Bullish Q&A: “You Always Say to Develop Quantitative Skills, But I’m an English Major”

I’m thinking of going to grad school for English. I know from reading archives of your advice that you highly recommend developing quantitative skills. However, Accountancy or a Computer Science conversion programme don’t appeal to me (I could do the work, but I wouldn’t enjoy that career path very much). Any advice?

Yes. Why yes, I have EXTREMELY ADAMENT SUGGESTIONS FOR YOU. That’s why you’re here, right? Okaythen.

You don’t have to go into a quantitative field. I suspect that, if you’re already out of undergrad and you haven’t had any interest in or experience with quantitative fields, you probably wouldn’t be very good at those fields, would you?

You don’t need to be the worst performer in a computer science program.

I just want you to be the more technical and quantitative person in your English program. Which shouldn’t be that hard.

Here are some ideas:

1) Find a way (or ways) to sell something English-related directly to businesses or customers:

  • Write businesses’ email newsletters.
  • Tutor people’s kids.
  • Help catalogs increase their sales with better copywriting.
  • Write how-to ebooks and sell them via Google AdWords to people searching how to do that thing.
  • Sell kits for people to run better book clubs (a cheat sheet to the book, discussion questions for the club meeting, a drinking game specific to the discussion of that particular book, etc.)

Now do that and measure the shit out of everything. Increase sales by 42% over four weeks. Sell kits and send your customers marketing surveys, from which you can conclude that your book club kits increased attendance and quality of discussion at book club meetings by 50% and 72%, respectively.

2) Learn to use aweber, Mailchimp, and other email marketing services. Become an expert at Squarespace and Wix. And Shopify.

You don’t need to learn to code. You need to learn to use services meant for people who don’t know how to code, but who can read and follow instructions and learn to automate procedures. You just need to be a few steps ahead of your customers.

I would never, ever hire a copywriter who plans to write a bunch of text for my website or newsletter and then send it to me in a Word document. Does that copywriter need me to help her blow her nose and go potty also? I would expect that copywriter to format everything perfectly in my newsletter in MadMimi, and on my website in Squarespace, and in my store in Shopify. In the words of Don Draper, “That’s what the money is for.” (I recently worked with someone who did exactly these things and she was awesome.)

You can learn to do those things as you go, while working on real projects, and simply using the free tutorials created by the companies themselves. Squarespace has a vested interest in customers — and those they hire — knowing how to get things done in Squarespace. (There are also plenty of free and extremely cheap online courses on all of these things.)

That’s a lot cheaper and easier than grad school. (And it’s perfectly compatible with grad school.)

If you think of some services you might want to provide or a product you might want to create, make yourself your first client. Maybe it’s an ebook entitled, “How to Apply to Grad School for English.” Maybe it’s a video course about grammar. Maybe it’s managing Twitter for businesses.

So hone some or all of the above skills for yourself. Make a Squarespace website and a Shopify store and set up a drip campaign through aweber to capture emails of people who express interest in your downloadable book club worksheets but aren’t ready to buy yet. Make all the stuff work right. Tweak the wording. Install analytics.

You’ll find that hooking up all the technology is a hassle at first, and then it gets easier.

You’ll also find that what you have that a lot of other people in that space don’t have is the ability to use English well, which makes whatever you’re selling look enticing and credible. (Go, English!)

-Jen