Our company’s first racist rejection letter

I’m trying to establish a better morning routine than checking my email almost immediately upon waking, but this morning I was sleepy, up a little earlier than usual to tie my son’s high-school-graduation-photo tie and make him breakfast, and operating by habit.

I picked up my iPhone and checked my email from bed. A rejection message caught my eye. I had recently applied through a popular service-to-client matching freelance site to help a real estate company with their website. The rejection said,

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“Natasha, I will not be using your company. I think that it’s lamentable that you would feel the need to bring up race in your profile description.”

Unable to recall what I wrote in our profile so long ago, I gave Mr. King the benefit of the doubt. Did I write something ambiguous about race (weird— I loathe ambiguity in communication)? Did I misspell something or misstate something? My heart caught in my throat as I feared that I may have been accidentally hurting people of colour for months through poor writing.

Eventually, after mining through poor UX design, I found the link that would let me read my profile description. I sighed and shook my head.

What lamentatious thing did I say?

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The best business leaders embrace feminine behaviours

quote from Pablo Isla on emotional intelligence in the work place

This quote jumped out at me from Harvard Business Review’s November 2016 issue. While I’m the feminine-appearing half of Lynne’s and my partnership, I’m more masculine in personality.

In the past couple of years especially, I have learned that masculine people like myself are as emotional as feminine people, we just tend to suppress our emotions, causing them to bubble up as impatience, irritation and anger, all examples of externalized blame and all socially acceptable ways of showing emotion in business. We act like other people are upsetting us and are simply not being tough enough when they are upset with us.  Sometimes we think these “delicate snowflakes”—who demand a certain degree of care and who make their personal lives and feelings about their work experience known—are asking us to put in extra effort to take care of them. But really they are asking us to put in extra effort to take care of ourselves, so that we can be more aware of what is bothering us so that we don’t take it out on others. When we suppress our feelings and pretend that we’re not humans with personal lives, moods, emotional triggers, heartbreaks, and fears, we create oppressive, mechanical environments where everyone is afraid to be wrong, to screw up, or to have feelings.

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Our #1 piece of advice to business owners writing words for anything

Nearly every problem we run into with client-written web copy, or Google AdWords set up by another agency, or even just email instructions, can all be fixed by following the instruction BE SPECIFIC.

Inevitably, the home page or brochure says something like,

We help you achieve success. Let’s do business together!

  1. How?  
  2. Why?

Here’s a real-life example from this week’s Risk Creative editing work:

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stonewall kitchen jam

How Stonewall Kitchen’s fast failure made big success

You can’t take risks if failure paralyzes you. You have to learn how to expect and embrace failure.

Entrepreneur magazine has a column all about failure, helping people to reframe it as the pathway to success. Sometimes they feature stories from successful companies. This feature from one of our favourite foodie brands—Stonewall Kitchen—from one of our favourite places—Maine!—charmed us.

Some takeaway lessons:

1. Start before you’re ready and before you know everything. Imagine: these guys were selling product at a farmer’s market without even knowing what “wholesale” meant! You will never know all you need to know ahead of time; if you’re waiting to know “enough,” how will you know when that is? As Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figureoutable.”

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