Three Keys to Sending More Effective Email

There are three times more email accounts than there are Facebook and Twitter accounts combined.

Post something to Facebook and it will be seen by 6% of your followers; email it and the open rate will be 20-30%.

Studies continually show that email marketing outperforms social media marketing in nearly every industry. That’s why Campaign Monitor says your best ROI will come from email, not social media.

Email, boring ol’ email, can be your most effective form of communication.

The flavor-of-the-month social media app might garner all the attention, but it’s tried-and-true email that will work better for you.

But before you open up the email program and start sending messages, let’s talk about how to make your email more effective. Here are three keys to writing better email – the kind of messages people want to read and the kind of messages that inspire action.


#1 – Write like a person.

Seth Godin asks if you’ve ever seen a sign like this:

“Effective January 1, 2015, we have ceased operations at this location. For further information, correspondence should be addressed to our headquarters.”

People don’t talk like that.  So why do they write like that?  It’s cold, corporate, and largely ineffective.

It’s better to write like you talk.

And Godin gives the better example:

“We closed this store last year. Sorry for the hassle, please call us if you have any questions.”

Whether you’re sending an email to one person, a small group of people, or your entire email list, write like a person.  That message is coming from you, not your company or organization.

Think about the messages you receive from friends compared to the messages you send from companies.  Despite the fancy graphics and HTML formatting, it’s the personal messages that stand out.

So write like a normal person.  Be yourself.  Let your personality come through.

#2 – Write to a person.

Just like you should write like a normal person, remember you’re writing to a real person as well.

You’re not writing to a group of people, you’re writing to one person.

When you’re sending an email to one person, it’s easy to remember this.  But when you’re emailing a group, it might be helpful to have one specific person in mind.  Some people call this a persona.  Other people use the term avatar.

When you create an avatar, you can be more strategic in your communication, visualize the person you’re writing to, and relate to them like a normal human being.

Want to see an example of a personal or avatar?  Hubspot has you covered.  Want a guide to create your own?  The Buffer Blog has a nice tutorial.

For what it’s worth, here’s the short version persona we created for Church Fuel, the company we created to provide insanely practical resources to Senior Pastors.

Senior pastors who want to lead their church to healthy growth. Their church is likely under 400 members, but they have a passion to reach people. They recognize they don’t have solid systems or processes and may not know where to start. They read a few church leadership books a year and attend a conference every now and then. They have a small staff.

Focusing your email on a person (or a persona), will help you keep your message people focused.  And this is a key to effective communication.  People really don’t want to hear about your product, idea, service or organization.  It’s rare they want to talk about you or your company?

Do you know what people want to talk about and read about?  Themselves.

A lot of people take the selfie approach to communication.  Look at me.  Check out this offer.  Look at this product.  It’s me-focused.

Rather than treating your promotion, advertising and outreach like the selfie, you can make one big shift in your approach and see dramatically different results.

Instead of talking about yourself, flip the camera and talk about others. Instead of promoting your events, add value to people’s lives.  A selfie strategy keeps the focus on you, but a value approach shifts the focus to them.

I wrote more about this here and this principle is huge for your email communication.

#3 – And use a good subject line.

Did you know more people read the subject line of the email than the email itself?  In fact, it’s six times as many.

Six times more people will read the subject.  That means the subject of the email – usually a first thought or an afterthought – is the most important sentence.

The most important part of your email message is the subject line.

Here are four subject line tips, adapted from the book Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich.

  • Draw attention to a problem or desire that people have.  So instead of saying, “Financial Class on Thursday night,” say something like, “Learn how to save money for your dreams this Thursday.”  That let’s people know that the information you’re communicating is about them, not just you.
  • Show people how to avoid mistakes.  Instead of “Save money on your heating bill,” say, “Avoid These Five Major Winter Mistakes.”  Negative headlines (five mistakes, three dumb things, etc.) have better click rates.
  • Use comparisons.  There’s a reason that spam emails say things like “you can have the body of a supermodel.”  It’s because comparisons frame the discussion and speak to people’s desires.  “You’re like my favorite superhero” is better than “Thanks for being a customer.”
  • Show people that something is easy.  “It’s easy to self-publish your book” is much better than “The Difference Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing.”  People need to know that they can do it.

Here’s a free, two-page cheat sheet that will help you create more effective subject lines and headlines.

With a little focus and some practice, you can craft great email messages that people really want to read and will inspire people to take action.

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My Book + My Daughter’s Book


Last year, I released a book for parents called “No Matter What: Ten Lessons for My Children.”  It’s full of stories, Biblical principles and parental advice all parents should pass on to their children.

And a couple of years before that, my daughter (she was in 5th grade at the time), wrote a kids book called “The Clown that Lost His Funny.”  She raised money on Kickstarter, hired an illustrator and ordered 5,000 hardback copies.  It’s a really great book and kids love it.

We’ve got lots of copies filling the basemenet so we decided to offer a bundle.

Get both books shipped to you for just $15 flat.  Here’s the link to buy.

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Three Competitive Advantages You Have Over Everyone Else

Someone out there has your same idea. It’s essentially the same app, the same book, and the same project as the one you’ve been considering. They have been thinking about it and talking to friends, and they are getting ready to pull the trigger.

Or there’s another business that basically does the same thing as you. Similar product and similar business strategy. They just signed a new deal and are poised for growth.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of people are pursuing the same thing you’re chasing, so what’s going to lead you to victory?  What’s going to be the difference-maker, the thing that propels you forward in spite of all the competition?


Your competitive advantage is not your idea – those are everywhere.  But it might be one of these three things.

Your competitive advantage might be who you know. 

Major breakthroughs typically come through relationships.  So it might be who you know, or who you get to know, that makes the difference.

Nearly every major breakthrough in my businesses happened because of a relationship.  It was a conversation or a coaching network or a partnership – not the sole work or the lone ranger.

My failures, those were solo endeavors.  My successes, those were because of a team.

Ed Catmull, the Chief Creative Officer  of Pixar, leads one of the most successful companies of our time. In Creativity, Inc, he writes, “getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.” Pixar has incredible ideas, and those ideas turn into Incredible movies (see what I did there?). But what really makes Pixar great is their people.

It’s not the idea; it’s the people executing them. It’s not the systems; it’s the people running them.

The right people around you is more important than the quality of your idea.

As an introvert, this is tough for me.  I’d rather lock myself in my home office and create helpful content. I’m perfectly content to peck away the keyboard or sketch flowcharts in my notebook. I’d rather chase the perfect idea than develop a new relationship.

But it doesn’t really work that way.

You don’t need to be the leader of a large organization or even have an employe yo build relationships that can help your idea. You can intentionally surround yourself with people who will inspire you, encourage you, challenge you and teach you.

If you’re stuck, get around some different people. Set an appointment and come prepared with questions.  Join a coaching group and invest in relationships.  Do nice things for people and say thanks, and let those relationships naturally develop.

Your competitive is probably not your great idea (lot of people have those) or a source of funding (lots of people get that).  It might be who you know.

Your competitive advantage might be a commitment to learn.

Most people with ideas sit on them.  They wait around for one day to come or the money fairy to visit.

But people who take action and truly accomplish something pay the price of learning.  It’s one of the biggest competitive advantages you have.

If you’re willing to learn, truly learn, you can differentiate yourself.

If athletes who succeed in sports are willing to outwork the competition, leaders who succeed in business are willing to outlearn the competition.

Here are some learning opportunities available to you right now.  You don’t have to wait for one day, you can take advantage of these things this week.

You can read a book.

You can buy a book for about $15. Now think about this. For the cost of a meal, you can purchase a project that took someone the better part of two years to research, write, edit, re-write, publish, and market.  Great books are well-researched, with the author studying dozens and dozens of experts and perspectives.  So when you read a book, you get those experiences and examples, too.  That’s by books are better than Google searches, blog posts and podcasts.

Warren Buffet, one of the richest people in the world, says a book was the best investment he ever made. In his 2013 letter to shareholders, Buffett said The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham was “of all the investments I ever made…[it] was the best.”

There are books that can teach you some of what you need to know.  Buy one and start reading.

You can enroll in a course.

Right now, we’re paying $2,400 to go through an online course to help us master a core skill that will be key to our business.  Yes, there is free information online, but great courses are so much better and far more effective.

I don’t just want the knowledge; I want to tap into the experiences.  This course has coaching, resources and community built into it.

There are courses and online communities that will help you develop the skills you need to get your project off the ground.  This kind of information and experience is so accessible, so there’s no good reason not to get involved.  Here are a few recomendations.

  • If you want to launch products online, there’s no better system than Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula.
  • If you’re looking to build an online following, Michael Hyatt’s Platform University is a great place to start.
  • If you’re looking for honest business advice and a great community of entrepreneurs, check out
  • If you want to become a better photogrpher, Jeremy Cowarts See University will help you.

The point is this: There’s a course out there with the perfect mix of content, coaching and community that can help you succeed.  Invest in one and it will become a competitive advantage.

I know this is a lot of talk about money and investment. I’ve talked to people with great ideas and big plans who balk and the idea of paying for coaching.  And those people are typically in the same place years later.  If you have a great idea but are unwilling to save, invest or borrow a few hundred dollars to learn how to execute it properly, I’m not sure you’re ready.

You can join a coaching group or a mastermind.

One of the best ways to learn (and meet people) is to join a coaching group or a mastermind group.  These are highly-relational learning opportunities and well-worth the expense.

My friend Tony coaches pastors and Executive Pastors.  And I’ve never heard of someone who went through one of his groups that wasn’t a better leader because of it.  Nearly everyone that goes through something top-notch like this says it was worth the expense.  Both in time and money.

My friends at Ministry Ventures coach ministries and non-profits organizations.  They help them with strategic planning, board development, fundraising and administration.  And they repeatedly hear feedback from clients containing words and phrases like:

  • More confident
  • Less stressed
  • Bigger impact

That’s because coaching exposes you to ideas and strategies and people that you would not normally encounter.  When you’re around people who have different perspectives, you’ll get fresh ideas.

Getting coaching might be a competitive advantage. If the other people that have your same idea aren’t willing to do it, you can beat them by learning.

Your competitive advantage might be patience and grit.

It’s not your idea, but your commitment to executing it, that will push you down the road to success.  Because when the passion of the idea fades away, you’re just going to be left with commitment.

This is when most people quit, but if you’re willing to stick to it and do the hard work, you will beat out the competition.

Passion is great, but passion for a great idea means little.

What you need is grit.

Grit is courage despite difficulties, backbone and determination in the face of trouble.

It is waking up one hour earlier than normal to work on your book, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s re-writing the email subject line for the 7th time, even when the 3rd option was good enough.  It’s re-shooting the course because the audio wasn’t right or flying across the country to meet with an advisor.

Grit means you keep going when the passion has worn thin. It’s a bedrock commitment that will keep you going when you find out someone else launched basically the same website or you hear of someone who is writing a book with a similar title.

We’re living in this moment right now with our young company.  There are several bigger organizations doing what we’re doing.  There are several people with side-projects tackling similar topics.

So part of our growth strategy is to survive, to be here when the side projects are shut down or the big companies have moved on.  This will take more than passion, ideas or even people.  It will take grit.

When most people quit, people with grit decide to outlast the competition.

Pursuing your dream sounds fun, but you’ve got to be willing to pursue that dream when it leads you uphill.  Or through a desert.  Or into chaos.

So if it’s tough for you right now, rest in the fact that this is when most people throw in the towel.

Grit it out and outlast them all.

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Five Ways to Dramatically Improve Personal Productivity

“Personal productivity is a key differentiator between those who succeed in their chosen field and those who do not,” writes Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog.

But even with all the productivity principles and project management tools available to you, I bet there are still times when you feel like you’re not getting enough done.

Here are five principles, and a lot of practical ideas, on how to boost your own productivity.

Review and Plan Your Week

Have you ever sat down at the end of a long day and thought, “Man, I did a lot of stuff but I didn’t get anything done.”

Days like that are no good.

But weeks like that are even worse.

There’s a big difference between getting things done and getting the right things done.

A year and a half ago, I realized I was working hard but not making progress on key projects or moving my business forward in a major way. Then I read an article from Strategic Coach and it opened my eyes to the reason why.

I wasn’t evaluating.  I wasn’t looking back and looking ahead with any sense of intentionality.  I was going to meetings, doing tasks and working on projects with out a clear sense of purpose.

A friend helped me create a simple tool to review and plan my week and it’s made a huge difference.  On Sunday nights, I go down into my home office and spend about 20-30 minutes with this simple worksheet.  I look back on the previous week and think through major accomplishments.  Then I look ahead to the coming week and make sure what’s on my calendar is aligned with my goals.

Should this even be on my task list? Is there truly value in this meeting?  This two page PDF gives me a familiar framework to evaluate my tasks, schedule and priorities.

You can download the actual form for free right here.

weekly review image

First Things First

I spent about five years of my life as a pastor of a local church.

There are a lot of weird things about being a pastor.  Some people think you only work one day a week. You depend on donations not just to run the church but to pay your salary.  And your boss is the only perfect person in the history of the world.

When I was a pastor, I talked about money a lot.  There’s this verse in Proverbs (which is like the Twitter of the Old Testament) that says people should honor the lord with their wealth, and with the first fruits of their harvest.  Back in the day, if you grew corn, you were supposed to bring your first and best to God, not give your leftovers. If you grew grapes, you were supposed to bring the first, not the last, to the temple.

God, at times, is very practical.  I think He knows that if people don’t give first, they won’t give at all.  If you wait until the end of the month to give something away, you’ll never have enough.  But if you give it away at the beginning of the month, you magically make it.  I don’t know exactly how this works, but I promise it’s true.

But this principle of first fruits is not just true of generosity. It’s also a powerful productivity principle.

If you’ve got important things to do, get them done early in the day before you run out of time.  If you’ve got important projects to accomplish this week, do them Monday or Tuesday when you’re at your best, not at the end of the week when you’re already tired.

Everything on your to-do list is not important.  But there are a few things on there that really matter.  Do those things first and you’ll magically have more time.

Make Appointments With Yourself

This will sound strange at first, but if you hang with me for a few minutes, it could be a game changer.

Your calendar is likely full of interruptions to work.  Not actual work, but interruptions to work.  We tend to plan things like lunch meetings and haircuts and errands – things that are urgent but not important.

But we rarely set aside time to do the work that matters.  We’ve got other people’s priorities on our calendar (and in our Inbox) and we just try to cram in our own work whenever we have free time.

So let’s reverse that.

Take our your calendar and block off time for your own work.  Then treat it just like you would treat any other appointment or meeting.  In other words, it’s not optional.

I mentioned earlier that I used to be a pastor.  Now I run a business that coaches and equips pastors. And one of the things pastors have to do is work on their weekly sermon. Every week they stand up in front of people and talk.  And people largely decide to attend a church based on the quality of this 30-minute talk.

It’s the most important task of the week.  But do you know most pastors finish their outline or their notes on Saturday night?  The beginning of their week gets filled up with meetings and tasks and other people’s priorities while the most important thing goes undone.

What would happen if that pastor blocked off time on his calendar to work on the message?  And then actually held those meetings as sacred?  It would make a huge difference.

Schedule time to pursue new business.  Make an appointment with yourself to create.  Schedule time to think.

No matter what you’re working on, making appointments with yourself will reclaim time from your own schedule.

Master a Few Tools

Every day, new productivity apps are added to the app store.  If you want to do something, there’s an app to help you do it better.  Or faster.

But don’t get lost in the sea of technology.  Most of it is just noise.  If you want to be productive, just master a few tools that work best for you and don’t worry about the rest.  You don’t need to be on the cutting edge of productivity apps or subscribe to the latest project management system.  Just stick with a few tried and tested tools and become masters of them.

Find a few tools, and read the manuals, watch the videos and make them a part of your workflow.  For what it’s worth, here are the three most important tools in my productivity too box.

  1.  Evernote.  This is my digital brain.  I store absolutely everything in Evernote and treat it like a filing cabinet for everything I want to keep.  If I see an article I want to keep, I save it to Evernote with one simple click.  If there’s an email I want to keep for later, I forward it to Evernote.  Feedback, Big Green Egg recipes, drawings my kids make, article ideas, and documents I need to keep go in Evernote.  I’m even writing the rough draft of this article in Evernote.  You can read more about how I use this free tool here.
  1.  Dropbox.  If Evernote is the digital filing cabinet for notes and resources, Dropbox is where I keep all of my files and documents. Graphics, videos, music, pictures, and work files all get stored on Dropbox, which means I can access from any device.  I don’t really use Google Docs, but a lot of people like it.  Just pick one and use it.
  1.  Things.  This is my to-do list app. When it comes to managing my tasks with this tool, here are a few things I’ve learned.  First, I always assign a deadline. Tasks that can be done “whenever” are never going to get done anyway.  Second, I have learned to use the repeating task feature.  Whatever task app you choose, it should have a repeating option built in.  For example, every Thursday, I schedule content tweets for Church Fuel. Since this is a repeating task, it pops up on Thursday, I check it off when completed, and it comes back the next week.  I’ve got some tasks that repeat weekly, some that repeat monthly, some that repeat quarterly and some that repeat annually.

When you think of something you need to do, write it down.  Don’t try to remember it because your brain is a bad filing cabinet.

It’s Quitting Time

I’ve saved my favorite productivity tip for last, and it’s probably the counter-intuitive.

If you want to get more done, just go home.

Seriously, there comes a time in the day when you just have to stop working.  You’re never going to get it all done, so just go home.

I’ve mentioned churches and pastors a lot in this article, but even if you’re not a religious person, you’ve got appreciate a God who put “take a day off” in the top ten list of rules.  It’s as if you’re hard wired to need a break.

You can’t use your iPhone non-stop without needing a recharge, and you can’t work non-stop without needing rest.  And I’m not talking about sleep.  I’m talking about not-working.

There’s a great project management tool called Basecamp.  And in their new release, they added a great feature called “Work Can Wait.”  Essentially, the software can hold your calls, and only notify you during work hours.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 4.10.26 PM

Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamp, says “9pm on Friday night is not work time. 6am on Wednesday morning is not work time. It may be for you, but it’s not for me. And I don’t want it to be work time for my employees either.” (source)

Basecamp creates a great product. But it sounds like Basecamp is an even better company. I love the steps they are taking to create boundaries with work.

It’s okay to miss a notification or a work email. It’s fine if you’re not available to the world for the weekend. Step away, and you’ll find that when you step back in, you’ve got more focus and energy.

So where do you need to make a change? Don’t read an article on productivity and get back on the Ferris wheel of work.

Download the weekly review worksheet and try it for three weeks.

Delete some of those apps you don’t use and stick to the system that works.

Put a weekly appointment on your calendar to do important work and let everyone know you’re unavailable during that hour.

And if you’re reading this at the end of a busy day, just go home.

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Five Ways Starting Something Can Change Your Life

One of the things I enjoy most is coaching small business owners who want to grow their business or soon-to-be entrepreneurs who have a great idea and don’t know how to launch it.  It’s exciting to sit with someone with so much passion and desire and help them develop a roadmap.

There are so many people sitting on great ideas right now. Maybe it’s an idea for a product or a service or an online course.  I heard last week that 70% of Americans believe they have a book in them.  Are you one of them?

Words like “one day” and “if only” and “when I have the money” sneak into your vocabulary and eventually become your mindset.

You don’t take action and you keep carrying around the weight of a good idea.  It’s like a backpack full of heavy promise.

If I could sit down with you I would not tell you to quit your day job and follow your passion.  That’s terrible advice.

But you should get started.

You don’t have to wait for angel investors or your boss to give you paid time off.  You can get starting something now, and begin the process of changing your life. If you do this, you’ll look back a year or two from now and be glad you did.


Here are 5 ways starting something can change your life. 

  1.  It will help you develop new skills.

When you start something, your knowledge and commitment are pushed, often to the limits.

Before starting Church Fuel, I didn’t know much about Facebook marketing, email campaigns in Infusionsoft, or running a startup. These are skills I’ve developed out of necessity.  And they are skills that have served me well, and have even helped me pick up some consulting clients.

When you start something from scratch, you’ll have to do things outside of your normal skill set.

People will tell you to work in your strengths and delegate and develop people, and that’s great advice.  But when you’re starting, you’ve often got to create something out of nothing.  That means you’re going to do things you don’t know how to do.

You are research and development. You are the marketing team. You can hand these things off one day, but for now, you get to develop new skills.

  1.  It could earn you side income.

The first resource I created for pastors was called Docs and Forms. It was a collection of Word and Excel documents churches could use to get organized.  People still email today and ask for them (and I point them here).

As a pastor of a growing but very broke church, the side income generated from this digital resource really made a difference for my family.

What would it mean if you had $5,000, $10000, or even $50,000 of side income this next year?  You don’t have to quit your day job to pursue something on the side (in fact, you shouldn’t).  You can start building and creating and launching now.

  1.  It will give you confidence to try new things.

When you start something, you may find you get more creative.  Or more organized.  Or better with money.  Starting something will develop skills and talents buried beneath the surface of a mundane day job.

Starting something brings you confidence, not just in business but in life.  It’s your project, your company or your thing, and that comes with a great feeling.  When people ask about your project, you’ll feel good describing the startup journey.

  1.  You will meet new people.

Over the last couple of years, my role as the CEO of a startup has led me to cross paths with lots of new people. Apart from Church Fuel, I likely wouldn’t have these relationships.  And new relationships often bring new opportunities.

Our business partners, advisers, and mentors are largely different people than I ran with a few years ago, and this is a good thing.  It’s broadened my mindset.

One of the best ways to break out of a rut is to get around some new people.  People who think different, act different and know different things.  If you’re always hanging around the same people, you’re going to miss out on a lot of exciting things.

  1. You’ll get good at making decisions.

Decision-making is one of the most underrated skills a person can develop. We rarely think about HOW we make decisions – we just make them in a snap or delay them indefinitely.

One of the best books I’ve read over the last five years is Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath.  It’s a book about making decisions, which is something you do thousands of times a day.

When you’re starting something, you’re the decision maker. You’re forced to create a framework (whether it’s formal or informal) and then the decision is up to you. You won’t always get it right, but you’ll learn how to make better decisions.  And this will help you in the non-business parts of life as well.

You don’t have to do it all today.  But you can get started.  You can register the domain, start the paperwork for the LLC, tell a friend you’re doing it, get out a calendar, register for a conference, start reading a book, hire a coach, schedule a workation, and take action this week.

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