October 23, 2012

Bulk view

Pub nights and thinking about networking at events

One of the lessons we took home from the Quantified Self Conference in September was the importance of a pub night for turning a meetup into a community. We tried it last Friday at our first post-conference meetup, squeezing twelve people around a long table at the Firkin on Yonge. I sprung for appetizers for the table and dinner for one of our attendees, who had driven for five hours from Detroit in order to join us. It turns out that three appetizers is too much for 12 people (some ordering food); next time, I’ll get one plate for every six people.

It was good to continue the conversation in a non-meetup context. I got to hear about people’s lives and even offer some help. I think it would be fun to get to know folks more. I wonder what ENT101 would be like with an informal pub night afterwards!

I really like the Quantified Self meetup. People are geeky in all sorts of different ways. I’ve taken on more of a hosting role, greeting people as they come in and checking with them after the event. It’s a good stretch, and I don’t feel as strong a need for introvert recharging after the meetup than, say, after parties or conferences.

I wonder what it is, and maybe if I can shift my experience at the other events I go to. I think part of it is the ease of introductions. With regulars, I don’t have to introduce myself, and I can ask about things we talked about before. With newcomers, I can quickly introduce myself as one of the organizers and ask them what got them interested in the group. At other events, I think I can take on the quasiofficial role of a sketchnote recorder.

Social get-togethers are still a little awkward, but that’s just more incentive to host them myself, so I can skip the introductions. Come to think of it, my tea parties are usually more about group conversations than about pairwise introductions… Hmm.

I liked supporting conversations with food. I should bring people together more often. I’m planning to have lunches and coffees more often, but I should also look into organizing communal get-togethers for coffee or dinner. We had 12 people in the coffee shop and I think that might be as large as I want to make it so that I can still listen to everyone. Maybe even six for dinner parties? We’ll see.

Planning how to learn about validating business ideas

I’ve been taking notes at business events and sharing them on my blog. People tell me that they really like the notes. They’re engaging, memorable, and easy to share. I want to see if I can start capturing and sharing paid events as well, eventually turning this into a visual communication business (sketchnotes! videos! workshops!) that could provide opportunities for other people to create value. Other people have built businesses around graphic recording and explainer videos, so why not?

What do I need to do in order to explore this? I need to find out:

  • Who my clients would be: I think I can add the most value to marketing agencies and event planners who handle lots of events and can package this into their service. I can also talk to conference organizers in order to validate business value and demonstrate demand.
  • If they’re willing to pay: Do they perceive enough value? What can I add to make it a clear win?
  • If they’re able to pay: What does the budgeting lifecycle look like? When and how should I pitch to make it easy for people to say yes?

So let’s start with a narrowly-defined niche. I want to focus only on business-related webinars, conferences, presentation series, and workshops, and only for companies whose messages I can stand behind. (No get-rich-quick schemes!) I might even scope that down further – drop workshops, because those are much more interactive.

Possible value proposition: Sketchnotes offer an engaging, visual way to follow up with leads and increase the reach of your content. They are easy to review and to share. (Hmm, can I start testing and quantifying these things?)

Instead of offering graphic facilitation, which tends to require a larger canvas for greater interactivity, I’ll offer digital sketchnotes on my tablet PC. The advantages: quick setup, no distractions away from the speaker, no materials cost or logistics (blank walls, etc.), quick turnaround – images are available the day after the event. If people want the visual impact of a 3’ or 4’ sketchnote mural, I can refer them to graphic recorders or facilitators who work in Toronto or elsewhere.

How can I go about exploring this idea?

  • I can talk to people I know at digital marketing agencies who organize webinars and nurturing campaigns. I can describe my idea, ask them if it’s something that would help them add value to their clients’ campaigns, and offer to sketchnote a few webinars in exchange for statistics and feedback.
  • I can sketchnote the events that interest me a lot, and build connections through that. Who knows, maybe a business will be interested in sponsoring me independent of or in addition to sponsoring the event.
  • I can contact event organizers and see if they would be interested in having me sketchnote their event in exchange for admission. As I get used to negotiating, learn how to demonstrate value, and build relationships with event organizers well in advance of conferences, I might transition to being paid for this.
  • As I learn from conversations, I can set up part of my website to focus on those services.
  • I can build a collection of visual communication-related articles – partly for professional growth, and partly to share with others.
  • Why am I sharing all of this? Aren’t I worried that someone’s going to steal this business idea?

If you put in the work of testing this idea and it works out well for you, fantastic! I think the world is big enough – and even if it turns out not to be, then you’ve done the hard work of validating the idea and making this happen, and I don’t need to. I can move on to the next business idea that I want to build. =)

Besides, by sharing, I’m probably going to run into way more people who are awesome and who can help me learn how to make things happen than people who want to just scoop the idea. See? I have perfectly selfish reasons for thinking out loud.