? I don't mean a rockstar that you think is cool. I mean someone who works in your field and who you admire for their great work.

Yes? You actually have someone like that?

Great!

You should write to them. 

You wonder why? Well, first, you have nothing to lose. Second, they'll appreciate hearing about the positive influence they've had on others. In the end, everyone deserves a little bit of feedback. Why not be the one to give it to them?

Why I am telling you all of this? Because I did exactly that: I wrote a letter (a handwritten letter) to someone whose work means a lot to me.

In January I sent a letter to Tina Roth Eisenberg, better known as SwissMiss. I discovered Tina's blog back in 2008. First, I liked her style, but as the years passed by, I started to admire her for her incredible attitude towards work. I loved the way she approached new projects and built her businesses.

Inspired by her example, I adopted the idea that with the right attitude anything is possible in life. You just have to work for it. 

And this is exactly what I said in my letter. Tina replied. The image above is the image she sent to me as a response. Cute, right? She invited me to come by her office in Brooklyn as soon as I got to New York. When I quit my job six weeks ago, I immediately wrote to her and accepted the invitation. When she confirmed a date and a time, I booked my flight. Last week, we met in person! 

Now, this is where I am: sitting at Studiomates.

I know it's only Monday. But Mondays are great days to make mini-resolutions: I really want you to think about your idol and send them a letter by the end of the week. (Please let me know who your idol is. I want to know some more great people.

As I said, you have nothing to lose.

Please forward this blog post to at least one of your friends. Make them send a letter to one of their idols. Let's spread some positive attitude. Let's let people know the great impact they have on us! 

 

PS: ..and please come back and share the story what happened after you dared to send a note to the person you admire.

How to write a compelling 'About Me' by Monika Kanokova

howtowriteaboutme

Some parts of my latest newsletter, sign up here to receive all articles in their full length.

Last week, I received an urgent request to write an 'About me' text. At first, I wrote about my client's services and described him in the third person. My client wasn't very impressed. He sent me some examples that he liked, which he had found on his competitors websites and asked me whether I had any experience in his professional field. We had never met in person, he didn't know how it was to work with me (he found me on Instagram) and I could clearly sense he had doubts. I admitted to him that I didn't have any experience in his field of work or with his competitors but I believed to understand his target group. 

I realised that all the texts he sent me were texts about the people themselves. These texts were exactly what you would expect an 'About me' copy to be.

But did it make sense to write just another copy like this? If I were a potential customer and had to choose between him or one of his competitors, who would I go for?

That's when I realised that in times when everyone screams 'me, me, me' the only way to distinguish oneself from the masses is by flipping the coin and saying 'you'.

If you want to get heard, don't talk about 'who you are', instead say 'this is what I can do for you.' It's so simple, yet so crucial.

Everyone is busy going through endless amounts of content. Not only have we learned to ignore the advertising that shouts at us from every corner of the internet, we have also learned to scan for copy that solves our problems. We read copy that talks to us, not at us.

I tried to explain to my client why a different approach to writing his 'About me' made more sense. I pointed out that if he wanted me to get the job done as quickly as possible I would just write what he wanted me to write. Of course I could do this, but I preferred explaining to him why I believed his approach should be different.. I made him take on the client's perspective and I then gave him this example:

If you buy a TV from a sales man, would you be interested whether he could buy organic food for his family because of your purchase, or would you want the best TV possible?

The second draft of the copy was done and edited within an hour. The cards, the copy was for, are now printed. The client is happy and wants to continue working with me.

What does this lead me to?

If you want to get heard, increase your sales or establish yourself within an audience, don't tell your readers who you are, tell them what you can do for them. Show them what problems you can solve for them. High chance is that they'll hear your voice much louder.

Is there a question you'd like me to answer? How can I help you with your digital positioning or your customer experience? Please comment below. 

 

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Great apps for freelancers. by Monika Kanokova

Kanokova_Contact_Details

This is part of my first newsletter, for which you can signup here

* * *

I thought I'd kick off my newsletter by sharing the apps and services I'm planning to use to make the most out of my time as well as keeping organised.
If you also want to be more organised (not saying that you aren't), go freelance and/or work a little on your personal branding, then please keep reading. 

***

Accountancy: FreshBooks

Before even registering as a freelancer I had to write my first cost estimate. Lucky me! I did it the way that I had learnt at various agencies but then I figured out that while having cost estimates is nice, one also has to charge the clients, keep track of your spendings, bills and, and, and.. you know where this is going. That's when I discovered FreshBooks: a great app to keep track of all your accountancy, send out bills and even create cost estimates directly from there, which are then stored under your client's name. The first month is free of charge too. Win! 

Website: Squarespace

I decided to change my provider and I am now a happy customer of Squarespace as you can see here. The setup was easy, the customer support absolutely amazing and I really think it's a much better looking website than my blog ever was. What do you think?

Newsletters: Mailchimp

I've always really liked Mailchimp. It's simple and the emails are beautiful. I believe that it's worth collecting the data of your clients so you can keep in touch directly, as I have explained here.
Mailchimp is free of charge until you reach 2,000 subscribers. The more successful your business gets, the more you pay. Fair, right? 

Business Cards: MOO

You might say business cards aren't really worth having anymore: okay, I take your point. Nevertheless I believe I have found a way to use them as an icebreaker.
With MOO you can use a different image for every single card. Every single one! I took the time and spent a couple of hours designing my cards, so now people can choose their favourite image. This way I don't just hand out a business card with my details but I can also share a memory or even a story with the person I'm talking to depending on the card they choose.
Jonas came up with another way to have creative business cards. He has a portable camera, takes a selfie and then writes down his details; that is of course also a good way to break the ice, don't you think?

Social Media: SlideShareTwitterInstagram

In the last couple of weeks I've been experimenting a lot with SlideShare and I'm impressed how valuable the service is when you want to position yourself within a professional field. I personally hit about 10,000 views within just a couple of weeks.
Of course, the social media channels on which you should present yourself and your business depend on what services or products you offer, but that's something I want to talk more about in one of the upcoming newsletters. As for me, I'll continue using SlideShareTwitter and my beloved Instagram

What do people say about me: Mention

Listen, so many people talk on the social web, but 'listening' is the one thing I believe makes people standout. To listen smarter, I'd recommend installing a monitoring feature: I installed Mention. This will notify you every time someone links to your website or talks about you or topics you want to get involved with.

I'm also planning on using Google Calendar, Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote and Skype.

What are the apps you find extremely valuable? Please leave a comment below. Also, don't forget to signup to get the full versions of my newsletters.

How I survived #nanowrimo and finished 50,000 words in 30 days. by Monika Kanokova

nanowrimo

A month ago I quit my job. My notice period was four weeks. My motivation to be creative in that job: zero. The need to put my thought and experiences on paper and reflect on events and happenings was however beyond my control. There was never a better time to dive deep into my inner self and kick off my own #kathmosnowrimo, as I called it on Instagram. 

For those of you who are not familiar with #nanowrimo, it’s an annual open call to writers and wannabe writers, to finish the first draft of a 50,000 word novel within the month of November. As I was two months ahead, I called it #kathmosnowrimo and aimed to finish it by the end of September.

It has always been a dream of mine to write a manuscript and work on it until it becomes published. I said to friends many times that one day I’d write a book, and they all encouraged me to pursue this plan. I guess for many of them it’s been entertaining to hear how my whole life has turned upside down every couple of months, weeks or even days. To keep it short, I never run out of new stories. 

I must admit that even before I kicked off my #kathmosnowrimo I had a small crisis; a job offer waving at me from London and a boyfriend who had just moved to NYC. With my company and my boyfriend both moving to different cities I found myself ‘stuck’ in Berlin. The amount of ambiguities and misscommunication at work also made me reconsider whether joining the team in London really was the right next step. 

I spent three days in bed, reading, knitting and thinking what would be the best solution. There was no bad choice. I just had to make a choice that would lead me forward and on my own path. 

For a few days I stopped answering calls and messages, instead writing down what I wanted to accomplish in life, and also listing the advantages and disadvantages of moving to London and away from Berlin. I had expected to struggle with this bare analysis of my life goals but I had the list in front of me within just about two minutes.

The main reason to go to London was that I’d know what I’d do next; for many people this would be a good reason to go but to me this was my idea of a nightmare. It soon became clear that it was the right time to leave my job and instead choose the more adventurous path.

I handed in my notice, and thinking that I was leaving for London I had also also given up the contract on my room and so ended up having to move out the very same day. Luckily I have amazing friends and one of them invited me to stay with them. My friend doesn’t have a spare room or a comfortable sofa, but I was welcome to spend the month sleeping next to her.

Just in case you’re wondering what Berlin is like to live in now, this is very much part of the real experience. 

So there I was, staying at my friend’s place, hustling to setup my own website, meeting potential clients, getting in touch with New York based influencers, writing the first draft of a novel, submitting a funding proposal to an open call of the European Commission and still doing my day job. All this for four long weeks. 

During my few days spent in bed I turned my attention away from the computer world and devoured a couple of books instead. I read the ‘Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin, which helped me connect to my own values and “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Batty, which is a how-to-write-a-novel-in-30-days guide.

As you can imagine, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to write 50,000 words in such a short period of time. They say that the success rate of #nanowrimo is about 20% and I figured I needed a good strategy if I really wanted to succeed in this.

While reading “No Plot? No Problem!” was helpful – I’d recommend the book to everyone who is wondering whether it’s the right time for them to write a novel and how to do it – I found some tips needed to be expanded a bit further.

Probably the most important tip Chris Baty gave was; to write when you have lots of other things to do. Treating the writing as a reward and not as a duty during this writing month and in that way making it much easier to find the productive time for it too. 

Looking back, I clearly made sure that this rule applied to me: September certainly was a month when I hustled more compared to all the other months since moving to Berlin. I had such crazy schedules that I was up every day at 6:30am and not in bed before 1am in order to get done at least half of the things I had on my list. 

So, there you go;

Tip 01: Be as busy as hell and make writing your retreat, not another of your many duties.

I usually work out of cafés, and one morning I decided to go down to my usual hangout spot and write there. After a couple of minutes of staring at the screen I realised that I wasn’t able to write sitting next to other people. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, I didn’t want anyone to disrupt the inner dialogue that I realised I was only able to have with myself in pure solitude. Later I described what I had experienced to my partner, he replied with Kafka’s words:

“Writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind – for everyone wants to live as long as he is alive – even the degree of self-revelation and surrender is not enough for writing. Writing that springs from the surface of existence – when there is no other way and deeper wells have dried up – is nothing, and collapses the moment a truer emotion makes the surface shake. That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”

This brings me to:

Tip 02: Find the ultimate surroundings where you find the clue to your inner self. Your spot might be in a public space, in your own home or at the office after everyone leaves. Just make sure to be able to return to this very same spot every day.

Seeing how uncomfortable it made me to be in public, I realised I had to find the right time to write; time in which no one would distract me. The time for me, I quickly realised, was 6:30am in the morning. 

I couldn’t wait to begin writing for #nanowrimo; the first day I woke up at 5am and instead of falling back to sleep, as I normally do, I opened my laptop and started working. I guess it was the excitement to start that woke me and from then on I would wake up at 6:30am without an alarm clock. 

To establish a schedule, I tried to avoid all morning appointments before 10am, so that I could continue to write my manuscript. Due to my time frame, I never felt guilty about not being able to write any time after 9am. Admittedly on some days I had triple eye rings but apart from that I felt happy and content because every day I’d accomplished something meaningful.

Having a rigid writing schedule helped me a lot, which is why the next tip is:

Tip 03: Find a fixed time-frame for writing. Try not to schedule appointments during that time and don’t feel guilty for not writing outside of your fixed novel writing time.

By 9am I’d have usually written about 2,000 words, hence why I didn’t feel like writing anything for the rest of the day. In my job, writing is one of my main tasks, with writing the novel it all became a little overwhelming, so at work I kept my creative efforts to a minimum; I focused on handing over important data with Excel sheets, but I wouldn’t run any new experiments (this is how I spent my days before the company moved to London). 

I must acknowledge that succeeding at #nanowrimo takes lots of discipline and might be quite hard for someone who earns their money through writing. #nanowrimo seems like the perfect month to get rid of the to-do list tasks that have accumulated over time. As in the dull stuff we write and keep on our lists and try to ignore until it’s too late. Doing these things now will make writing an even greater treat. 

Tip 4: Try to focus on things that are not related to writing during business hours. 

One of the most important things to remember during the whole month is to — as Chris Baty says — ‘leave your inner editor outside the door.’ Strictly speaking, you are not allowed to read anything you have written down. Ever. No corrections should be made during the month of your #nanowrimo. This is the time to get it out, not to get it out ‘right’. As Chris Baty says: ‘you cannot improve something you don’t have.’ 

When you hit 50,000 words you might not be finished with your story, as it’s the case with me, but at least you’ll have a starting point. Anyway, I’ll continue at the same pace for about another week, maybe two. And now I have the discipline to manage. 

So remember,

Tip 5: Get it out and get it on the paper. Don’t try to correct any mistakes. You can only start editing after you’ve written “The End” and not before.

So there you are: 50,000 words later; I have a website to show what I’ll be focusing on as a location-independent freelancer (look how we can work together), a flight ticket to New York and the knowledge that when I really want to get something done, I can. 

If I can, you can. Now, if you’ve been toying around with the wish to write a book, then allow me to be the one who tells you that if you really want this, it is possible. 

The official #nanowrimo starts in a month. You can sign up here and get ready for it. 

Good luck! 

PS: If you’d like to receive updates on how it’s going with my book project, please sign up here.

Generation Internship: What’s up with Berlin?  by Monika Kanokova

dirtyberlin

Germany counts about 600.000 interns. German interns are skilled, highly educated and often have a proven track of work experience. To the majority of us, these people might sound like the perfect candidates for full-time positions. However, in Germany they're most likely to be hired as low-cost interns. 
Interns are cheap, digitally-savvy and given their grade of education, they’re probably not utterly stupid. Put simply, they’ll for sure know how to get work done. 

As you can read in various start-up oriented media, no one’s got the money to hire people to make coffee. To me, this kind of argument sounds as if interns would indeed contribute with their knowledge and have the skills to do much more; not just the regularly mentioned cup of coffee. 

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when the German government announced their decision to establish a minimal salary of 8,50 per hour, many companies – especially start-ups – began to protest. From 2015 on, full-time interns are supposed to earn about 1.400,- Euro gross, which especially in Berlin is not that much less (or even more?) than what many fully employed people earn. 

For many years, Berlin’s sold itself for being cheap but sexy and a city where everything goes – including low salaries. Although prices might be lower than in other European capitals, most of people who live and work here would probably agree that the price level has been on a steep rise. Often, without the parental help, living in the German capital wouldn’t be doable. 

In Berlin, being part of a start-up is considered hip and cool. Many young people want to be part of the scene so badly, that they’d accept payment that’s close to nothing. It’s a salary that hardly pays for an individual, even less encourages you to become part of a community and imagine yourself to stay here after you're done with partying. 

So far, the main counter argument presented in the media has been raised by start-ups and small companies that say how much time they’d spend on teaching an intern all the essentials. In an industry that has hardly surpassed its teenage years, it’s hard to say that an intern couldn’t learn most of the things in a shorter amount of time than what an established corporation takes to on-board their new hires. This argument seems to be even more applicable given that in many start-ups every morning feels a little bit like an utterly new beginning. Kick-off meetings would often be used to discuss what people on the team read before they decide what they'd like to try out. No one's got a real guarantee what will work or not. It's all about a hands-on approach and a forward thinking attitude. In a startup there's no space for defined job-titles or tasks. Everyone does everything and hustles as much as they can.

Somehow, my common sense tells me that this might unearth a deeper rooted issue. If interns earn more money, how can businesses defend how little they pay to all their other employees?

The question really is, how much longer will Berliners want to earn a salary that doesn’t allow them to grow up, have kids and become stable? It might have been ok in times when Berlin partied hard and behaved like a teenager, but the time seems to be over. The city’s growing up and the government’s just encouraging people and businesses to do so too.

First appeared on http://www.thecitytribune.net

Thaipark: Where human will's stronger than official regulations. by Monika Kanokova

thaiparkberlin

Regulations often make things complicated. There are so many great ideas that have fallen through because people didn't want to deal with the officials and couldn't find or afford anyone who would. In some countries it's easier to start a business; in others it's harder. In New Zealand i.e. it takes about a day to set up a business, whereas in Germany one needs to spare 15 days to get started. When you're not from Germany – especially when you don't speak German – it might take even longer. While some people would give up, others decide not to care at all. Especially when their business was not intended to be one to begin with.

The popular Thai market at Berlin's Preußenpark – better known as Thaipark – is one such case. What's nowadays one of Berlin's most known attractions was started in the mid-1990s as a small gathering of Thai women who simply wanted to enjoy each other's company and find a home away from home. In a country that's rather homeward focused, it became a public curiosity that demonstrated how foreigners make use of public space.

The hospitality of the Thai community quickly spread by word of mouth. Also, articles and mentions of avid foodies in travel guides, magazines and later on blogs might have helped to spread the word. Nowadays, it's not an unusual sight to see about 600 people gather at Preußenpark to experience the Asian holiday vibe in the midst of the German capital.

At first, the picnickers have been sharing and exchanging dishes amongst each other, but as their authentic Thai fare increased in popularity, people started selling their food. The few women that started this popular joint were hardly dedicated sales people. In most cases, they were the wives of guest workers that came to Germany in the 1980s and only worked part time or not at all. Simply put, they couldn't afford to host the increasing number of visitors and started charging people to refund their expenses. Thaipark is thus rather cheap; still, the small pocket money the vendors earn has become an indispensable part of their family's income.

While all of this sounds like a piece of modern wonderland, one shouldn't ignore the hassle the Thai community has been dealing with throughout the last two decades.

Back in the days the German Ordnungsamt dissolved the market each time; mostly because of the strong BBQ smell, which was the common way of preparation in the nineties & early noughties. Also, the amount of rubbish caused protests from residents and regular headlines in sensational press (Here's a link to one such article).

The repetitive conflicts with the officials and the endurance of the Thai community have led to a temporary permission to BBQ in a designated area, far from the meadow, where the community gathered. In the beginning, the community tried to follow the German rules, which were stated on a sign written in German, English and Thai (!). The inefficiency and the inventive spirit have led to the decision to cook on transportable gas cookers instead. The Thai community has professionalised without intending to do so.

While the picnickers are by no means officially organised or have a designated spokesperson, the common interest to keep a piece of their home's culture alive has bonded the gathering to meet at a given time at this very designated place. Throughout the years the picnickers became lighter in their gear to be able to leave the meadow every time the Ordnungsamt comes, only to come back as soon as the order-regulators leave the space. Not to stand out, the picnickers became extremely persnickety; They collect and clear all trash that's left behind and also make sure to hold the public toilet clean to an extent that every five-star-hotel would have a hard time keeping.

The popularity of the park and the care under which the community of picnickers operates has led to Preußenpark becoming a so called "loose space". The Ordnungsamt now only visits the space every couple of weeks to prevent the phenomenon from growing. Given that none of the vendors have an official permit, pay income taxes or fees for the use of the park in general, this is quite an exceptional occurrence.

Phenomenons like these are what makes Berlin such an attractive city to progressively thinking people of the world. At least that's how I see it. I hope I could put some light on this fascinating topic. I'd like to spend some more time on thinking and observing how people use public space in the future and blog a bit more about it here or on Medium. If you'd like to know more about this topic, please treat yourself to an issue of the Austrian Derivé magazine. Christian Haid wrote an amazing piece in the 51st issue, which came out in the spring of last year.

Why women shouldn’t accept conventional hygiene products. by Monika Kanokova

rubycup

The one thing I've probably never discussed with any of my girlfriends is my period. We get it. We might mention our hurting tummies. We move on. Never ever have I mentioned any issues that I might have had when inserting tampons or using pads. It's – as you can imagine – not a topic. Ever.

Let's recap: Once a month all of us use bleached cotton & viscose products, which we either wear in our underwear or use internally. Although we usually make a wide curve to avoid non-organic fruit and veggies, we don't hesitate when buying bleached hygienic products for internal use.

What's wrong with us?

"It's comfortable and I've always done it like that," might cross your mind. It has definitely crossed mine. It's easy not to have to deal with any additional decision-making. Also, are there any alternatives?

There are, but I promise you – no one's interested in helping you to find out about them. There is no real economic reason that a menstrual cup would become a topic for western women. Given that every woman spends two to four euros each month on tampons or pads, what company would be crazy enough to want to make you aware of sustainable alternatives? Especially when those sustainable solutions are so sustainable that by winning you as a customer, they would immediately lose any potential future profit from you. The fact that it's bleached and probably not that awesome for your body is not even part of the discussion.

Put simply, it's a big business no one's really interested in disrupting.

I've recently come across a menstrual cup called Ruby Cup. First, I supported them because two of my dear friends have worked there, but then I realised that I'm actually onto something much bigger.

I supported a campaign called #keepgirlsinschool and ordered a Ruby Cup for myself.

Now I know I won't go back. Although I had to get over myself and change my behaviour I've become so used to in the last 14 years, I know it's worth doing it and telling my friends. Asking you to think about switching, means asking you to reconsider what you've accepted as the only option, which you've probably never questioned. I also know that it would take every single one of us and the willingness to tell our girlfriends to make them aware of what we take for granted.

I don't even care about you being more sustainable – I care about all of us not using bleached products inside our bodies. Tampons & pads are a big business. No one's ever been interested in making you switch to a more sustainable product. But you should hold your friends dear enough to tell them. To tell them why they should be using a Ruby Cup and not tampons or pads.