Category Archives: planning

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.

Celebrating my fiscal year end; planning how to improve

When I incorporated my business last February 19, I chose September 30 as my fiscal year end. I’d read a number of forum posts that recommended avoiding December 31 as the fiscal year end because accountants are swamped with personal and sole-proprietor tax returns. Picking September 30 meant that I’d have no problems finding an accountant for return preparation, and they might even have time to sit down and chat with me about tax planning.

I’m a bit of a personal finance geek, so I was glad to dig into the numbers for my own business. When I started the business, I talked to several accountants in the city. I think most expected me to turn up at year-end with a shoebox of crumpled receipts. Since I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting that long to find out what was going on with business, I purchased Quickbooks, scanned copies of all of my business receipts, typed in transactions, and hired a virtual bookkeeper/accountant who could answer my questions as I got things going. I liked working with her, so now I’ve asked her to take on more of the bookkeeping and to help me prepare the tax return. I think it’s made a huge difference in terms of my potential stress level around the fiscal year end. =)

We’ve been working on closing the files. My accountant was surprised at how low my expenses were. She’s been sending me questions like: Where are the rest of your bank fees? I only see $1.80. You should have entries for every month. What about TTC transit passes? I told her that since I was using RBC’s eBusiness bank account, I really did only have $1.80 in bank fees (deposited paper cheques), and that I’d been biking to work, so no transit passes either. (Except for the one in March, which I’ll probably claim as a personal tax credit.) She said that she thought she was frugal.

When I made the decision to leave the comfort of a large company for my own adventure, I expected to spend a few years building sweat equity – investing time into learning the things I need to learn while drawing on my savings. Clients talked me into consulting immediately. It’s been a thrill to be able to help both really big and really small organizations using a combination of different skills: from technical work such as Rails, Javascript, HTML, and CSS to soft skills such as enterprise social software adoption, and even newly-developed skills in illustration and animation.

I’ve far exceeded my initial financial projections, but I know it’s because I’ve been staying close to what’s familiar. My experience at IBM prepared me for consulting, and advice from mentors and friends helped me transition into independent practice; but there are other lessons I’m looking forward to learning as well. It just means that my 5-year-experiment is probably going to be a 7- or 10-year experiment!

So, the things I need to keep somewhere on my radar: taxes due by November 30, HST by December 31. I’ve set aside money to cover those expenses, so it’s all good. Actually, I haven’t taken any money out of the corporation yet, since I figured it was simplest to get things off the ground first and then introduce payroll or dividends in the following fiscal year. One step at a time!

In the meantime, I’m making myself spend more (and spend more wisely), learning how to substitute money for time through connection, tools/automation, training,  and delegation.

For example, I want to connect with other entrepreneurs and help them make things happen. I can wait for the Brownian motion of bumping into each other at tech events to gradually help me build that network. Or I can speed it up through lunches and coffees and follow-ups, especially if I take things beyond a perfunctory e-mail conversation and invest real time and energy (maybe even other people’s time and energy!) into helping people.

I want to try new tools to see which ones will support my workflow well. Sometimes that means paying for tools that turn out to be less than what I want, but the things I’ll gain from the tools that work out will more than pay for those.

I want to learn more about drawing, sales, business, and other skills that can help me make even more of a difference. I don’t want to just sign up for courses or coaching. I want to have a clear, action-oriented plan for implementing what I’m learning.

I want to learn how to delegate and to share the opportunities that come my way. That means that I’m going to slowly transition my processes over to other people, even if I think I can do it better or it doesn’t take me that much time to do it. I can always take those tasks back if I need to trim my budget, but if I can document my processes and learn how to take advantage of other people’s talents, I think I’ll be able to grow a lot more. Many entrepreneurs struggle with going beyond what they can do with their own time or talents. Knowing how to share the load – and better yet, building a network of people I can trust – is more than worth the investment. Besides, if I get better and better at delegation, and if I use that time productively, I can grow the business even more.

What can the 2012-2013 fiscal year for my business look like? I have four more months of consulting planned at three days a week (although I’m taking December off, so technically, that’s just three months of consulting). I have a professional speaking engagement in November. I’ve got the beginning of a possible business idea around sketchnotes, and I want to practise validating it. For that, I’m going to want to set up more lunches and start more e-mail conversations. And I’m going to follow up on that budget, seeing if I can invest money in growing.

Both business idea validation and investing in people/tools/processes involve risk. At the end of the next fiscal year, there’s a chance that my balance sheet will be slimmer – but also a good chance that I’ll have learned a lot along the way, and possibly at a rate cheaper than an MBA. Besides, who knows? I might turn those experiments into earnings too!

So that’s where I am and where I want to go. Thank you for being part of the adventure!

Planning for retirement when you don’t know where you’ll be

I have several friends who’ve also moved to Canada from other places. One of them asked me how she could figure out how much money she’d need in retirement if she doesn’t know where she’s going to live and what the costs will be. Even at 29, I’ve spent some time planning for retirement, and here’s how I approach planning for retirement when I don’t know what’ll happen.

The most important thing to realize is that there isn’t just One Number. There are different possibilities depending on how much you save. I remember reading a personal finance book that suggested coming up with three numbers: how much you need for a bare-bones retirement, what you need for a comfortable retirement, and what you need for an awesome retirement. If you take the same idea and extend it to possibilities in different places, you can get a sense of what you might need.

It’s also good to know that those numbers will change. You’ll make different decisions. You might need more, you might need less. If you’re automatically saving 10%, maybe 20%, maybe even more, then you’ll most likely be in decent shape.

Still, numbers can be good for motivation! So, how do you get those numbers? I like starting with current dollars instead of inflation-adjusted numbers. It’s easy to find articles suggesting what you need to retire in different places. For example, this 2010 article says $800-1200/month is comfortable for expats, which probably means that number’s way over the top. =) I can probably get away with something like the amount I earned while teaching there, with something extra put aside for medical issues.

In Canada, I can estimate the minimum I need by looking at my expenses and finding out what else I might need to spend for, like medicines. I’m not counting on Old Age Security, the Canada Pension Plan, or other government programs – they’ll be a nice bonus if I get them, but I shouldn’t rely on them. That gives me a number for a basic retirement, and then I can come up with other numbers for more comfortable retirements.

When you look at retirement planning as a range of numbers instead of a single number that you have to make, it becomes easier to cheer yourself on. Then you have all these numbers, and you can estimate how much you need in today’s dollars when accounting for inflation and growth. You can see what possibilities are probably already available, and how far you are to your next threshold. You can think of it as getting to different levels in a game, or unlocking different achievements. As you save and invest, you open up more possibilities – and it’s great to know that your backup plan is well-covered.

Me, I’m inching towards my “very basic Canadian expenses covered” goal, knowing that I can likely retire to the Philippines if I want to. It’s pretty cool knowing this at 29, and it motivates me to save up more so that I could have a totally awesome retirement either in the Philippines or in Canada!

I’m not a financial advisor and this isn’t financial advice. I’d love to hear what you think, though!

Thinking about what wild success at 29 looks like

One of the brainstorming exercises I picked up from our workshops at IBM was the idea of a “wild success story” – imagining a great future and backtracking from there to the present. It’s useful in personal life, too. For example, this is what I blogged in 2009:

I wake up at 5:00 AM to opera, light, colors, cats, kisses, or whatever gives me a great start to my day. I exercise a little to get my blood flowing, and I have a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats or fresh fruit. Then I gear up for a morning of creative work, settling into a comfy chair or setting up on the kitchen table for a four-hour session of brainstorming, writing code, and preparing articles and presentations. I snack on fruit and nuts along the way. I have a light lunch or head out to lunch with friends. Then I tackle more routine tasks: responding to mail, following up, editing and formatting documents, testing code, taking care of chores, reviewing delegated work, and other things. I make dinner and enjoy it with people I love, and spend the rest of the evening reading or enjoying people’s company. After tidying up and taking care of other things, I go to bed, happy with the work I did that day.

I’m close to that, but I’m not quite there yet. My Fridays are shaping up that way, though, and we’ll see how things go in September.

On a larger scale, what would a wildly successful 29th year look like? Looking back on the eve of my 30th birthday in 2013, I’d like to be able to say:

  • I have even more wonderful relationships with family and friends.
  • I regularly stay in touch, and have good notes on what people are interested in and are up to.
  • I survived my first business tax return, yay! I’m now investing in building skills while giving back to the community, eventually turning that into income from mobile apps, illustration/animation, and other ways to create value.
  • I’ve got lots of sketchnotes of meetups, books, and product reviews. I’ve organized them into a blog and an e-book. My sketchnotes have colour and depth and interesting layouts. =) I help people find out about useful stuff and good get-togethers.
  • I’ve updated my Stories from my Twenties e-book with what I’ve learned from my 29th year, and I’ve shared the updates with the people who bought the book and sent me their receipts.
  • I’ve gone through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, and I understand it. =) I’m also picking up Cantonese.
  • I’ve been having fun gardening. We’re growing more greens and have actually gotten into the habit of eating them. (I know!)
  • My finances are on track for my 5-year experiment; this might even be extended at least a few more years.
  • I’m ready to rock my thirties!