Helping front office teams grow better

Here you’ll find an archive of Nathanael’s weekly email. The email features curated links on technology + marketing + simplicity. He also posts longer-form pieces about CRM software, front-office strategy, and similar topics.

On Bonsai - Issue 313

One Spring a few years ago, I dug up some maple trees and a few...

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HubSpot's Revenue Operations Certification: Lessons Learned

After taking a few years off, I got back to badge-earning by finishing HubSpot Academy's Revenue Operations certification on September 16th. This course was almost as wide-ranging as my HubSpot consulting role: it covered everything from strong sales process definition to the Lean SixSigma definition of waste to accounting basics to hiring. Any role in operations, whether you're a team of one or dozens, is similarly wide-ranging.

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laptop and table doing digital strategy planning

The Digital Marketing Strategy of 2022 & Beyond

Marketing success requires knowing your business and how to reach your customers. The secret sauce for digital success adds an eye for the opportunities in the evolving digital space. For example, when I was a digital marketer for a political non-profit, I generated good results by borrowing ideas from B2C digital (emails like Apple) and political campaigns (Facebook like Obama).

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CRM Needs Chart

How to Choose a CRM System (and Keep It)

I’ve picked CRM systems a few times. Some flopped immediately, others worked at first but were outgrown, and only rarely did the CRM provide long-term value. But it’s those CRMs that stuck around that were the best: CRMs only add value if you keep them!

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worn jeans with dollar bill in the pocket

How to Be Frugal: 10 Years of Savings

After starting my career in the family business (taxes!) and then shifting to non-profit work, I now work in technology. I’ve noticed a thruline: everyone complains about how little they make. The most common reason my friends have had for switching jobs is to increase their salary.

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Nathanael Yellis's career lessons learned

Career Lessons Learned: My Career in Pivots

The Importance of position and place.

My career has taken me to three cities, working for four companies in at least four distinct positions. It has been a bit of a sojourn, but there are through lines to each place and position and even in the pivots in between. I come back to these pivots and lines when talking to others about their career choices. When it goes well, it's usually because we've learned something, when it goes poorly, it's usually because we've ignored the same lesson. Thus, I thought my story and an exploration of the good and bad reasons behind each pivot may help your career planning. Thus this essay is my attempt to tell the story of a career in pivots.

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Failure to Launch: CRM Implementation Best Practices

It was a big launch meeting: here’s the new CRM! My pitch was polished; the screenshots and demos were airtight. We gathered in the conference room, but then the whole thing landed with a thud.

When I’d finished the first part of the presentation and was about to switch into the demo, the first question was, “do we have to use this?” Followed up with a senior partner musing, “yeah, why do we even need a CRM?”

We hadn't even launched, and the CRM implementation was about to fail.

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work from home desk

Simplicity: Building a Life that COVID-19 Doesn’t Disrupt

When starting a consulting call these days, the first thing everyone discusses is how COVID-19 and its self-quarantine impacts our lives. But, aside from now working from home, the COVID-19 quarantine doesn’t disrupt my life all that much.

Why? I live a calm lifestyle, constructed from simple, repeating patterns. With work and home, parenting and hobbies, my life alternates work and rest. It’s a life to be lived consistently for decades. The kind from which you don’t need a vacation. It’s a calm life: valuing simplicity over complexity, time over speed, limits over stimuli.

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Close up of hand with wrench fixing mechanism

CRM Customization: These Setup Decisions Have a Big Impact

A friend wrote:

I’m neck-deep in planning for a migration to Salesforce, which has exposed some fascinating differences in philosophy. Salesforce is, in principle, infinitely customizable, which leads to this dispute: leaving intact the system’s core data structure (based on B2B), or gutting Salesforce’s data structure to power the simplicity of future usage.

How should you approach structuring a new Salesforce instance? If, for example, your company doesn’t think in terms of leads, opportunities, and accounts, would you use those as the default objects or would you use something custom? On the one hand, a custom CRM architecture feels both simpler and better, but on the other hand you’d end up losing a fair amount of any CRM’s interoperability, extensability, and, likely, outside expertise.

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Read about Cities - Issue #137

As I prepare for a short trip to DC this weekend, I culled a few essays on cities, how we govern them, what we find in them, and how we grow them. There’s something really cool about DC or Boston or New York. Just below the surface lie intractable challenges. From expensive housing to expensive infrastructure to expensive salads, cities are expensive. Many are left behind by soaring costs. In the articles below, you’ll see liberals, capitalists, environmentalists, and rich people all blamed for the problems of cities. Most of this is probably wrong, but some good ideas start out with a wrong idea. Enjoy the reading and enjoy your city!

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My talk at TeenPact's National Convention 2017

TeenPact invited me to speak at their National Convention 2017 event, a gathering of 900 TeenPact students, volunteers, and staff. They asked me to talk about seeking God in the context of my work in politics.
Using their theme as a springboard, I told some personal stories in a discussion of my core values: spirituality (seek meaningful godliness), magnanimity (show generous loyalty), and simplicity (make purposeful lifestyle choices). I talked about the cool kids' table, phone addiction, and what to do when things don't go as planned. Plus a bonus science fiction book recommendation!
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Why I Bike to Work

In 2016, I moved to suburban Atlanta. Suddenly, I vaguely wanted to buy an SUV. A lot of people had them, and the idea of sitting in a leather recliner while driving...

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Why are second installments of trilogies so bad? (There's a Pop Culture Happy Hour for that.)
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Skippy Dies (32 of 50)

Skippy Dies was great in that it somehow captured the essence of being in high school. The self determination with no real power. You're in control yet almost utterly helpless.
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Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Human upper class work has evolved, in the 21st century affluence of America, into something most closely resembling worldwide leisure. We talk, send messages, argue a bit, peer into screens, and read. Why do we get so frustrated? Why do we rarely relax after a long day, basking in the afterglow of hard work done well?

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My brokerage doesn't report returns accurately

Calculating basis for securities, for tax purposes, is difficult when you reinvest dividends. So it's a feature for brokerage statements to show the total number of shares owned and one's basis in those shares. They're doing the hard math for you.

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The French House (30 of 50)

Don't read a masterpiece like this when you're on vacation. Just don't do it. As you smell and taste summers and early autumns in the French Atlantic coast, you'll think that buying a summer cottage is a good idea. And why wouldn't it be, in August when you're in Maine for a long week?

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A book on parenting that is actually worth reading (29 of 50)

Unlike many of the books in my 50 in 2014 project, this is a classic Yellis read: non-fiction with an attitude of zen.

Simplicity Parenting was worth reading. Instead of adding more layers of rules and guilt and responsibility, the authors give you things to forget about doing. In a culture that wonders if leaving your kids with a sitter when they are 15 months old will cause them as 55 year olds to be slightly sad, surely our parenting needs some editing, and this book is a good place to start.

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The Dirty Life

This review has been in my queue for a while. It's seems more vitriolic than I remember feeling about this book. The Dirty Life was enjoyable to read. The author was good.

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The Grapes of Wrath

My theory, emerging during this 50 in 2014 project, is: Great literature both motivates you to read and makes you think for a long time afterwards.

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Last Night at the Lobster (22 of 50)

While in high school, I worked at Wallingford Farm, a somewhat touristy food and garden store. My coworkers were an odd mix of local workers: people spending a lifetime in dead-end jobs along with some high-school students like me. As a fairly privileged and definitely homeschooled kid, Wallingford was quite the learning experience.

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Life of Pi

When a book becomes a movie, watching a few trailers gives away the plot. This is usually enough to keep me away. When I saw Life of Pi on the side of the road, I almost didn't pick it up. But, free books. The movie didn't tell me the best part of the story: the first hundred pages or so are all about how a spiritually inquisitive teenager finds religions.

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All the Pretty Horses

I haven't read much about the unglamorous transitions of history. That's one reason, in retrospect, that I found Macaulay incredible. For all of the words written about 1775-1800, 1840-60 in Europe aren't routinely in my thinking.

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Even weeks after reading Jesusland, I still can't wrap my head around it. My brother Andrew had a great theory, which he introduced via a bizarre theatre of the mind text conversation loosely based on what the author was trying to say to him and I through her ending to this book. And that theory is that just as the author was deeply and irreparably injured by her parents via her childhood, she delivers a blow in this book that you can't recover from.

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The American Religion

I've spent this week almost catching up on the reviews I owe my 2014 resolution. While the full review below was a fun one to write, I think I missed the most important point: honest religious writing by an unreligious person is worthwhile reading.

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Difficult Men

Another great nonfiction read. Many lessons to learn from the revolution in TV. Not the least of which: if I'm so deep into the daily grind of an industry, will I even know if I'm part of a universe-bending trend? (No.)

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The Red Pony

This tale of ranch life in California brings me back to the classic Little Britches. There was a world that seemed to intersect with mine--a self-important twelve year old (check) who had familial connections to Maine (check) and was raised in a pre-modern era (what?). Yet it transported me to another dimension. Here, Steinbeck did the same.

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The Secret History

As you can see below, this was a hard one to review. Mostly because, while it had a point, it was an exceptional story. Rare is the book that can both deliver the entire plot in the first page and then place a riveting hold on your attention throughout.

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I may have read to many business autobiographies, but this one was better than average. It continues the theme of learning history through biography, an emerging trend in my fifty books effort.

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Under the Banner of Heaven

It's no surprise to my regular readers: I'm behind. The goal for 2014, which Andrew inspired me to set, is to not only read fifty books, but also to write about them, here. Thus this series of posts. I've read eleven books, putting me over 20% of the way there, but have four or five read but not blogged, thus putting me further behind. Here's a book I read in January, after picking it up at a used bookstore in Alexandria. This is the placeholder I wrote to remind me to make the full post:

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Play it as it Lays

Another weekend, another book. Read this great, short story in a few sittings yesterday morning. Aside from increasing my usual premonitions of guilt and lingering doom, not bad for a weekend. We found this book on the sidewalk Saturday afternoon. Another reason to love Capitol Hill: we have erudite, generous neighbors that just leave old books on the sidewalk for us to read.

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The Christian Century

This book was more personal than I expected. My grandfather, great uncle, and others of that generation in my mother's family were religious leaders. Life Magazine profiled my great uncle, Rev. Dr. Robert Emery Baggs, in his pastorate in Illinois. He and three others led a large mainline Baptist church. My grandfather led efforts around Boston for the Salvation Army. Both contributed to the grand social visions of the postwar church.

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Scientific Advertising

This book is well worth your time: online advertising isn't fundamentally different from offline. Internet marketers, I'm talking to you: take a lesson from 1927.

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Learning history through biographies is a lost discipline. I hope to regain it during this 50 in 2014 effort.

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The Circle

While you have to endure several characters whose role is to preach Eggers' views on the Internet, this is an inspiring book.

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Debate: When the 1992 Presidential Election Was Lost / Won

This afternoon Isaiah and I recorded a webinar on debate for the Leadership Institute. We played a four minute clip from Justice with Judge Jeanine, Fox News  show where the conservative host argued with a liberal guest. After introducing Isaiah's philosophy of debate (in brief) and a few tactics I employ, we then played the clip statement by statement, talking through how we'd approach a debate like that.

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You Can't Go Home Again

Last week at my childhood home in Maine, I read Thomas Wolfe's classic You Can't Go Home Again. While at times funny, it was generally a little heavy for summer fiction reading.

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Leading the Way: Heritage & the Conservative Movement Since 1973

Right before July 4th, I finished a history of the conservative intellectual movement. The book finished in the mid 1970s, right as the conservative movement was about to take off. There is another history to be written of how conservatism's thinkers and writers saw some of their ideas become reality through the 1980s and 1990s. Leading the Way charts that history in a different way, as a biography of Ed Feulner and thus The Heritage Foundation.

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Email Marketing: Your Subscribers Are Your Customers

I work in a political non-profit, running our online operations. We’ve invested a lot of time and money in our email list. People subscribe to our messages because they agree with our objectives and want to do their part.

Most organizations send email to customers, donors, and other interested people. Even with the rise of social networks, promoting online action still starts with email.

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amish baseball

Weekend Reads: Amish Baseball

My brother had a short-lived Tumblr called the Sunday Evening Post. It was a good piece of internet: a few links, some commentary, and regularly published on Sunday nights.

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Mugabe and the White African

Reading stories like this is difficult. Here is a man systematically discriminated against by powerful forces in his country. He fights back within the boundaries of law...

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First gen vs second gen

In 2003 I bought a 12" laptop from Apple. It was the second or third iteration of the model, and they'd produce another few before phasing out the line.

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Acton had a bunch of exercises where each of the class's study groups would present a decision to the whole class. We would vote on the winner and use their decision to guide the rest of that class session. Winning these votes usually gave you a better grade.

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Changing the MBA

This is a great writeup of Acton and Jeff Sandefer, the people that challenged me through my MBA. I recommend them highly.

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Book: You Are the Message

Earlier this year, I noticed that Paul Ryan had a pretty big "communications coaching" expense on one of his disclosure forms. This was right as he produced the videos on his roadmap, the ones where he went from wonk to convincing communicator. Clearly the help was worth the money.

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A Radical Thought: No Office Emails

CEO Thierry Breton of the French information technology company said only 10 percent of the 200 messages employees receive per day are useful and 18 percent is spam.  That’s why he hopes the company can eradicate internal emails in 18 months, forcing the company’s 74,000 employees to communicate with each other via instant messaging and a Facebook-style interface.

More from ABC.

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Book: Where Good Ideas Come From

This great book will help you build practices that generate ideas. Subtitled "The Natural History of Innovation," Steven Johnson finds seven core methods of innovation in nature and history, providing concrete suggestions for personal and organizational use.

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How to introduce an unfavorable idea

This is a video of someone presenting an unpopular, generally opposed idea. He does so with great skill, especially at the introduction. Notice how, in the first three minutes of the video, he summarizes the prevailing notion, explains it as a series of logical connections, and then provides a perspective that makes those logical connections unfathomable leaps. He's caught our attention and readied us to hear the rest of his case. Notice how long it takes him to say that what we think is wrong and how much force he brings to that statement. Something to consider the next time you face an unfriendly crowd.

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I love filling out a baseball scorecard. Something about the intersection of rules and live game action, recorded in an historic format, is awesome.
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Book: The Weight of Glory

The Weight of Glory could be a lesson in the unity of knowledge and practical wisdom. CS Lewis, noted for his scholarly approach to faith, struck me as uniquely able to tell me how to live. After the magnificent essay on the nature of humanity from which this book is titled, the other essays in this book are practical.

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Introduce the next speaker like this

This is a video of a great speaker introduction.
It was witty. It enchanted the audience. Above all, it honored the speaker. Sure 8 minutes is a bit long, but wouldn't you rather this than a few mumbled bio lines, stammering uhs, and unmemorable accolades?
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Book Review: Switch

When the Heath brothers write, it should be obvious that everyone must read and follow their advice. Even people only remotely connected to the subject matter stand to benefit. Thus Made to Stick is a must-read for people who communicate ideas. Switch is similarly a must-read for people who want to change anything.

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Going Meta Makes This Speech Good

Meta-analysis is the kind of studies people make by studying existing studies. They answer questions authoritatively by explaining how all the previous answers fit together. Instead of the normal assumption your study is THE ANSWER, meta-analysis is authoritative because it offers a holistic view of all the relevant research. Interestingly, most meta-analyses are far more readable than normal research.

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This week I finished reading Rework, which Seth Godin says to "ignore at your peril." I agree.

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Inspiration Sometimes is Uncomfortable and Routine

This is Steven Tomlinson's TEDxAustin talk:

Steven is entertaining because he's funny. But there is a subtle edge just under the surface: he earnestly wants you to change. And the change is uncomfortable, routine, and it forces us to confront the elephant in our heads. But this brand of inspiration is worth every tough encounter. In fact, the tough encounters make this inspiration worthwhile.

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Education Rediscovered

I wish more well-read sages from the 60s wrote books like this one. Back then people learned rhetoric in school and they read enough books to recognize their most influential authors. Muggeridge is at his best when talking about his four: Bacon, Kierkegaard, Weil, and Tolstoy. More than that, he's conversant with a host of thinkers with which he has quibbles. The point: he's well-read and well-reasoned. That is, until he takes up the important battles of the day. His day, the 60s. Not very reasonable for right now readers.

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Nathanael's Reading

More than a hundred and fifty  people read the weekly email “Nathanael’s Reading,” which he’s sent every Friday since 2016. Nathanael includes original thoughts and curated reading on technology + marketing + simplicity. Subscribe by entering your email here