Category Archives: planning

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Seeing the futures

I often imagine different futures, sketching them out on paper or in those moments right before or after dreaming. It’s a good way of testing an idea to see whether I’d like it, and then working backwards from there to figure out how to get there from here. I also explore mediocrity and failure so that I can get a sense of what I want to avoid and what I could do to lower the risks.

For example, how might this 5-year experiment of mine turn out?

  • Awesome: My blog has plenty of detailed, open notes about trying different things. I’ve found an idea or two (or a business, even!) that fits me well, and I have the financial foundation to continue with even more experiments.
  • So-so: I have a fairly conventional consulting / freelancing story. It’s okay, but I missed out on pushing myself to do a lot more because of my safety net.
  • Darn: I’ve misjudged skill growth and finances. I reach the 5-year mark with little to show for it, and need to work a lot with my social network to get back into the job market.
  • I can influence this by being more deliberate about my experiments.

How about my relationship with W-?

  • Awesome: We consciously cultivate the relationship, sailing into our later years with plenty of stories and shared experiences.
  • So-so: We settle down into normality.
  • Darn: We forget to pay attention and end up drifting apart.
  • I can influence this by investing time.

Family?

  • Awesome: I’m close to both my family and W’s – I know people’s stories and interests, and I help out with whatever I can. I visit every other year or so, or more frequently if finances allow. I keep in touch through Skype and letters.
  • So-so: We keep in touch occasionally, but tend to be peripheral to each other’s lives.
  • Darn: The distance leads to miscommunication and fights.
  • I can influence this by investing time and setting aside money.

Friends?

  • Awesome: I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people whose company I really enjoy. I think they’re great people. I learn a lot by hanging out with them, which I do one way or another every week. I have conspirators for ideas and projects, and work with other people to make their ideas happen.
  • So-so: I practise the skill of making friends with people as people drift in and out of life.
  • Darn: I forget to pay attention to this and let my introvert hibernation urge take over.
  • I can influence this by investing time and setting aside money.

Finances?

  • Awesome: W- and I live frugally, with roughly the same level of expenses that we’re at now. We have a great safety net, though, so we don’t have to worry. I resist the potential wonkiness of irregular income (both fear and overconfidence) by stabilizing it with savings. I’ve learned how to build businesses, so I can jump on opportunities when I see them.
  • So-so: I dip into my savings occasionally, replenishing it with income.
  • Darn: Tax or legal issues, prolonged sickness, disability, or death chew into our savings.
  • I can influence this by being deliberate about spending and earning.

Learning?

  • Awesome: My learning is aligned with my goals in terms of topic and depth. I learn a little bit about random things and go deeper on a few topics, but I push myself to try things instead of being lulled by “knowing” things from books. I seek out specific learning opportunities. I’ve learned how I learn best, although I keep working on learning other ways too. I map out what I’m learning so that I can review it easily and so that I can spot gaps.
  • So-so: I drift a little, but in a general direction. I back up learning by trying things out.
  • Darn: I confuse reading about something or listening to something with knowing something, and spend way more time doing more of the former two. I drift a lot.
  • I can influence this by examining how and what I learn.

Playing?

  • Awesome: I play with things that teach me more about life, give me a new way of looking at things, help me relate better to other people, or improve the way I live.
  • So-so: I play the occasionally distracting thing, and then get back to regular life.
  • Darn: I get sucked in by game mechanics. W- gets annoyed with me.
  • I can influence this by reflecting on what and how I play.

Good to get a sense of what good looks like.

Imagining the next five years and planning 2013

One of the assignments in the Rockstar Scribe course I’m taking through Alphachimp University (affiliate link) is to sketch where you want to be in five years. This is my sketch.

20121228 5 years vision

What does that mean for 2013?

Work: I’m focusing on business idea validation, sales, and marketing this year. It’ll mean scaling down my consulting income, but I think the opportunity cost will be worth it. To keep building other market-valued skills, I may still do a little web development – primarily for my own projects, but possibly for others as well.

Relationships: I’m focusing on spending time with W- and friends, especially through exercise and cooking. I’d also like to organize things more at home, and to learn more kitchen skills.

Life: Regular exercise supports my goals here as well, and so does organization and decluttering. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into Emacs for planning and organization, too.

Learn: I’ll research and go to interesting events to sketchnote. I’ll also keep an eye out for good books to review.

Share: I’ve sketched out an editorial outline of things I want to write about, which may help me write with more deliberation.

Scale: I’m documenting many of my ideas and processes in a public manual, and I’ll add more as I learn how to scale up.

Onward and upward!

Sketching twelve business ideas

In Running Lean, Ash Maurya recommends that you document your “Plan A”s – sketch out many possible businesses and business models so that you can rank them. I spent some time on January 1 sketching different business ideas, which I’ve shared on my experiment blog. Here they are as a quick gallery.

I’m planning to print these out, prioritize them, and figure out how to derisk the most promising ones. Do any of them stand out to you as particularly interesting?

See my sketchnotes of Running Lean for more tips from the book, or check out my experiment/business blog for other business-related thoughts.

Imagining sketchnotes as a business

People tell me that conference/presentation sketchnotes are an amazing service. I’ve been getting paid to cover conferences and events, so I’m thinking of focusing on building this as a business in 2013. Here are some ideas I’ve been playing around with:

20121210 business planning - imagining wild success for sketchnotes

THE PAIN

Imagine you’re a conference or event organizer. You want to make sure your attendees get a lot of value out of your conference, and that a lot of potential attendees hear about it so that they’ll sign up for the next one. That’s why you’re using social media, you share slides, you’re working on getting videos uploaded, and so on. BUT you’re still only engaging a small fraction of your potential audience because most people don’t have the time to review all the materials, people aren’t interested in wading through lots of slides or text, or the materials are published long after people have gotten distracted by something else they need to focus on.

Sketchnotes can help you help your participants remember and share key points from the conference, increasing their ROI (and yours!). By sharing these images, people become ambassadors for your conference.

THE BENEFITS

This is about helping organizers engage participants through digital sketchnotes that are published throughout the event, taking advantage of the Twitter buzz. Sketchnotes can offer more information and more context than live-tweeted quotes, and they can reinforce the conference brand and sponsor relationships through templates. included in every sketchnote.

After the event, these notes also help participants remember and share key points from the conference. People can feel overwhelmed by all the great ideas they’ve picked up from a conference. When they get back to their offices, they probably need to justify their participation in the conference by writing a report on what they’ve learned. Few people have the time to review slides or re-watch videos. Conference sketchnotes are a quick way to trigger memory, and they can also be shared with people who have not been to the talks. This additional value gives conference organizers a good reason to follow up with participants after the event, which could influence feedback survey completion rates and scores.

Sketchnotes can also help organizers pre-market the next event. As a quick proof of the content covered in the conference, sketchnotes can spark interest in a way that slides may not. Often tweeted, reblogged, and searched for after an event, they’re an excellent way to share great ideas.

ALTERNATIVES AND DIFFERENTIATION

One of the great things about this is that I don’t have to build a market from scratch. Bloggers and live-tweeters are now part of many conferences’ social media and marketing planning, so there’s an established need for real-time sharing. Video/slidesharing is part of many conferences as well. Many companies and conferences have worked with graphic recorders and facilitators to capture and share discussions.

Organizers use several alternatives for engaging people during and after events, some of which are complementary services. Here are a few:

  • Doing nothing: No cost. However, this misses out on the opportunity for engagement.
  • Live-tweeting: Often on a volunteer basis, although sometimes there’ll be a small team dedicated to monitoring, responding to, and posting on social media networks. Live tweets are good for engagement, but are difficult to curate or read afterwards.
  • Live-blogging: Often on a volunteer basis, or in exchange for admission. Variable quality and shareability. Sometimes results in lots of text that people don’t enjoy reviewing afterwards.
  • Posting the slides: Many conferences post slides on Slideshare, Lanyrd, or similar sites. This tends to be a split between presentations that have too much text in them and take much time to review, or presentations that have practically no text in them and are impossible to share with people who have never been to the conference.
  • Posting the videos: This can take months, if it gets completed at all. It takes time to review these and find the key points.
  • Transcripts: Very few conferences post transcripts of talks. It’s expensive and time-consuming, although transcripts can increase the searchability of a talk.
  • Graphic recording / facilitation: Excellent for discussions. Visually impressive, as artists work on huge sheets of paper at the front of the room. Can be distracting if people are tempted to watch the graphic recording instead of watching the speaker. Takes time to post-process the images for posting, so not well-suited to publishing during the event itself. Less flexible when it comes to content because it’s hard to erase or move segments of a drawing. Matching colours, adding logos and sponsor information, and using other template elements may not be cost-effective.

I think there is a space right there, in the gap between

  • social media blog posts / tweets / slides / video on one hand (a “good” conference these days), and
  • full graphic recording / facilitation

where digital sketchnoting makes sense, especially considering the advantages to working with an all-digital workflow. (Quick publishing, templates, non-distracting setup…)

Also encouraging: I’m not the only one looking into this! Here are some companies offering digital sketchnoting/digital scribing services: The Grove Consultants International, Imagethink, See in Colors, The World Cafe, WrightMarks, LearningTimes, Virtual Visuals

Potential differentiators:

  • I have a technical background, which means I’m fine with acronyms, diagrams, and lots of abstract/obscure concepts (especially related to web design/development, social media, social business, mobile development, and other topics I’m personally interested in)
  • Many visual communication companies focus on large-scale graphic recording; by specializing in digital sketchnoting, I can get really, really good at it
  • Many sketchnoters / visual communicators are coming from paper-and-pen backgrounds or Mac backgrounds; I use a different toolset, and I continually experiment with making it better
  • I’m comfortable with social media, and have set up many tools to help me make even better use of it
  • I can offer complementary services, such as getting a talk transcribed and turned into an e-book
  • I speak, too! People enjoy my practical, down-to-earth illustrated talks, and hundreds of thousands of people have viewed my presentations online.

SALES AND MARKETING

Most conference and event organizers won’t be looking for sketchnoting in particular, so I’ll want to start by identifying potential clients, reaching out to people, and figuring out the possibilities together.

Another way to find potential clients would be to work with event producers who help organize lots of events. Sketchnoting becomes another capability they can offer to clients in order to add value.

People might not know how to make the most of sketchnotes as a resource. By handling the social media publishing and coordinating with the event’s social media team, I can simplify the process. I’ll also put together a guide for organizers who have existing blogs, Twitter accounts, Pinterest accounts, and other publishing platforms, so that they can take advantage of the sketchnotes that they’ll have.

My long-term evil plan

One of the reasons I’m interested in building a business around sketchnoting is because I want to learn more about sales and marketing. I could learn these business skills using web development or consulting instead, but those engagements involve longer iterations and less tangible services. Sketchnotes are easy to appreciate and share.

In addition, sketchnoting business and technology events also helps me build my visual communication skills, my understanding of topics, and my archive of content. This will come in handy when I write more books and work on more experiments. I think there’s room in the world for more visual books like the Sketchnote Handbook, especially as we shift towards reading less and wanting to understand things faster.

I think that sketchnoting might turn into an interesting 12-16 hour/week business that takes advantage of and fits in well with complementary strengths. Looking forward to trying this out!

More notes: Business idea: Digital sketchnoting agency

Thinking about wild success

The more I explain this 5-year experiment to others, the more I understand it myself. =) I thought I’d spend some time thinking about what I wanted out of experiment and what wild success looks like, so that more people might be able to help me along the way.

I think the period of five years because it usually takes about that long before a business can be solidly established. Shorter, and I might mistake the fluctuations of figuring things out for long-term difficulties. Longer than that, and I might drift aimlessly without self-imposed goals or deadlines. Telling myself that I’ll take a close look at where I am and reevaluate my decisions in five years means that I can plan and budget for a fixed time period. Controlled uncertainty.

So where do I want to be on February 19, 2017, the 5th anniversary of starting my own business? What do I want to be able to say? What do I want to have done? Let me fast-forward to my future 34-year-old self and think about what that blog post might look like.

Here we are, five years after I started. I’ve learned a ton in the last five years. It turned out that making things happen isn’t anywhere nearly as scary as I thought it might be. I’m looking forward to bringing even more awesome ideas to life.

I’ve been so lucky to start with something that people immediately wanted and needed. Through consulting, I was able to help people take their businesses to the next level. I worked with amazing people who not only helped me take advantage of my skills and experiences, but also helped me develop new skills. We successfully transitioned all of my responsibilities, and they’ve turned that work into wild successes of their own.

Consulting allowed me to self-fund further experiments. I shared opportunities with other people, working with virtual assistants and other team members in order to get even more out of each day. In the course of training them to take over many of my processes, we built an operations manual that makes it even easier to bring new people on board. Many entrepreneurs’ growth is limited by their ability to trust and delegate, and by the network of people they have. Although I’ve also had my share of rough relationships, I’ve had the pleasure of building an amazing team with skills and passions that complement my own, and I reached out to an even wider network of people I can help and who can help me. Many of the people I’ve worked with have grown their own businesses into something they love doing.

Although I was tempted to continue consulting because it was familiar and comfortable, I eventually pushed myself to try other business models. I learned how to validate business ideas by talking to people and prototyping concepts, instead of simply building something and hoping people will come. It was also tempting to continue with the first new business as a job, but I pushed myself to grow out of it, bringing other people in so that they could make the most of those opportunities when I learned even more about creating businesses.

I learned so much along the way, and I’m glad I’ve been able to put them together in different books – at least one for every year of my experiment. I’ve shared what I learned about networking, productivity, delegation and automation, visual communication, entrepreneurship, business, and making things happen. Taking notes along the way really helped, and so did pushing myself to have interesting and novel experiences. I’m glad that so many people have found the books useful, and I’m sure my parents get a kick out of seeing me in print.

I’m now much more comfortable with reaching out to people and inviting them for lunch or coffee. I always learn lots of things in the conversations, and following up has become its own pleasure. I even host events so that I can bring people together.

In terms of paperwork, my attention to detail and comfort with numbers really paid off. The accountant helped me keep all of my books in order, and the CRA auditor found it easy to verify my records.

In my personal life, I continue to be the luckiest person in the world. W- is fantastic, and home life has somehow managed to keep getting better and better. We’ve got a solid financial foundation, and are excited about the possibilities.

What do the next five years hold for us? I’m not sure yet, but I’m sure it will be a good adventure.

My future 34-year-old self on Feb 19, 2017

We’ll see how it goes!

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.