Category Archives: barcampearth

Of BarCamp and conversations

People who have never been to a BarCamp probably have no idea what to expect from this un-conference. In fact, I get the feeling that the BarCamp *I* go to is very different from the BarCamp that everyone else goes to, even if we're all going to BarCampEarthToronto.

I think my way is cool, and I think you should try it out. =) Here's what I get out of BarCamp and why I think it's tons of fun.

For me, BarCamp is all about conversation. I start with the assumption that as a whole, everyone else knows more than I do about anything I want to talk about. My sessions are not presentations, but roundtable discussions. I'll structure them a little bit to give people something to work with, like the way I talked a little bit about Enterprise 2.0 or shared some of my networking tips. The value of the session doesn't come from me, though, but from the participants.

My job is not to tell people answers, but to share a few stories and ask lots of questions. I turn Q & A onto its head by saving more time for questions than for speaking, and asking more questions than I answer.

This also allows me to adapt to people's interests on the fly. In the middle of hallway conversation, I've said, "Hey, I'd love to have a larger conversation about this," run off to find a marker, and then added the session to the grid. I think it's okay not to be an expert on something just yet, to not have a slick well-rehearsed presentation.

I think this is so much more fun than treating BarCamp as a self-organizing series of traditional presentations. I'd rather say, "I feel like talking about ____" and see who else wants to.

Conversation. For me, BarCamp is all about starting conversations. It's fun following up with people, too. Just finished a BBQ with a few people I met at BarCampEarthToronto - that was great fun!

I'll blog about this more when I'm more coherent, but yeah. Conversation.

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Starting your own business

@BarCampEarthToronto, Brooke Gordon, serial entrepreneur

  • Business plan. You are trading money for value. You need to be able to clearly articulate what you are translating money into. If you can't articulate that clearly to friends and family, you will never be able to do that for investors or customers.
  • Find a mentor. Ask your professors who they know. Go to your local business development center. Find people who have started their own company. You'll be shocked at how many people will spend half an hour talking to you. Camaraderie. If you ask for help, you will find help. You'll probably find someone who can share with you best practices.
  • A business is a business is a business. Get yourself an accountant. Make sure that you're following all of the business rules that apply to the industry. Find out what all the tax rules are and the task breaks are. There are some absolutely fantastic R&D tax credits that people don't know about. I tried doing the books myself when I was starting out, and that's a mistake, at least for the first time. Make sure that your accountant knows small business. Whatever you get, make sure you ask for a receipt. You must have copies of receipts. Keep good records of things. That's what your accountant is there to help you with - your industry. Any time you ever hire someone, interview them, and interview more than one person. Do your due diligence. There's a lot of risk, but there's so much reward. You want to mitigate that risk. When you're doing that mentorship, ask around. Do not ask a corporation. Ask other people who have their own business. Ask for referrals and references. Ask!
  • Do a lot of time at first with your wording. Value proposition. Your company name is an important thing. Try and think about things like common misspellings, pronounciation misspellings, how you want to be perceived. Everything you do, you test. Whatever you choose to do, write it down, go and tell someone. Take someone out for coffee and say "Here are my thoughts; what do you think?" Constantly ask, ask for genuine feedback, and ask for honest criticism. People you trust care about you and don't want to see you fail. Other people aren't going to give you that feedback. Good or bad, thank them for it, and take it to heart.
  • Don't use your name as your company name.
  • There are free seminars that you have access to that you wouldn't believe. Go to learn and listen and connect. Be very open to that and continue going. There are lots of things out there for free.
  • Government grants and loans for people under 29!
  • Check out TD and Royal Bank for programs for small businesses. They can mitigate their risk if they act as advisors. Don't discount your bank.
  • Networking. Part of the reason why Dana and I met. Bag design. Women's networking group.
  • BNI. Business Networking International. Givers gain. When you go to a networking group, don't just talk - listen. Introduce yourself not just with your name, but with what you do.
  • "So, tell me about your business." You can tell a lot about a business by how well they can articulate their value. "What do clients of yours look like?" Keep thinking about how your clients might be good clients for them. That's what networking is.
  • For example, our value is phased implementations for projects.

Know what your value is. Know what your customer looks like. Create scenarios. Find out what a typical customer looks like, so you can tell other people what you look like. Make sure that you get involved in networking. Get those government resources.

Dana: Clients.

  • People respond when you're not aggressive or overbearing. Your product is not impressive. Treat people as people, not sales.
  • Keep a client database. I used to work for a customer-relationship management system. I missed it when I started my own business. I love Sugar CRM, which is online and open source. Get something so that you can keep track of your clients. Schedule your followups. That way, they don't only hear from you when you're asking for money. You want to show that you care about them. Make sure your clients feel valued. Send an actual paper thank-you.
  • You don't want to be too close to your client also, because sometimes you have to say no. You really should say no. A project that you thought you should've said no will drag you down and kill you. If you have that feeling, don't do it. Or get really good specs.
  • Get a lawyer to review your contracts. Do not do this yourself.
  • Put everything you can on paper before you implement it.
  • Protect yourself with sign-offs.
  • Don't go into business with friends, if you can help it.
  • Go through scenarios in order to mitigate risk.
  • Engineering entrepreneurship and education at McMasters! Experiential program. ALWAYS take notes and offer to do the first draft. Then get your lawyer's intern to look at the stuff for you. Ask lawyers what you've missed.
  • Outsource your overflow capacity.
  • Know enough to know if the people you're outsourcing to do good work.

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Building a community

@BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

Terrific idea! Ryan McKegney identified the top 1% in his community, rewarded them with stickers and other stuff, and encouraged them to evangelize. Great! Also, you have another 1% who want to get more involved. As for the 1% who are jerks: do things in an open and fair way. Also, keep in mind that there's a negative response bias in large online communities. People who disagree with something will be the loudest. Takeaway: You set the tone for the site, because you are such an integral part of the community.

Random notes: Alan Hietala talked about bridging multiple communities in World of Warcraft. Event planning for MMORPG. Heatware - independent reputation system. Jason: no one makes the first post, so you seed.. but dependency? .. Also, start with existing communities.

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Win-win-win: The power of asking

The problem with conferences is that I always, always run into scheduling conflicts. I really, really wanted to go to the two talks about communities, the two talks about culture, one talk about perception, and of course I have another session to run on information overload.

Six sessions, three time slots. Aiyah. You don't need a CS degree to know that's a problem.

So I convinced Mike and Quinn to merge their talks on culture. Then I looked for the people responsible for the meta-community talk and asked if they could merge with Ryan's talk about building communities. They agreed!

I couldn't merge with Mike's talk - thematically different, and I'd probably run a long conversation - but hey, that was a great win. All the people who merged said it would be a good idea because they needed less than an hour. Everyone else gets a nice panel. And I learned that if you ask, people will probably say yes.

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BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

@BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

I'm learning a lot from the session. Some points:

  • Primary domains are better than subdomains because Google tries to figure out what a domain is about, and something like is too large.
  • Research keywords to find out what people are searching for, and develop good material for these. Linkbait?
  • Structure an FAQ with forward-links and H1s.
  • Use keyword-rich headings.

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BarCampEarthToronto: Networking for Introverts

I ran a terrific session on networking for introverts at BarCampEarthToronto. I shared a few stories about blogging and conversation-starting pins, and then asked people to save me from having to talk for an entire hour by myself. People shared tips and asked questions, and we had a wonderful, wonderful conversation.

We talked about why connecting with people is important: it opens up new possibilities and helps us learn more about ourselves. People shared many tips for how to network, from initiating conversations to developing friendships.

One of the useful tips I heard was to practice talking to people by asking strangers for the time or for directions to a place. Hmm, might try that. Another was to physically open the circle of conversation in order to invite people in. Yet another was to keep track of people's interests and wants, and this gives you an excuse to get back in touch with them.

Someone suggested using breaks to invite more introverts into the conversation. I'll facilitate the next session better. It was a great session! =)

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