As cliché as it sounds if I had a quarter (inflation) for every time I’ve been asked “Have you been published?” this website wouldn’t exist.  You would find me in a tropical locale, attempting to fulfill my fantasy of being the female Ernest Hemingway writer of the century:  warm sand pulsating through my toes, a gentle breath of wind carrying fragrant nautical scents with a faint taste of salt on my tongue.  No Wi-Fi, everything is hand written.  Margaritas for everyone!
Ernie would understand.
Yes, I’ve been published – thanks to a dog.  How is this related to a commercial writing website? It’s storytelling – authentic, emotionally engaging, and memorable.  Give me a product, concept, service or topic and I’ll work some magic for you.  In the meantime, enjoy a not-very-business-related-but-fun-read-nonetheless dog tale.
In memoriam:  RIP Katie Marie – July 4, 1998 – December 13, 2012.
Ode to Katie Dog
Before you came into my life with your four large paws, floppy ears, wet kisses, table-clearing tail and glossy penguin-like coat, I considered myself a confirmed cat person.   Cat people, as we are known by the masses, enjoy the feline faculties such as an inherently independent nature, the ability to defecate in a small box deftly concealing the evidence, and their undemanding requests for daily exercise.  Cats, you see, are the chosen pet of choice for those of us unwilling or unable to make long term emotional commitments.  You don’t need to rush home to let a cat out to pee.  Daily walks are unheard of and they rarely, if ever, generate a call from a neighbor complaining that their constant meowing is keeping them up at night.  “Shut that cat up!” is something I never heard, not once, in my thirty plus years as a self-described cat person.
Cats are simple, you are not.  The day you arrived I held serious reservations concerning the future of our arrangement together.  Your original father, my son, couldn’t keep you because you wanted to herd the new baby and he was afraid you might accidently hurt her.  Given your breed’s nature this was not a complete surprise, after all you should be on a ranch herding sheep in the Scottish Highlands not sequestered in a two bedroom duplex with wall to wall carpeting.  What was a surprise was that he asked me, the woman who harbors a secret Cat Woman fantasy, to adopt you!  I don’t do dogs, I do cats.  You know tuna, balls of yarn, scratch posts and self-cleaning litter boxes.
Fortunately for you my life partner is a dog person and he suggested we take you for a short foster ‘trial’ week to see how you adapted to our home before we took full-fledged ownership.  I know he really meant “let’s see how the crazy cat lady adapts” but the burden of proof really falls on your furry shoulders Missy, so don’t act too needy or off to the farm you go.
Day one, you lick a lot and this is annoying.  Mc-Partner thinks you are sweet and tells me they are kisses not licks as if I just landed on earth and it is his job to educate me on all things living.  You are pretty smart, I’ll give you that.  One of your Border Collie relatives made the cover of National Geographic and was referred to as one of the smartest breeds on the planet.  I liked that.  Better to have a smart dog than a stupid one.    I was impressed with your ability to go to the door and make a low howling sound indicating you really needed to visit the giant outdoor litter box and you never once mistook any part of the house for the lawn.  You will never fully understand how much this is appreciated.
After a week of walks I can’t say I’ll ever be happy about having to pick up your hot poop with my bare hands – well two double-wrapped Albertson plastic bags serves as a buffer – but still, it’s disgusting.  Would you like to pick up my poop?  Just so we have an understanding:  Feces are not fun.  Mc-Partner agreed at the start he would “face the feces” in the backyard which suited me just fine.
What I can say that I am happy about is our walks in that not only do I find people more willing to engage with me whilst you are in my company but after our first walking week I shed about four pounds.  This was a surprising discovery and I’m thinking this arrangement might work out as you are the ideal work- out partner: encouraging but not demeaning, slows down or speeds up to meet my pace, could care less what I’m wearing and besides the pooping (dropping your own and smelling others), you love to listen to everything I have to say.
You arrived just four months after my human mother died.  She and I didn’t have the best relationship and I spent most of my life trying to win her love and approval.  Upon her death I realized I had run out of time and was forced to cope with the hand I was dealt.  Toward the end of your trial week while Mc-Partner was at work and I was parked on my office futon attempting to read, I was suddenly assaulted with a mishmash of feelings about my mother – some good, some bad – as they spewed out from their tightly sealed bottle concealed deep within my emotional pantry.  In the background I vaguely recall hearing your frantic paw peddling as you dashed from under your chair-cave in the kitchen, nails scratching and scraping across the linoleum as if you were herding a lone lamb away from a hungry wolf, eliciting a soft whimpering noise as you barreled into the room diving onto the futon.
You used your nose to skillfully pry apart my hands which were sealed tightly over my eyes as if to try and stop the tears from falling.  You whimpered and forced your way through my hand fortress licking my tears and nuzzling my face as if to say “let me stop the pain, it’s ok, it’s OK!”  I pushed you down, yet you persisted until finally, I relented.  You patiently sat by my side while my body’s convulsions slowly dissipated and my mind returned to the here and now.
Now I never had a cat do that.  If I attempted to seek feline consolation I was most often met with aloofness or complete rejection.  I liked this new feeling – of being loved, comforted and not judged.  Even the licks, I mean kisses, were nice.  Was my self-described cat person identity really a projection of the rejection I experienced in my childhood?   Could a dog prove to be a more suitable ally than my therapist?  Certainly she costs less overall.  I don’t have to make an appointment to see her and my therapist would never dare cross the professional boundary and give me a hug, let alone lick away my tears.  Hmmm, this might just work.
So Katie, I owe you a lot.  You have taught me that unconditional love does exist.  It’s OK to have poop issues.  I need to walk daily with you, it calms us both down.  You keep me from hanging out too much inside of my head.  You ask for very little but give so much.  I’m ode to you girl, for bringing me back to life.
Now let’s go chase off that Siamese cat that keeps pooping in our garden.  Please try and refrain from wanting to eat her poop as I see a peanut butter snack in your near future.




Nonprofit Storytelling


Ok, I’ll admit it.  As I writer, I confess to not wholeheartedly embracing the age old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”.    Everyone sees the world through their own pair of rose tinted glasses colored by their own personal experiences and sprinkled with a large dose of social conditioning.   Perception.  We all possess it.  Question is:  should we trust it?

Merriam-Webster defines Perception:
: the way you think about or understand someone or something


One of the most effective ways to influence or change other people’s perception is by telling them a story.  I could babble on and on and give  different scenarios to drive the point home further but I would rather just tell you a story.

Several years ago I worked with a nonprofit company whose mission was to help drug addicts overcome their addiction and put them on the road to recovery.  My mission was to help them increase their donor base and other revenue streams (grants/fundraising).  Although I didn’t admit it at the time I walked into their world with my own perceptions of “what” a drug addict must look like rather than “who” is affected by drug addiction.

Not only did I need to re-evaluate my own negative stereotypical thinking I had to overcome the perceptions of the community at large.  The community we were asking to help us help these people.  When asked the question “what do you think a drug addict looks like” most people conjure up an image of a homeless man or woman in tattered clothing, dirty, and sleeping under a bridge.  In reality the majority of people addicted to narcotics are gainfully employed as nurses, lawyers, accountants, and even politicians.

These are people that typically came from stable homes where they were nurtured and encouraged to do their best and often afforded the luxury of a college education to boot.  This is not to say that someone from a poverty stricken chaotic childhood where drug abuse and domestic violence was their normal can’t succeed in life.  But the chips are stacked against them.  We are not all dealt the same hand in life.

The silver lining here is that stereotypes can be broken and that people with drug addiction do recover and succeed due in large part to the tremendous efforts of compassionate souls and committed social service agencies who give them a hand up.

So how do we eradicate negative social perceptions, instill compassion, educate, and subsequently gain support of the community? We tell “their” stories, not our own.  Not “Our agency provides substance abuse help for homeless individuals” but “Joe came to us last year homeless and fighting alcohol and heroin abuse.  Joe’s early life was…….., and after completing our program Joe is no longer living on the street.  Joe is now pursuing…..”    You have now given Joe a voice.  Much like a fictional character in a novel the author gives you the “backstory” of the character which helps you identify, understand, and feel emotionally connected to that character.  You want to read on and see how he or she fares.  It’s the same in real life.

It was while working at this agency that dealt with one of the most unpopular social issues that I urged the Executive Director to let me interview some clients, tell their story, plop it in the newsletter and on the website and let’s see what happens.  What happened was an influx of new donors with local community members eager to participate in fundraising sponsorship.  It also didn’t hurt to slip a story or two in with a foundation grant application (when appropriate).

Portrait of Success (below) is the first client story they published.  One lady was so moved that she included a note with her donation that basically read “I never gave a second thought as to why or how anyone would ever try drugs.  Why can’t they stop?  I feel ashamed by this thinking especially since I have been unable, or unwilling, to give up my daily chocolate bar even though I have diabetes.  Maybe I can now.  Blessings, M.”

This is storytelling at its finest.

Portrait of Success

Meet Sarah.  Sarah’s childhood was fraught with trauma and confusion, raised by a mother with a long-time methamphetamine and heroin addiction problem and an alcoholic, absentee father.  Fate seemed to have dealt Sarah quite an unfavorable hand.

By the time Sarah was a “legal” adult at the age of 18, she was using methamphetamines on a regular basis.  Her teen years were shrouded in drugs; smoking marijuana, cigarettes and consuming alcohol.  She eventually dropped out of school in her freshman year.  Without any positive role models or support she moved in with a boyfriend and became pregnant with her first child.  Sarah considered her mother her best friend and they frequently went on long “drug runs” together – consuming methamphetamines and staying awake for days at a time.

At the bequest of the Department of Health Services (DHS) Sarah entered ______ women’s residential treatment center at the age of 21, pregnant and caring for a 19-month old son.

Sarah was adamant about not wanting treatment and expressed herself by having frequent temper tantrums and bouts of crying and yelling.  Sarah did not possess any sense of what a normal healthy relationship entailed and was devoid of any practical parenting skills.  She summoned her young son by yelling commands at him.

Despite her incessant pleas to leave treatment she eventually started to build trust with her counselor and other staff members.  Slowly, Sarah gained insights into her relationships and developed an appropriate nurturing relationship with her son and gave birth to a healthy little girl while in treatment.  Through treatment Sarah began to learn parenting skills, relapse prevention techniques and other “life skills” that she was never taught, let alone exposed to.

Sarah’s progress steadily climbed completing her GED and successful graduation from _____’ residential treatment program.  Sarah secured housing with a drug and alcohol free family member.  Her counselor helped her find a job in a large retail operation and Sarah experienced her first understanding of independence and confidence that comes with realizing your full potential.

Today Sarah continues to attend outpatient treatment services as a result of her own desire to continue improving upon her life and gather more tools that will contribute towards a healthy and bright future.  One that she, and every child born into misfortune, should not be denied.

Help break the cycle of generational alcohol and drug problems.
Treatment Works – People Recover.




Planning for Success

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  

Greetings New Mexico prospects and clients!  I’m pleased to announce that The Story Muse has relocated to the incredibly beautiful high desert of Albuquerque having built an adobe nest in the quaint village of Placitas.  I enjoyed 10 years of living in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon) but I must say it is wonderful to be able to dry out and enjoy consistent sunshine than I’ve experienced in over a decade.  Too bad the Twilight movie series has come to an end; I would have made a great extra.
I didn’t have much time this year to blog as I would have liked to.  2012 was a busy year – and I hope 2013 proves to be increasingly more productive.  Many of this year’s clients were nonprofit organizations which kept my brain buzzing and my fingers blazing since besides making sure your grant application and its’ content is impeccable, making sure you meet those deadlines is imperative. Otherwise you miss the boat entirely and will have to wait until the following year for the next grant cycle to commence.  Twelve months to wait for money that you need pronto is not going to propel your organization forward at the speed you would desire.  Keep in mind how many underfunded nonprofits are vying for the same grant awards.  Submitting your application even by one day matters; the early bird gets the worm, or at least, plucks the prime ones.  I advise all my clients to shoot for one week prior to the deadline to avoid any delays that are out of their control; the Post Office is a prime example.  Send those grant applications out Priority Mail, as there is a much lower chance of it getting lost in the giant package shuffle that goes on behind the Post Office front counter. 
Regardless of what type of business you have I believe on of the biggest keys to success is to plan, plan, and plan!  Get yourself one of those jumbo dry-eraser 12 month calendars and put it in your sales area, conference room, or wherever the troops gather, and utilize it.  Assign a different colored marker for each specific action/person.  Of course you can use on-line shared documents or software, but I’m old school….keeping the calendar up for everyone to see on a daily basis ensures people won’t forget to check their computer generated calendars.  For grant writing purposes, after you have identified those foundations whose focus areas match yours – get them up on the board.  Depending on how much information you have already compiled (financials, history, success stories, goals and objectives) draw a timeline and put a big fat red circle around the DEADLINE date….again, I suggest giving yourself a week’s lead time.  This calendar can be archived and later updated for next years because even if your proposal is declined the first time, you have another opportunity to dazzle them next year. 
Another handy tool that is especially effective for start-up companies or new projects is to develop a simple spreadsheet that would include a start date, the person, or persons, in charge of a specific function, and the projected date of the next step/completion.  Bring this sheet to every management/planning meeting and go down the list asking each participant to provide an update on their task including the next action needed and/or anticipated date of completion.  It might look something like this:
 Julie/Marketing     Education Brochure   11/30/12        Mark/Finance        Budget    12/05/12            Jane/Materials        Quotes/COG               11/30/12


This helps keep the group organized and informed as to what their team members are doing and helps hold them accountable as to their prospective role/s in the project so there are no unwelcome surprises down the road.  “What do mean you forgot to send the final copy to the printer?”
I don’t want to bog you down with today’s blog, so let’s all get back to work.  My plan is to figure out how to best introduce myself to the ABQ metro area businesses, and your plan might be to mark “call this woman who calls herself The Story Muse and see how she can help us” on your calendar.  Works for me; I look forward to the potential of working with you towards increasing your success. 
My rates are reasonable, fair, and I will work as if I own a stake in your organization.  I might even be willing to partially barter for some good green Chile salsa.  So please, consider giving me a call.  I’ll bring the chips.

The last time I checked my business mail it contained:  a signed contract, three or four generic-looking solicitations for services that might help my business, a catalog for office supplies and a Federal Express envelope with a check in it.  The check was nice, everything else was mundane and utterly expected.

Then I return home and check my personal mail box and find these gems:  the electric bill, the cable bill, a typed form letter from my HOA, a cache of neighborhood coupons, a cooking magazine and a true relic:  A hand addressed envelope with my name on it from a friend of mine who I hadn’t heard from in ages.

As visions of the Pony Express danced in my head, I headed in the house flinging the regular mail on the dining room table not caring if it landed safely or dropped to the floor – I had a REAL letter to read.  I did a little dance while pouring myself a glass of wine, made a fire, and nestled into my favorite reading chair as I eagerly tore open the envelope.  I again checked to see that it was indeed addressed to me and that there was a real stamp proudly adhered to the front of it.  Yes, it was a bona fide handwritten letter.

She inquired about my life and my family, recounting all the things she missed about me and how she hoped distance and her refusal to engage in technological quickies wouldn’t keep us from staying in touch.  She asked about my job, my son, my house, my husband and the weather in Oregon (still wet).   She shared both sad and happy news with me.  What year was this?  I checked the date – it was written and mailed in 2011.

I immediately return the gesture with a lengthy missive of my life, thanking her for taking the time to write stating that I am game to continue with our grown up version of pen pals.  Not cyberspace pals.  Not FaceBook friends.  Pen Pals:  Hand to pen, ink to paper, folded, stamped and deposited in the blue boxes you still see scattered throughout some neighborhoods.  Her letter not only lifted my spirits it stayed with me for weeks, if not months.

Hmmm, my mind ticked.  How can I use this example of personalization in my own business so that my services stay in the forefront of my prospect or client’s mind?  Would they care?  Is it passé in this day and age to hand write a note?  Will I lose money taking the time in doing so?  My answers were:  write it, it will look foreign yet intriguing in their mailbox (retro is trendy), and, it is a cost effective way for a small business to stand out in a crowd of big players.  No one recycles a hand written note without reading it first.  Let me resurrect this seemingly archaic form of communication and see where it goes.

One day after an appointment with a senior marketing manager I left his office with a semi-confident feeling that I did a decent job pitching my services, my attention to detail and the personal touch I extend to all of my clients.  Yet this particular manager gave me the old “nice meeting you.  I’ll call if we can use you” jargon.  I left him a file folder containing some writing samples, my business card and marked my calendar to follow up on this lukewarm lead in a month or two.  Then I remembered my friend’s letter and immediately embarked on a shopping frenzy determined to find some classy note cards so I could reiterate my “personal touch to clients” spiel.

Here was my note:

Dear Mr. Decision Maker,

I can’t express my appreciation enough for you taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me regarding my writing services.

I do hope that I made a favorable impression as I truly believe I can help you increase revenues on your products through concise and creative marketing copy.  I look forward to the opportunity to service XYZ Corporation and thank you in advance for keeping me in mind for future projects.

I’ve included another business card in the event you tossed or lost my original one (it happens) as I sincerely want to be a contributing factor in your future success and not get lost in the “freelance contractor” file cabinet.  I can deliver results, and hope to have the opportunity to demonstrate this for you in the near future.

Best Copy Always,

Julie Wian

Remarkably and despite what some people might consider to be unprofessional by infusing humor in my thank you note (it works for me) the prospect called me and had their very own Pony Express memory to share.  Next thing I know I was getting paid to write.  Imagine that.  We bonded over ink and my less than pristine handwriting.

Your prospects and clients receive hundreds of emails per day.  What do you think the chances are of them opening yours and remembering you after they continue fishing through the other ninety-nine emails in their in-box?  A handwritten note helps you stand out from the competition, leaving a lasting impression.  It signifies that they are an individual and their business is important to you, thus building a solid foundation for a relationship to grow.

I believe the hand written note is only considered old fashioned by those who forget that most people respond to personal attention and are not willing to take the extra time to build a relationship with their client or prospect.

Handwritten notes are personal, professional, classy, and for the most part, unexpected:  So go out and buy a nice ink pen and some professional yet visually enhancing thank you cards, and start writing.  “Thank you for your business”, “ I look forward to working with you” or “ Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns”……and don’t forget stamps.  Yes, stamps.  It goes hand and hand, or should I say, hand to mouth, with the whole handwritten note concept.

“A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Handwritten notes will add a lot to your life. You can still use the telephone or the Web for the daily chores of staying in touch, but for the words that matter, it’s courteous, classy, caring, and civilized to pick up a pen.” – Margaret Shepherd

Last week I attended a seminar sponsored by the United States Postal Service (USPS) at the Hillsboro Civic Center to learn how small businesses can grow utilizing the new Every Door Direct Mail™ program offered by the USPS.

While social media advertising and marketing seems to be all the rage, many consumers, including myself, actually read direct mail pieces we receive at our home, often lured by an enticing coupon to try a product or service in our neighborhood.

Like many people I am bombarded with email newsletters, offers and advertisements and I simply can’t remember all of them, even the notoriously humorous ones – its’ digital information overload most of the time.  If I have to print out an offer, or a coupon, that’s wasting precious small business resources (ink and paper) not to mention my time.  I can’t be the only one on the planet who still enjoys going to the mailbox and reading, well, mail?

Every Door Direct Mail is an innovative new direct mail program that eliminates the need to purchase expensive name and address lists and offers delivery to ever consumer (and/or business) in your specified geographical area.    Each mail piece is then delivered via Postal Service carrier routes near your business (you can also target other zip codes/routes outside your immediate area).  In other words, each postal delivery guy/gal will be delivering your message to every consumer and/or business that is on their route.  You can select up to five zip codes per mailing.

The beauty of the program is that it’s cost effective, flexible and specific to small business.  The minimum order is 200 pieces with a maximum of 5,000 per mailing and the average postage cost for a flat piece is 14.2 cents.  Now what do I do with my five rolls of .28 cent postcard stamps?

The USPS has simplified the process and offers a handy online tool to help you through the process including the ability to calculate your postage cost, making modifications as needed.  And amazingly enough there is only one simple form to fill out, no permit required either.

Impressed by what you’ve read so far?  Don’t be, I’m just an enthusiastic messenger and hereby steer you to their website to get more information:

Tweets are “in”, so short, too many
FaceBook doesn’t guarantee we will meet
I’ve lost so many things in cyberspace
But your direct mail piece, I can hold in my hand