Social entrepreneur Erin Newkirk had personalized stationery before she could talk. “My mom was hip on the idea of the thank-you note,” she said. “Early on, it was engrained in me how notes make people feel, and how good it felt to send one.” It was so engrained in her that when she grew up, she co-founded a correspondence company called Red Stamp to bring back the art of the handwritten note.
“The idea of etiquette makes a lot of people uncomfortable,” said Newkirk. “But the point of etiquette is to make people feel warm and welcome. It’s about honoring the people you’re trying to connect with. It’s not so much about which fork goes where, but the conversation and laughter you have while sharing a meal.”
Newkirk had been working in marketing for a Fortune 500 company managing a multi-million dollar brand when she gave birth to her son. Shortly thereafter, her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she moved him to live near her. “I went into heavy caretaking mode. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job at work or at home,” said Newkirk, who traveled frequently for work. “I wanted to work hard on my time.”
With her demanding job and active home life, Newkirk struggled to remember birthdays and anniversaries. “I think the most successful entrepreneurs take something that means something to them--like a cause or a problem--and do something about it, helping others along the way,” she said.
She teamed up with one of her colleagues, Renee Walter, who shared her frustration. Together they launched Red Stamp in 2005. “We think of creative ways people can connect to help strengthen their relationships,” she said. “Because sending a personalized card says, ‘Not only am I thinking about you, but I’m thinking about you at a time that is important to you.’”
Shortly after starting Red Stamp, Newkirk found out her dad had terminal cancer. “I was able to spend a lot of time with him before he passed away,” she said. “If you don’t set aside time for what is important to you, it doesn’t get done.”
Then social media, namely Facebook and Twitter, took off, creating instant, interactive dialogue among people. “Everybody in our industry was concerned about what social media would do to the paper business,” Newkirk said. “But it’s made corresponding more relevant. It’s just changed how it happens.”
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we take these tools and build on them so that people can feel good about the way they’re making their relationships stronger using those mediums?’”
For National Smile Week, Newkirk pledges to make the seven groups of people who make her life work smile. “We’re all connected on an emotional level,” she said. “When you make somebody else feel good, you make yourself feel good, too.”
Click through for her tips on how you can celebrate as well.
Strengthen familial bonds by reaching out using technology. “My mom loves to see her grandson,” Newkirk said. So she plans on skyping with her that day. You can also take a photo and add a few lines to personalize it before emailing or texting it to make your recipient smile. A simple phone call works, too.
Nurture your friendships. Tell your friends they matter. Write a note or text each one citing why you’re grateful they’re in your life. “If you have one thought about why you admire your friend, you’ve got the perfect excuse to send a note,” Newkirk said. “And it’s touching because it’s personal. It’s based on your relationship, and your friend.”
Do your part to create a positive work environment. Leave a post-it note on your co-worker’s computer, bring in coffee, or buy a box of donuts to share. “All you need is a sentence or two as to why you appreciate your colleagues,” Newkirk said. “A sincere compliment goes a million miles.”
Show that you’re thinking of others. Give an extra tip to thank your Starbucks barista for great service. “I’m there at least once per day,” Newkirk said. “I plan to put a post-it note on my bill saying, ‘Thanks for always being so cheerful.’” Or leave your post carrier a note in your mailbox.
Day Five: Make People Who Help You Stay Sane Smile
Recognize the contributions others make to improve your life by sending a handwritten note or giving a small token of appreciation. “My hairdresser just started a blog,” Newkirk said. “I picked up a journal for her at Anthropologie and wrote, ‘Congratulations on the launch of your blog,’ on the first page.” Other ideas that don’t cost money: Have your kids make a card for their nanny or piano teacher, shoot off a quick email to your realtor, or write a note to a camp counselor. “Etiquette is an industry now, but it shouldn’t be,” she said. “It’s about emotion.”
Show appreciation for those who move you, both professionally and personally. Leave a comment on your favorite blogger’s site, take your mentor out for coffee or lunch, or clean out the refrigerator for your spouse. “It can be anything,” Newkirk said. “It’s a little action that says, ‘I know you, I care about you, I care what makes you happy.’ That’s what makes people smile.”
Think about who else you can reach out to so you continue the habit of writing one note or text each day to make somebody smile. “You’ll be inspired by reaching out to people, but you’ll also be inspired by the responses you get,” Newkirk said.
Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog atUnplanned Cooking.