Creating Customer Personas With Personality: How In-Depth Personas Help You Deliver a Superior User Experience


The persona is dead. Long live the persona.

Some marketers have claimed that the persona is more over than a Hyper-Color T-shirt, more useless than a man's nipple, more dead than social graces. Deservedly so, when personas are in the state they're in now. But if you care about understanding your customer and improving their experience with your brand, it's a worthwhile part of your strategy.

Some marketers make such a dog's breakfast of personas (and I'm talking about a feral dog that eats in alleys or by a wharf; maybe a coyote's breakfast would be more apt) that I have to wonder if they're unable to see the people in their own lives as living, breathing humans.

Most of the personas I see, even from people who teach workshops on the subject, are about as interesting and relatable as a cardboard box left out in the rain. (That said, you could make that box enormously sympathetic.) With a B2C persona, you see a motivation of "likes to try new foods," and a goal of "purchasing products." With B2B, you often see the motivation of "getting products to market faster." How is that supposed to help?

I'm not saying that your persona's work-related struggles shouldn't be a part of what you're creating. But there has to be more to her to that, and I'm going to tell you how you can make her more three-dimensional, why you should bother, and how it benefits your company.

Creating a persona is a dynamic process. You start with what you know and what you can infer about your top customers, and refine your persona over time as you learn more.

What's the Purpose of a Persona?

The real purpose of a persona is to improve the customer experience.

A better experience for your customer leads to higher conversion rates, more repeat business, and increased revenue and profitability. (If you're into that kind of thing, and I'm pretty sure you are.)

A Cintell study on audience personas found that “companies that exceed lead and revenue goals were 2.2X more likely to have and document personas than companies that miss these targets.” A company that uses personas is far more likely to have a strategy in place, and companies that have even a simple strategy are much more likely to exceed their revenue goals than companies that don't.

Moreover, understanding and empathizing with your customer through personas will help you create useful and valuable content for her, improve her experience with the brand, build trust, and foster delight. Overall, this generates revenue and informs product development.

When you build a persona over time from sources like data, insights, observation, listening, and interaction, it makes it easier to create stories, it makes those stories stronger, and it makes those stories much more relatable to your customer.

And using a (non-crappy) persona lets you strengthen your brand messaging to signal a particular customer or attract a new segment of customer.

A Persona Guards Against "Marketing Nihilism"

Creating a three-dimensional persona guards against "marketing nihilism."

In marketing, you can start thinking like Baudrillard: despairing, apocalyptic. Nothing feels real. It seems that everything that was real has been replaced by a hyperreality (as Stephen Wright said, "replaced with an exact replica"). You suspect there's no system because there's no reality. Using a persona can help with that (to some extent, anyway).

Using a three-dimensional persona concentrates your target audience into one person. When that person seems real, you can focus your attention on reaching her and delighting her. It's not a nameless, faceless crowd. Instead of diffusing, you're clarifying.

In non-profit fundraising campaigns, people donate more when they can emotionally imprint on one person's story, so they focus your letter on one person, not an anonymous number of people the reader can't connect to. Same concept.

What if you happen to be working for a company with an audience you're having a hard time connecting to? Create a persona you can use as a touchstone to connect to your customer, and keep her in mind when you create content. Find a few good customers and go from there. Creating a persona you can relate to will help you create content in a difficult environment.

How Can I Create a Persona That’s Not an Event Horizon of Suck?

... Especially With A Low Budget?

Maybe you don't have a generous budget and haven't been collecting all kinds of sweet, sweet data from fancy-pants software. If you do have that, awesome. Use whatever data you can find. Just know that data can get you only so far, and can be misleading (like surveys). It's the connections between and among data points, like synapses between neurons, or a conspiracy wall using yarn and pushpins, which give you the insight into your customers.

If your budget feels like a hell dimension where budgets are measured in pennies, rely on whatever you can get from Google Analytics, email list information, and surveys (though be careful with those; they’re limited in their usefulness, could lead you down misguided paths, and should be applied only in certain situations—where they could be very helpful).

You should also use any feedback or communication you have from customers, and you may also want to look up some of your customers' websites or social media feeds to get an idea of what they're like, and what else they're reading or talking about.

For the budget-restricted, you can also think of a competitor with a similar audience and do some reconnaissance. You can't see their data, but you can learn more about your target audience by looking at theirs. Read their blog comments if they have an active blog, and note any questions, problems, fears, pain points, and more.

Do Some Field Work

Ideally, though, you'll go out and talk to your customers directly. Give them an incentive to talk to you on the phone (it's always good to give people some sort of consideration for their time). Go do some ethnography. The insights you can derive only from direct observation or interaction will let you realize things about your customer and their experience with your brand that you absolutely could not have realized any other way.

They Need Water to Survive!

For the love of puppies and Grantchester, please do not give your persona so-called traits that all of your customers, and everyone in most developed countries, happens to have—e.g., she's busy, she's comfortable shopping online, she's annoyed by slow websites. These are not things that will help you signal customers or relate to them or delight them. This is everyone in the modern world, with the exception of people like Ron Swanson. Remember that the ideal result is to make the persona seem real to you and to others, and to be able to internalize them.

Going Back to Data...

With Google Analytics, you've got basics like demographics, behavior, and favored content that you can use. If your budget allows for lead nurturing software, that's another layer of data. There's also industry-specific data. For example, the Public Library of Cincinnati worked with an agency that developed marketing personas based on library card usage data to create targeted email marketing.

This 30 Rock scene between Jack and Jenna combines both explicit and implicit data :)....

30 Rock, "Jack Meets Dennis" #106

Jenna: What’s too old?
Jack: That’s a very good question. How old are you?
Jenna: I’m 29.
Jack: What year were you born?
Jenna: 1977.
Jack: When did you graduate high school?
Jenna: ‘94.
Jack: When do you turn 40?
Jenna: 2017.
Jack: Junior high crush?
Jenna: Kirk Cameron.
Jack: Prom theme?
Jenna: “Motown Philly” Boyz II Men.
Jack: What movie did you lose your virginity to?
Jenna: Arachnophobia.
Jack: Theater or drive-in?
Jenna: (hesitates and plays dumb) What’s a drive-in?
Jack: Of course. I don’t know why I bothered to ask. I can tell just from your physical appearance that you’re obviously … 29.

Use Multiple Data Sources

Whatever your situation is, pull what data you can from multiple sources. According to Cintell's Understanding B2B Buyers Benchmark Study, high-performing companies use a variety of methods to compile insights about their buyers, while their underperforming counterparts reported using fewer sources of data.

Whatever the case, you form a holistic, coherent picture of a persona that actually resembles a human being that people can remember, relate to, and internalize.

Give this persona a name. A real name, not title + name, like "Techie Tom" or "Enterprise Linda" (though if you're ever having trouble with customer service at an enterprise company, just demand to speak to Linda). A title + name is like a bow fender for relating to a persona—it forces a slight amount of distance for empathizing with them and connecting to them. Imagine calling any of your friends the equivalent of "Finance Manager Stephanie" or "Entrepreneur John."

I like to look through the top 100 names for a persona's birth year or decade and pick one that seems like a good match.

Goals, Motivation, and More

What does your persona want? Here's a tip: it's way more than "to discover a new beverage." Is that all you want from life?

Sure, sometimes all we want in the world is to get a 16 oz. coffee, and woe to anyone who dares get in our way—and you'd think that's all someone wants from most of the personas I've seen. And yes, we all have multiple small goals during the day. To have lunch, for example. (And those can be powerful enough to write a story around.)

Of course work-related goals or motivations are important (and you may want to incorporate Christensen's Jobs-To-Be-Done framework with your persona/s).

But think bigger. Think life goals. Do they want a happy family life, professional achievement, to be of service to others? Maybe it would help to think of it in terms of an "I want" song from a musical, like "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Once you figure out what's most important to her, you can get into more detail with work-related goals and motivations. And by detail, I mean, specific detail, with challenges that are similar to what a friend would tell you.

Flaws and Worldview

What flaws are keeping her from getting what she wants? I like to refer to the Enneagram as a starting point. Use it to get a better understanding of how a particular Enneagram type thinks and acts on a scale of healthy to unhealthy, and the flaws that affect each type. Is she caring and generous, but manipulative? Is she a cerebral visionary, but at the expense of reality or physical activity? Is she versatile, adventurous, and multi-talented, but indecisive and scattered? Is she a conscientious perfectionist, but resentful and critical?

What does she fear? Disorder? Rejection? Failing professionally? Being alone?

What worldview or philosophy does she have that you can put into one sentence? A hedonist would have a very different worldview than a perfectionist, an outdoor adventurer would have a very different worldview from someone who's anxious and paranoid, and an emotional aesthete would have a very different worldview from someone who's pragmatic and relaxes with spreadsheets.

In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, safety needs are the second biggest layer, right after physiological needs such as food, water, warmth, and rest. Safety needs are expressed in different ways. Someone who's adventurous and open to risk might be afraid of making the wrong choice in terms of what's best, so they may want to try multiple options. Someone who seems to be a consummate risk-taker—decisive, confident, tough—might be safety-minded in terms of how this decision will affect their stature or how it can make them vulnerable. And someone else might be safety-minded in terms of their mood or emotional state.

Consider another layer of the triangle: esteem. What is esteem to your persona? Maybe it's knowledge in a particular area, or knowing how to do something. Esteem is how your customer perceives herself, and what matters to her. It's a great exercise to go through Maslow's Triangle and think about how each layer specifically pertains to your persona.

Other Brands and Media

You should have a good idea of what your persona watches, listens to, reads. You should know what's nostalgic for her. You should know what other brands she likes and trusts, where she shops, what websites she reads, who she admires. Some of this will be inferred, and you'll iterate over time.

Dayparting Content

Personas can help with dayparting your content and brand messaging. If you can imagine your persona's typical day, this will help you create content that's meaningful, interesting, and relevant to her. As you refine your persona, you'll get ideas for dayparting content and connecting your brand to her days and lifestyle. You'll know what kind of content she wants to take in, and when, and how.

It may not be feasible to put on a trenchcoat, sunglasses, and a hat and follow your top customers around all day. For a starting point of how people (in the US, at least) spend their time, take a look at the American Time Use Survey. One data visualization based on the ATUS shows a simulated day for employed Americans in various occupations. Another data visualization of time use simulates a single day for 1,000 Americans representative of the population, to the minute (it’s from 2014, but still useful). Or go right to the source of the American Time Use Survey.

Creating a persona isn't too dissimilar from creating a character for D&D. You define your bonds, flaws, ideals, personality traits, etc—and flesh out your background. You also figure out how your character spends their R&R between adventures.

As a fiction writer, I've definitely gone overboard when creating characters, and after a certain point, the information becomes overwhelming. Your persona should seem real to you, but don't be excessive in a way that makes you or your team carry too much mental weight that doesn't actually contribute to anything.

Using Your Persona to Create Experiences

Understanding your persona will also help you create the right experiences for your brand, which should be a integral part of your brand strategy. This connects to what your customer values, how she wants to transform herself, and how she engages with your brand. Girls' experience with the American Girl brand is a great example.

Anthropologie specializes in one customer, and uses personas (whom they call "our friend") to help create a store experience. The buyer (for the company) can go around the world and know that the Anthropologie customer will love this bird cage, or that jacket, or a journal. Most of the objects create an experience around their most popular product, clothing. How does their friend want to feel? What kind of person does she want to be? Remember the J. Peterman catalog? They were masters at this, using only copy and watercolor illustrations of the item of clothing to create a fantasy of an experience.

Aside from the experiences that your brand supports—whether that's adventure, connecting with friends, being more organized and productive, making her smarter, making her a better citizen, making her healthier, making her feel happy or inspired or rewarded, etc. (and knowing why your experience matters to her)—there's also the more defined experience of what it's like to buy or use your product.

IDEO would go step-by-step through a user's experience to reduce friction and frustration wherever possible, and to make things faster, easier, and more convenient. I strongly recommend going through the same process using your persona. What would frustrate her, try her patience, or make her feel overwhelmed or pissed off? What would delight her, impress her, make her experience with your product or service better? I frequently wonder if the people behind a product or service have ever actually used it themselves, and I wonder this when something is annoying me or pissing me off. That's not how you want your customer to feel.

When You Shouldn't Create a Persona

The Empathy Problem

Marketers have all heard the word "empathy" thrown around like the fake Santa who drives through my parents' neighborhood tosses candy to people standing on their driveways.

Some companies will never develop empathy, because the founders never had it in the first place. Some companies lose empathy as they grow. Examples of businesses that typically lack empathy include doctor's offices, general contractors, airlines, and most government offices, though it's pretty common with SaaS companies, too—even those who are under the deeply mistaken impression that they have it.

Whether it's the online UX, the product experience, or the service experience, companies that lack empathy make it obvious at every possible step of interaction. That's not just because they made the terrible mistake of not creating a three-dimensional persona—it's a cultural problem, and the result is that some work cultures will support using a persona more than others.

The "It's for Everyone!" Problem

A huge problem in very early-stage companies is that they're so eager for more customers, they make their value proposition all-encompassing and generic. Who's it for? "It's for everyone!"

This is a problem in companies of all sizes, but whatever the case, they're afraid to focus because they think it'll reduce the potential firehose of the top of their funnel to a straw—and they're afraid of alienating potential customers. That's a topic for another blog post, because I have a lot to say about that.

For now, I'll add (via ITSMA) that 82% of companies using personas have managed to create an improved value proposition, which isn't surprising to me at all. Your value proposition signals a particular customer and tells them that your offer is the solution to their problem. If you have a persona in mind, it makes your value proposition considerably stronger.

The Narcissist Problem

A common accompaniment to the empathy problem and the "it's for everyone" problem is the narcissist problem. If your company operates from a product-first rather than customer-first viewpoint, then it's likely your persona will be one of those default profile heads with the title "Prospect."

Doing personas right requires that you care about understanding your customer and improving their experience with your product or service. If that's not something you're interested in, don't bother creating a persona. It's going to suck, anyway.

And lastly, don't bother creating a persona if you're never going to question your assumptions and stereotypes. You won't be doing yourself, your company, or your customer any favors. Be open, receptive, and curious when it comes to learning more about your customers.

Using Your Persona

Copywriters know that people buy from emotion, not logic. Objective facts are used only so the buyer can justify a purchase based on emotion. Your persona will help you connect to that emotion and underlying motivation—and you can use the same persona for all stages of the buyer's journey and stages of awareness.

Ben & Jerry's used their persona for every element of their business (and they were definitely not afraid to focus).

Product Development

Your persona can help guide product development. For example, when Capital One needed to market a portal to developers, they used personas in the product development phase and in user testing.

Website Lead Gen

Using a persona (a specific, three-dimensional one) will help you hone the advantages and benefits of your product's features, and with the tricky situation of targeting different customer segments. Focus on your primary persona and use navigational links to lead your secondary segments to their content. If someone is visiting your site for the first time, they have very little tolerance for the wrong kind of content. A persona-based website saw 210% increase in website traffic, 97% increase in website generated leads, 124% increase in website generated sales (MarketingSherpa).

Adobe saw a 10% increase in email orders, a decrease of 78% in time-to-market, a 59% increase in web visitors, and a 53% increase in web revenue with a persona-based launch (SiriusDecisions). Pretty awesome.

Content Development

Once you create your persona as a part of your strategy, you can use it for editorial development. When you're working on your content creation plan for the quarter or for the year, you'll know (or have a pretty good idea) if your persona will like something or not. Over time, knowing what your persona will like, dislike, or feel neutral toward will be second nature.

A persona will help you be creative with lead magnets and content offers. What would be most valuable (or useful / fun / interesting) to her? What form should it be in?

Knowing your persona lets you more easily make decisions, and to say no to product or content ideas that don't make sense.

Next Steps in Creating Your Persona

If you're managing a content team, share your full persona/s with everyone who's involved in the content creation process. You may want to expand that to anyone involved with creating an experience for the customer.

You can make secondary persona tools—a "pocket" version of your persona—for folks in other departments so everyone can stay unified. It's worth the time to create a more pared-down version for people that helps them use the persona to support company goals and understand what you're talking about in chats and meetings. As a manager, you should know how the people you lead like to receive information (just like you'd know when it comes to your persona).

The goal is to get people to internalize the persona. I know it's not easy. If you're a solopreneur or have a small team, this isn't an issue. With a larger company, you need to put more effort into communicating the benefits of being familiar with the persona.

Look to other industries for inspiration on how to make that fun. Can you work with your designer to make cards inspired by early 70s-era Wacky Packages, 60s-era Mars Attacks trading cards, or Archie McPhee's Super Awesome Trading Cards?

How else can you make it fun? Posters, mini comics, a "day in the life of" guide, an interactive element, a pinboard, games, a "conspiracy board" (a fresh way to look at dayparting / day in the life of).

People on a marketing team are likely to forget a persona exists unless you take steps to keep her front-of-mind. To make her more memorable in the minds of your team, create your persona in the form of a story, and use good visuals. For photos, look at Unsplash, Picography, and Gratisography (for the quirkier persona).

Make your persona/s a regular part of your meetings. Weave them into the conversation where it makes sense. Don't wedge it in and hammer it like you're taking down a tree.

Make personas fun for your team—not a chore or a burden—and for anyone involved in using them, and I think you'll find that this helps to keep your culture customer-obsessed. Take your team on field trips to practice, and to use the insights and observations they take from the field. Keep in mind that the persona guides how you create content and improve experiences for your customer, but it doesn't impose or dictate.

If you don't keep your persona in the minds of your team and anyone else, guess what? She stays on the page. And if you bring her up once in a proverbial blue moon, people won't know what the hell you're talking about.

You may want to consider a persona tool called an empathy map. This takes what you ideally should already know about your persona, but presents it in a more easily and quickly understandable form for a more narrow use case. You put Post-It notes in a four-part grid: how she's feeling, and what she's thinking, saying, or doing—and what her goals are in relation to your user experience process. An empathy map isn't a replacement for a persona (though many marketers don't do even this much). It's a useful exercise where you take your three-dimensional persona and apply what you know to a more specific map.

Finally, be open, observe, and listen. Leave the office and go where your customers are.

Personas aren't dead. They can be a fun and extraordinarily useful tool for learning about your customer, staying customer-focused, and finding ways to delight your customer at every touchpoint and interaction.

13 Email Signup Forms, From Infuriating to Great

Your brand has all kinds of tiny UX touchpoints on your site. One of those is your newsletter signup.

Some people use a signup field with all the personality and lead-gen potential of a dessicated mouse corpse. This tells me that (a) they don't want anyone to subscribe to their newsletter, (b) their brand is as boring as The English Patient, and (c) they don't think the small things matter.

Here's a list of email signup forms, from unfathomably lame to actually good.

1) This form makes me wonder why they bother at all:

There's nothing about the newsletter, what you'll be getting, how often you'll get it, or what you'll get out of it. Why don't they just add a middle finger?

2) Email updates?! Awesome!

They're bludgeoning me with "Sign Up" twice. That they think they need a copyright notice under that form makes me laugh, and the social buttons don't belong there.

3) WTF

4) This one has a modern, clean look. (So clean you might not be able to even see it.) But what am I going to get? An email every few months with injury care tips for roller derby teams? An email every few hours giving me detailed updates on a family of raccoons? Contextually, you can assume they're updates, but give us something.

5) This one makes me want to throw hammers. "Not Convinced?" No, not quite:

Excuse me while I go use my rubber mallet on a cardboard box.

6) At least this one has an image...and some modicum of enthusiasm ("Sign me up!" is better than "Sign Up")...but it has "subscribe" twice. Please stop. And exactly how many newsletters am I getting? Boo.

7) This one's an improvement. It's got a little social proof near the button, but it doesn't need that bit about the plans. And "Sign Up" isn't lighting the world on fire.

8) Wow, updates straight to my INBOX? What a world! Has that ever been done before?

Pluses: Cute little image. Orange button (that has tiny text and the dreaded "sign up here"). We've got "Sign up" twice. I'm digging furrows into my desk.

9) On this one, the color should be reversed, with a pink button rather than a pink background. But at least it's an eye-catching color box. The button text is blah, but at least they add "now," and you have some idea of what you'll get (Every week? Every day? Who knows?).

10) Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart.

Some improvement here. A headline that's something other than "Sign up for our newsletter," and you know what you're getting (just not how often). The button is about as interesting as Meet Joe Black, but at least the text is noticeable.

11) I'm starting to calm down a little. This form tells you often they'll email you, and it has a whimsical way of describing what you'll get. Join Us, gabba gabba. We still have "Subscribe Now" and "Sign up," but the form has some personality.

12) This one has a solid headline, some specifics on what you'll get from subscribing, and a high-contrast button. It's good to see text like "I Want Free Tips," but it's better suited to a content offer where you actually get tips for something, so it seems like you're getting something other than what's described. How about "I Want to take Charge"?

Speaking of the word "charge," there's a nice anxiety-reducer under the form, but they can get rid of the unecessary "no charge." It's not a mastermind group, it's a newsletter.

And for this kind of thing, you'd also want to get a subscriber's first name. If it's an "email club," first names should be involved. Or do they use numbers?

13) Hello. Sharp look, clear benefit—and punchy copy with personality, including those fun hashtag buttons. The buttons have different looks, and there's much more emphasis on the desired action. Yay!

(I'd hyphenate "next-level")

Am I guilty of being too lax with my own email forms? Probably. But let's recap: Put some thought and personality into the details. Also, "Subscribe" and "Sign Up" are the lead-gen form versions of this thing (only not memorable at all): 

Q&A with Author and Actor Megan O'Russell

by Nina Post

I'm very pleased to have author and actor Megan O’Russell on the blog today to chat about social media, marketing, touring, working creatively with a spouse, public speaking, and a time portal in Trader Joe's. I think her answers are a fascinating insight into the life of a touring actor, and useful for anyone who wants to improve their marketing and public speaking skills.

Megan and I have the same publisher, and she just released her latest book (congrats, Megan!), a young adult urban fantasy novel that sounds like a really fun read:

The Tale of Bryant Adams:

How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days

In the past few weeks, you've been doing a Facebook Live reading series, where you read an excerpt from a book from our publisher, Curiosity Quills. Before that, you did a number of Facebook Live videos. Can you talk about how you got started, why you're doing it, and how you're getting the videos done?

I actually got started with the videos because of Curiosity Quills. They issued a challenge for all their authors to try Facebook Live [Ed: that was me :::villainous laugh:::]. It took me a while to find something that I consistently wanted to chat about that people might be interested in. Reading excerpts became the concept I could most consistently work with.

It’s fun (and super educational) for me to read other authors’ blurbs and books, and it’s a great way to get the word out about my fellow writers’ material. The videos are actually really easy to do. I have a mini tripod for my phone, and Facebook Live is very user friendly. Honestly, the biggest issue is finding good light for filming at home.

You'll be leaving to go on a tour soon. I have so many questions about this :). Have you done that before, how many people are you going with, and what are you taking with you?

I have been on a national tour before. I did the Fiddler on the Roof tour about five years ago and am super excited to get back out on the road. This time I’ll be Dance Captaining (monkey wrangling) and performing in The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know an exact number, but my best guess is that I’ll be sharing a bus with about twenty-five other actors and musicians for seven months.

As for packing…you have to think of it as a two-week backpacking trip where you hit all four seasons of weather. Pack as light as you can on the clothes, bring a sleeping bag for days when you have to sleep on the bus floor, and don’t forget your laptop and Kindle!

Can you give me an overview of a typical day (and night) when you're in a theater production?

When you’re in rehearsal you usually spend between eight and twelve hours a day in the rehearsal studio. You learn all your music, dance till you can’t walk anymore, and figure out where to stand so you don’t get run over by a set piece. Once you’re in performance, you really only work nights. Two or three days a week I have a matinee so I’ll have to be at the theatre around noon and then back at seven for the second show, but it’s really not bad.

On a tour like Wizard of Oz all bets are off. We travel from city to city pretty quickly. So a morning could be 5am bus call, 12pm lunch, 3pm arrive at hotel, 6pm leave for the theatre to get to mic check, 8pm show. Then do it all over the next day.

On what I think was your first Facebook Live video, your husband was playing the piano and singing. It seems that you two have a great working relationship and share the same passion for theater. Can you give me an example of how you tend to work together, and do you have any tips for facilitating a spouse's creative process?

My husband is actually a performer as well. He’ll be playing the Tinman on tour. We have a very… strange relationship. We’ve been together since we were eighteen and have worked together as performers since college, which is very rare in theatre. We have been extremely lucky in that respect.

Because we spend pretty much all our time together, working together on projects became a natural extension. He’s the first reader for all of my books, so I have a thick skin when he tells me something isn’t working. We’re actually working on writing our second musical together right now. I write the lyrics and sometimes a bit of the melody, and he does the rest of the composing and orchestrating. It’s actually a ton of fun to lock ourselves away and work on a project, and it ensures we never run out of things to talk about.

It seems like you've been getting more interested in marketing and branding lately, including launching your reading series and making visual content. What was the hardest part about getting started, and do you have any tips for someone who wants to get more active in marketing their products?

The hardest part of getting started was pushing past the intimidation. You read about creating banners, and it all just seems overwhelming. Finding your brand colors and font, experimenting with posting times, finding a way to do all of it consistently can feel impossible. My best advice is to take it one tiny step at a time. Figure out how to use Manage Flitter to work on your Twitter. Figure out how to schedule posts on Facebook. Figure out how to use Canva.

But do it one thing at a time, and don’t get frustrated if you need help. I have been asking questions all over the place, trying to figure everything out. Without wonderful people like Nina (who helped me figure out font pairing) I would still be crying over my Canva handbook. [Thanks, Megan!]

As an actor, what advice would you give someone who's doing some infrequent public speaking, but still can't quite get past their terror when they're in front of people?

You just have to practice. Practice in front of your partner or, if that’s too much, your pet. Then add a few more trusted friends. Find a low stakes environment: an open mic poetry night, go sing karaoke, sign up for an acting class.

The only way to get really comfortable in front of people is to get used to it. I’ve been onstage thousands upon thousands of times, and I still get nervous sometimes. You have to accept that nerves happen and train your body and your mind to do what it needs to anyway. The only way to do that is by practicing

If you found a time portal in your local Trader Joe's that looped briefly through another time and place, where would you most want that portal to lead, and what Trader Joe's product would you want to take with you?

I would love to go to the original opening night of Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre, and I would bring four boxes of the maple leaf cookies.

The Tale of Bryant Adams: How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days

Ever wanted to grow a five-story tall flower in central park? How about fight a deadly battle under the subway tunnels of Manhattan?

Don't worry. I never wanted to either. But if you're ever being chased by ladies made of mist and you have to save the girl with the sparkly eyes you've never had the guts to say actual words to, there's an app for that.

I found a magic cell phone, opened an app I shouldn't have, burned down the set shop for my high school's theatre, and it was all downhill from there. A drag queen seer who lives under a bridge is my only hope for keeping my mom alive, and I think the cops might be after me for destroying my dad's penthouse.

But it gets better! Now I'm stuck being the sidekick to the guy who got me into this mess in the first place. It'll be a miracle if I survive until Monday.

Megan O'Russell is a native of Upstate New York who spends her time traveling the country as a professional actor. Megan's current published works include YA series Girl of Glass and The Tale of Bryant Adams: How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days as well as the Christmas romance Nuttycracker Sweet. 2018 projects include The Chronicles of Maggie Trent: The Girl Without Magic and book two in the Girl of Glass series, Boy of Blood. For more information on Megan O’Russell's books, visit

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Strategy, Precision, and Brute Force

by Nina Post

There are a few different ways you can take down a big tree like a Douglas Fir, Big-Leaf Maple, or Hemlock.

You can cut a notch in the side where you want the tree to fall, then go to the other side, chainsaw some space, insert some plastic wedges, and hammer them in. Hammer the wedges for a bit, and the tree might fall then.

If the tree is more stubborn and has some back lean, you may have to use all the wedges in your wedge bag, and hammer them for a long time.

If the tree is really stubborn, like a dense and strong Doug Fir that just doesn't want to move, and hammering those wedges isn't getting anywhere, it would be helpful to get a Bobcat or other heavy machinery to give it a push.

If you only have a narrow space where you can drop the tree, because there are other trees in the path -- and the tree has back lean (so it wants to fall a different way) -- you may need to use a chain and ratcheting method along with the notch and wedges to guide its path.

Even if you've perfected a technique for doing something, it may not cover 100% of the cases. Sometimes you need strategy, precision, and brute force (more people, new partnerships, different staff, etc) to get the job done.