Become a Writer Today

What Is Evernote? A Beginner's Guide With Bethany Stephens

May 14, 2020
Become a Writer Today
What Is Evernote? A Beginner's Guide With Bethany Stephens
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Become a Writer Today
What Is Evernote? A Beginner's Guide With Bethany Stephens
May 14, 2020

Evernote is a tool for capturing and arranging your information and ideas. It serves as a digital file cabinet, personal notebook and project management tool.

Bethany Stephens is the founder of Soapbox Influence, a marketing agency based in Bentonville Arkansaw. Her company employs 15 people and works with Fortune 500 brands, including NBC Universal.


Stephens is also a writer and blogger who considers Evernote a key part of her creative workflow. In this interview, Beth explains:

  • How she uses Evernote to capture ideas and write
  • Why every writer and creative should capture ideas regularly
  • What her tagging and filing system looks like
  • Why she also uses Evernote for task and project management


And lots more.


I started by asking Beth to describe what her business does and why her team rely on Evernote so much.

Support the show (https://becomeawritertoday.com/join)

Show Notes Transcript

Evernote is a tool for capturing and arranging your information and ideas. It serves as a digital file cabinet, personal notebook and project management tool.

Bethany Stephens is the founder of Soapbox Influence, a marketing agency based in Bentonville Arkansaw. Her company employs 15 people and works with Fortune 500 brands, including NBC Universal.


Stephens is also a writer and blogger who considers Evernote a key part of her creative workflow. In this interview, Beth explains:

  • How she uses Evernote to capture ideas and write
  • Why every writer and creative should capture ideas regularly
  • What her tagging and filing system looks like
  • Why she also uses Evernote for task and project management


And lots more.


I started by asking Beth to describe what her business does and why her team rely on Evernote so much.

Support the show (https://becomeawritertoday.com/join)

Bethany:
It was creative, it's where all the bits and pieces go. Every idea, every writing concept, every draft is starting out in Evernote, every shopping list, essentially everything. It was a very natural addition to my business, as we started to build it and look for a catch-all for information.

Introduction:
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan:
In this week's podcast episode, I'd like to explain how Evernote, and how getting into the habit of capturing notes regularly will help you become a more creative writer, and all of us have ideas for things to write about, and also how it will help you improve your fiction or nonfiction. And I've actually interviewed somebody who will walk us through her exact process for using Evernote. Now, whether you use Evernote or not, every writer needs a system for capturing ideas. And it's easier than ever to have a system today because of digital tools, but my favorite story about a writer who had a system for capturing ideas is the author Roald Dahl. Dahl, of course, wrote many children's books over the years, like Matilda, and The BFG, and James and the Giant Peach. And The BFG is, perhaps, my favorite book of his, and I spent a lot of time reading that to my daughter over the years, and I even wrote an article about my experiences teaching her to read with The BFG on [medium 00:01:24].

Bryan:
It's also the first book I remember reading as a child, and it influenced me in that it's the type of book that made me want to become a writer. And although I don't write children's fiction, I still consider a Roald Dahl somebody who's influenced me, or at least taught me that writing is a great way of connecting with other people. Anyway, one day Roald Dahl was in traffic and he was thinking about a story that he was working on, and suddenly he came up with a breakthrough, but he looked around and he had nowhere to write his idea down. Of course, back then they didn't have phones that they carried around with them, and he didn't even have a notepad or a pen and paper. So, Roald Dahl got out of the car in traffic and wrote chocolate in the dirt on his car.

Bryan:
And that breakthrough became Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl understood how important it was to capture ideas as they arise. And perhaps that's why we often have ideas when we're not sitting at our desks. Have you ever thought of a breakthrough for something you're writing, or a creative problem while you're in the shower? And in fact, I wrote an article about this once, and my editor sent me some Post-it notes that I'm able to use in the shower. Now, whether you use Post-it notes, or write in the dirt in your car, or Evernote, it doesn't really matter. What's more important is having one place that you can put your ideas, and that you can view them, and refine them, and draw from them over time. Over the years, I've used a commonplace book. That's basically a box full of index cards, and that's a strategy Ryan Holiday uses.

Bryan:
If you're interested in learning more about that, just Google Ryan Holiday and commonplace book, and that should come up. I've also used journaling extensively to build out my bank of ideas, and I've also used Evernote. Evernote is certainly a great tool because it enables you to capture interesting articles that you read online. And it also enables you to file your thoughts using tags and the categories. Now I know Evernote can be a little bit overwhelming for some, so if I wanted to speak to a blogger and an entrepreneur who's used Evernote extensively to run their business, to come up with ideas for articles, and also to collaborate with others. Her name is Bethany Stephens, and she's based in Arkansas in the United States, and she's the founder of Soapbox Influence, which is a marketing agency. And her company employs over 15 people, and she uses Evernote every day.

Bryan:
I like how I had gotten some value from Evernote as my note taking tool over the years, but Bethany has over 25,000 notes inside of Evernote. So, when I heard this, I wanted to understand exactly what her workflow looks like, and what she puts into Evernote, and what she doesn't. But before we get into this week's interview, I do have an ask for you. If you find what's in the interview helpful, or if you enjoy the Become a Writer Today podcast so far, I'd love if you could rate the show on the iTunes store and leave a short review, or even if you're not listening on iTunes, if you could rate and review it on Stitcher, or Pocket Casts, or Overcast, or wherever you're listening to the show. Because the more ratings and reviews the show gets, the more people will find the show, and that will help me with Become a Writer Today, and I'd really appreciate it.

Bryan:
Now, in this week's interview, Bethany talks about how she uses Evernote to capture her ideas and write more frequently. She explains why every writer and creative should capture ideas regularly, much like Roald Dahl, and she gets into her tagging and filing system, which is a little bit nerdy, but it's something that I loved, because I love hearing about how different creative people embrace the creative process. And anybody who's ever used Evernote has probably agonized over the right tags and notebooks to use. Bethany also gets into how she uses Evernote for task and project management. And if you're a writer who is working with other writers, or you're collaborating with other people, or even if you just want to use it as a productivity tool or system, then you might get some takeaways from her approach. But I started by asking Bethany to describe what her business does and why they chose to rely on Evernote so much.

Bethany:
So, Soapbox Influence is an agency based in Bentonville, Arkansas, which is the global headquarters for Walmart. So, we're a very retail centric business. We serve consumer packaged goods companies across the US. And we're really a bit of an offshoot of a larger company that's been around for about 30 years. I was working as a marketing consultant, and the parent company was my client. And they basically create the in-store displays that you see in large retail stores across the US, and felt that digital marketing and social media could be a nice add on to that. So, Soapbox really started as basically a product offering. It turned into a division, and one day we said, "We think we've got a full, separate company on our hands here," so I joke that I moved out of mom and dad's basement, got my own place, and off we went.

Bryan:
And how many people are you employing at the moment?

Bethany:
So, we have about 15 on the Soapbox team.

Bryan:
Okay. And who do you do business with, or what type of companies?

Bethany:
Sure. So, again, primarily consumer packaged goods companies. So, you think about the large brands that you see in grocery and retail stores across America, and SC Johnson, Clorox, [Denon 00:06:38], the NBA, the National Basketball Association even has retail offerings, so companies like that tend to be our clients.

Bryan:
Very good. And you also described yourself as a blogger, writer, and social media lover.

Bethany:
Indeed. Started out as a writer myself, so very much admire some of the work you're doing to support writers and creatives that use blogging as an outlet, like many people did back in the day. I always joke that I'm an elderly blogger at this point. But really an outlet for writing, and that has evolved into a marketing practice, as content marketing becomes more and more prolific.

Bryan:
That's fantastic. Yeah. Blogging is definitely a key part of an effective content marketing strategy. So, what I'm particularly interested in is how you're using Evernote to help with your marketing campaigns, and the collaboration with other people, or perhaps even clients. Which would you be able to walk me through your process?

Bethany:
Yeah, of course. So, it's interesting. I've used Evernote now for about 10 years, and I was looking before our conversation this morning, I have 24,000 notes in my Evernote.

Bryan:
Wow. That's a lot.

Bethany:
So, to say that I'm an enthusiastic and prolific user is an understatement. And I've really, through the years, it's been my catch all. I've joked about the people who use the What Would Jesus Do bracelets, and I've always trained myself to think, "Can this go in Evernote?" That's where I kept everything. I very much subscribe to the idea of it as an external brain. So, as a creative, it's where all the bits and pieces go, every idea, every writing concept, every draft is starting out in Evernote, every shopping list, essentially everything. It was a very natural addition to my business, as we started to build it and look for a catch-all for information.

Bryan:
Yeah. It's interesting you say catch-all for information. So, I started using Evernote, I think it was 2013, or maybe 2012, but I just started clipping webpages and PDFs and putting them into Evernote. Is that something that you do or do you use it more for-

Bethany:
I do.

Bryan:
Different types of, you do?

Bethany:
I do. Yeah. I clip just about everything, and I think I'm one of the individuals who used a lot of the early iterations and additions to Evernote. So, I use Skitch and I use Scannable.

Bryan:
Yep.

Bethany:
As add on apps. And so, throughout the day, I'm often clipping, whether it be articles, I'm clipping, if we're doing an update to our website, I'm probably clipping it and then mocking up with arrows to show where edits should go. It's where everything goes. There's no better way to state it.

Bryan:
Yeah. I use Skitch quite a lot for the same reason. For example, I've been working with a contractor, and they're doing some work on a book or a site, I'll annotate it with arrows and say, "Can you fix this, or can you fix that?"

Bethany:
Right.

Bryan:
So, Evernote is organized around tags and notebooks, and there's a lot of debate about what way to organize your notes. So, have you got a system that works for you, or do you gravitate towards one type?

Bethany:
Yeah, I think, as I mentioned, having 24,000 notes, I better have a good process. And the optical character recognition within Evernote has been a lifesaver for me, because everything's so searchable. I upload a lot of PDFs, and documents, and so on. But when it comes to tags and notebooks, I would say five or six years ago, I had to retrain myself because I was getting really sloppy. It was the equivalent of a file cabinet, and I was just cramming everything into it with no rhyme or reason. So, now I really err on the side of very few notebooks rather than trying to have a notebook for everything. And then being giddy with my tags, because there's so many ways to cross tag. So, a good example would be travel. So, I have one travel notebook, but then every trip and destination has a tag. So, it's very easy for me to find a hotel reservation tied to New York in February, pre-coronavirus.

Bryan:
Yeah. You said you have 24,000 plus notes. Do you ever go back and remove notes, or do you just let the library or database build up?

Bethany:
Yeah, no, I don't. I think I'm one of those obsessive keepers, but I can afford to be a bit of a hoarder in Evernote, because it's not taking up space. So, I keep it all, and I am one of those individuals who is constantly astonished when I find something in the archives that's useful years later.

Bryan:
So, when I started using note capturing tools, I think the first stage is just getting into the habit of capturing something. But the second stage, or the real value, is actually go back and look at what you've captured. Do you have a process where you review your notes, or perhaps go back and see if there's something you've missed?

Bethany:
This is so funny that you're asking about this. I did it earlier this week, and I found some notes from May of 2019 that were really useful to our business. So, we had an individual who was in a leadership role within our company at that time, who is no longer with us, and we have a new individual in that role. And the notes that I've found just in doing a cursory review were still very relevant. So, I shared them with that individual and he said, "Gosh, this is the best roadmap for my job, and I wouldn't have known to ask these questions." So, yeah, I don't know if I have a great process, but I definitely skim my notes and go back to them fairly regularly, yes. Not all 24,000.

Bryan:
Yeah. That would be a lot. Yeah. So, I've use Evernote in the past for outlines, for articles. My process will be to put the headline in the heading in Evernote, and then to put some sub-headlines. And then a couple of bullet points, and then maybe attach some relevant information, it could be a PDF or a link. Then I would review, and then I would write the article in a different application. But do you have a process if you're writing something where your Evernote would form part of us?

Bethany:
Yeah. That's a great question. I tend to start with the note itself as a placeholder for an idea, because often you're not ready to flesh out a concept right in the moment that you have the idea. So, the moment I have an idea for an article or a blog post, I launch the note. And it may just be a handful of bullet points. And then like you, I will go back and typically throw in a headline, perhaps a subheader, and I'll go ahead and tie in any tags, any hashtags that would be relevant. And then I do typically write the article within Evernote as well. And I have a bit of luxury now in that we have a marketing team who will then take my Evernote and translate it over to our blog. So, I don't have to worry too, too much about various formatting issues to translate it to our website. But yeah, I tend to do it all within Evernote.

Bryan:
I'm glad you mentioned about your marketing team, because I've also used Evernote for a collaboration, because you can share notes with somebody, either internally or externally.

Bethany:
Yes.

Bryan:
So, what do you think is necessary to do before you share a note?

Bethany:
That's a good question. I do a little bit of both, with one side of the spectrum being sharing raw notes and just letting the recipients make sense of it.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Bethany:
And then other times, I'll go back and really organize. I'm known for bullet pointing, and bolding text, and action items, and so on. So, a good example would be when we have a client call, we're talking to a prospective client for our business, I will immediately open an Evernote and just capture everything. I do tend to maybe bold anything that's a key action item. But then as soon as the call's over, I share that note with our team, and I no longer take time to try to clean up my notes and thoughts. Typically, they're on the call as well, and so when I'm capturing as the leader of the organization, it's probably very different from what they're capturing, and they're able to then use those notes to maybe translate it into a proposal for the client, for our business. So, that fast sharing is something I'm able to do, thanks to Evernote, and I probably do more of that than I do the editing, and streamlining, and cleaning up, just erring on the side of, let me get you the information and you can do with it as you will.

Bryan:
Yeah. I think ultimately a note is supposed to be iterative. It's not meant to be a final piece of work that somebody is going to publish as is. What I need to get better at is taking pictures and putting them into Evernote, and then maybe writing a reaction to them. Is that something that you've had much experience with?

Bethany:
Yeah. And I don't know if it's so much photos, but I will, you mentioned PDFs. So, one of the things we'll do, I'll make candidate notes when we're interviewing or looking to hire someone. So, if they send me their resume, I use the forwarding, the email feature, and forward it into my Evernote. Then I've got a PDF of their resume, and I have a bit of a template I use to make notes on the candidate. Have we scheduled an interview, do we plan a followup interview, some of those key points. And the nice thing is, I'll often drop in a screen capture from Skitch of their LinkedIn profile.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Bethany:
So, that's giving me a bit of a headshot and a visual reminder as well. And it makes just one nice resource to go back to and look at information on that candidate.

Bryan:
Yes. Visual reminders definitely help with notes. In fact, when I was setting goals last year, I was able to pin a visual to each one of the goals, and put it into a particular notebook in Evernote.

Bethany:
Oh, I love that.

Bryan:
Yeah, it's pretty, something I learned from Michael [inaudible 00:16:11]. I'm not sure if you're familiar with him.

Bethany:
Oh, very. He's such an Evernote guru.

Bryan:
He is. Yeah. I learned a few strategies from him. I'm also curious, because if you have 24,000 notes, I haven't that many, but what's your search process look like? If you think yourself, "I want to find that outline for that article I was going to give to my team member to write," how would you go and find this [inaudible 00:16:32]? Do you just search for the headline or something else?

Bethany:
That's a great question. I think this is probably going to sound a little odd, but I think I've probably, thanks to Evernote, developed a bit of a strange ability to retain keywords. So, if you think about searching, you're looking for the most unique word, and so I'll typically throw in the word that I think will lead me to that note. So, I've really not had too, too much trouble. I think Evernote has such speedy search, it's been the reason that I've probably stuck with the platform across a decade, because I never have any trouble finding anything. So, I think good tagging and good keyword use. And the more you use it, I think the more you become a little bit, you self-train toward that.

Bryan:
Yeah. I'd agree with the self-training idea. I was also reading a study that says when you write something down, you're more likely to remember it. Maybe that's why it's the same in Evernote. When you put it into Evernote, you're more likely to think of the keywords. Do you still take paper-based notes, or notes you put in an analog notebook from time to time?

Bethany:
I do. I'm looking at an analog notebook here as well. And I used to use the, I can't think of the exact name of the notebooks that would sync with Evernote, where you could take the photo. I found that I wasn't prone to do it, and so it's a bit embarrassing, but sometimes I do tend to go through in long-hand, and that's how I make sense of my notes. And then I can almost put the cleaned up version, or even a screenshot into Evernote, but I do use both. And it's probably more for me to be able to jot and retain information than anything.

Bryan:
And do other people in your business use Evernote as well, apart from the people that you've shared a note with? Would they use it in their roles?

Bethany:
Yes. They would laugh really hard at this question, because it's typically the first thing that I do with a new hire is I set them up in Evernote, because our onboarding process is built there. It's probably one of the Evernote uses I'm most proud of, because I essentially created a digital onboarding binder, so to speak. So, as soon as someone joins our company, they are activated within Evernote, and then they receive a link to our onboarding process. And I'm a big believer in self-onboarding. I think probably because I'm a lover of words and of writing.

Bethany:
I don't want to train someone, I want them to train themselves, essentially. So, they will walk themselves through our onboarding process, which has a litany of articles to read. It gives them case studies and various steps to go through. So, for about two weeks, when someone joins Soapbox Influence, they're spending time in Evernote. Beyond that, they may or may not use it regularly, but by almost insisting that they use it for their first two weeks, it becomes a bit habitual. I don't know that anyone uses it quite as prolifically as I do, for certain, but yes, it's pretty integral to our business from day one.

Bryan:
On that note, is that a read-only note, or is it a personal checklist that they would work through or something else?

Bethany:
Yeah. It's a checklist. And so, it's literally built as a checklist with check boxes, so that I can see them going through the onboarding process, because it's a shared note. And then it's hyperlinked, and so each step of the checklist is leading them to another section within Evernote. So, it might be things like, here's how to set up passwords within our password keeper, and then they click that link within Evernote and it takes them over to a how to. So, yeah, it's a linked process, and there's probably about 30-ish notes.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Bethany:
There are even some things, if you're familiar, there's a military, I'll have to send it to you if you're not. But there's a military article called Letter to Garcia.

Bryan:
Okay.

Bethany:
And it talks about an individual who's charged with getting a letter to Garcia during war time. And I just think it's a great read for our new hires. We really, as a company, value people who are problem solvers and self-starters, and it really speaks to that. So, within that onboarding checklist, they're linked over to a PDF of the Letter to Garcia. They read that and then they come back and check it off.

Bryan:
Very good. Yeah. I haven't read that letter, so I'll look for it.

Bethany:
It's great.

Bryan:
So, I'm looking at my Evernote here and I have a lot of shortcuts on the left-hand side of the screen, and I think I have a 30 shortcuts with some saved searches. So, how have you [settled 00:21:03] your shortcuts?

Bethany:
Yeah, that's a great question. I'm looking here. I probably have, I would say about 20, within my shortcuts. I have a template called Action Items, and that's our weekly template that I use to make sense of my tasks, and so on. I have what I call my action file, which is basically all the active things that I'm working through. And then I have some various reference notes that include our mission, vision, and value statement for our business, my kids' school calendars. It seems like I'm constantly trying to remember when they have a day off, and when they don't. Of course right now, we're living in perpetual days off. Yeah. So, I use the shortcuts quite a bit. Those are those most often referenced items.

Bryan:
And do you also have any saved searches or is it synced to shortcuts?

Bethany:
Just shortcuts. Yeah. I have some links that I've renamed to various tags, such as travel, or writing and articles, like that, but it's, no saved searches.

Bryan:
It sounds like you're also using Evernote for not just the note taking and creativity tool, but for project and task management.

Bethany:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Bryan:
So, that's basically check boxes and to-do lists, as well?

Bethany:
It is. Yeah. And a lot of times linking back. So, speaking to a new client, as an example, we might need to send over some examples of our work. So, I'll often drop those in there as well. And then if there's anything that I want a team member to take action on, typically our marketing team, I'll probably highlight that, and put their name in the note, and make sure that I'm drawing attention to the followup for them. Another, I think, somewhat interesting use, I don't know that I find it that interesting, but I get a lot of feedback on it, is I keep a current bio and headshot for myself in Evernote.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Bethany:
So, anytime I have a speaking engagement, I send that over. It's got various iterations ready to go, and it's linked so I can update it at any time and change things. And I always get comments on that when I send it to someone prior to a speaking engagement. I think that's so interesting, I guess, just because it's not a PDF.

Bryan:
Yeah. That's a cool idea, actually. I might steal that. Is there anything that you would say to yourself, "This does not go into Evernote," or "I wouldn't use Evernote for this."

Bethany:
I can't think of much. In fact, I think I'm the opposite, with 24,000 notes. So, I think it's, my tendency is to put it all in Evernote. So, it's even small things like, oh, my car license plate. You get to a hotel sometimes to check in and they want your license plate number, and you can't retain it, so I've got that in there. Probably some things I shouldn't have in there, such as my personal health notes and my driver's license. And I used to do some training on Evernote for bloggers and content creators, and one of the primary questions I got was, "Aren't you nervous about your things and Evernote?" And I would always say, "No, not at all. I'm less nervous in Evernote than I am having things elsewhere." So, I tend to keep it all.

Bryan:
Yeah. That's a common question from people who are new to using tools like Evernote, or some other software, rather than a traditional tool on their desktop. So, what's the number one tip you gave to bloggers and content creators with getting started with Evernote?

Bethany:
Yeah. I think it's that, it sounds a little silly to keep referencing those What Would Jesus Do bracelets, but I always say it's like that. It's to constantly, constantly ask yourself, "Could I put this on Evernote," because Evernote it's a function of, the more you put in the more you'll use it.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Bethany:
Once it's all in there and you get in the habit of knowing that anything you need to find this probably in Evernote, then it breeds sustainability, I suppose.

Bryan:
Have you tried the beta?

Bethany:
I have not. No, I tend to, well, I've tried some past betas, but no, I'm trying to think if I've, I don't think I've used anything current. Am I missing anything good?

Bryan:
I think it supports Markdown, so that will be an exciting change, particularly if you use Evernote to write. You can use hashtags and stars to format your texts, and then later change it to HTML. But I use Markdown quite a lot. I find it's a way of writing quicker, so it'll be exciting if that makes its way into the full version. [inaudible 00:25:26] strike as somebody who's quite organized, but maybe quite busy. So, do you have an ideal early morning routine?

Bethany:
Oh, this is something I'm obsessed with right now. I love that you brought that up, because I'm reading everything I can get my hands on about morning routines. And yeah, I do, and a lot of it starts, not surprisingly, with Evernote. So, I tend to put my tasks in the night before. I love that I strike you as organized. I think that's probably not the case, but I have learned to, I think, be regimented with myself, because I am very, I'm a creative at the end of the day.

Bethany:
I have a lot of ideas and trying to make sense of them the night before helps immensely. And then right now, I'm on a kick with making sure that I have some quiet alone time in the morning. So, I try to get up before my family, and drink some lemon water, and just think and process my day a little bit before I dive in. And I find then I'm less reactive throughout the day, because I am intense and enthusiastic. If I don't get some mental order to my day, then I'll be putting out fires all day instead of leading my team and my company as I need to.

Bryan:
Yeah. I think that's important at the moment. I'm working at home, three kids, so quite noisy during the day.

Bethany:
It is.

Bryan:
So, it's important, quiet time.

Bethany:
Yeah. [inaudible 00:26:48] kids?

Bryan:
How old are they? 13, 9, and 18 months.

Bethany:
Oh, my goodness, my sympathies [inaudible 00:26:57].

Bryan:
Keeps me busy. Where can people find out more information about you or your business?

Bethany:
Sure. So, our business is soapboxinfluence.com, and then I'm fairly active on LinkedIn and Instagram. And they're all under my full name, Bethany Stephens, with a P-H. Yeah. And I'm trying to get my own blog restarted, which is Little Magpie.

Bryan:
Yeah.

Bethany:
I think I've been the cobbler, and I've been tending to everyone else's shoes and not spending enough time writing. So, with all of us quarantined, I've got a little more time to collect my thoughts, so I'm jumping back on the blog train.

Bryan:
Yeah. It can be hard to balance running a business with finding time for creative work.

Bethany:
Yes.

Bryan:
I can empathize with you on that. It was very nice to talk to you today, Beth.

Bethany:
Yeah. You as well. Enjoyed it immensely, and thanks for your time and good questions.

Bryan:
I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join, and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.