On this page:
  • Planning by the numbers: Checking the length of my runway
  • Imagining sketchnotes as a business
  • Decision review: Art class (includes sketches)

Planning by the numbers: Checking the length of my runway

I’d been setting aside an “opportunity fund” ever since I started working at IBM. Last February, I embarked on the experiment for which that opportunity fund was earmarked: a 5-year adventure in learning how to build businesses, create value, and have fun. What can you do if you have a good foundation? What can you do with a long runway?

Periodically checking the status of this runway helps me make sure I have the space I think I do. I don’t want to have to cut my plans short. I’d rather adjust early and plan ahead. I’m treating business money as separate for now. I haven’t drawn any income from it, because I want to use that money to fund further growth within the business and build up its own opportunity fund.

It’s tough watching my savings account go down without putting anything back into it to top it up. Well, technically, the GIC ladder I set up replenishes my savings account on a regular basis, so I’m actually watching my GIC total go down. This is according to plan, but it’s still hard to think about, especially with major expenses such as travel on the horizon. Here the numbers are reassuring; plan the work, and work the plan.

I check how I’m doing every month. I’ve usually been near my projected monthly expenses, but November was higher because I started going to the krav maga gym that W- frequents as well. Even with the additional monthly expense and with travel budgeted for, I still have about 4.3 years of runway (pretty much right on track). I can dig into my long-term savings if necessary, so I have a bit of buffer.

It’s great to have eight years of financial data. I’ve been tracking my expenses in Ledger since 2005, when I moved to Canada for my master’s degree. I’m happy to see that I’ve been able to slash my net expenses to less than half of what they were the year before. Here’s a sparkline that shows how my expenses have changed over the past eight years: image My top expense categories this year were household contributions, miscellaneous cash expenses, pet care, eating out, and gifts. I wonder if I can get friends to shift towards dinner parties instead?

Psychologically, it might be a good idea to draw a small amount from my business in 2013 so that I can top up my savings and make a small investment in index funds. I want to make sure that I do this properly, so I may need to find an accountant who can help me figure out the dividends versus salary question for small amounts. (Probably dividends, based on my research…)

I might also manage the risk as I head into greater uncertainty and more learning. I can take on short writing, drawing, web development, or consulting projects, especially during gaps between conferences and events I’m interested in.

Still, so far so good, and it’s good to have the numbers to back it up!

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:

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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

Decision review: Art class (includes sketches)

As part of my resolution to spend more on learning, I went for one-on-one art classes in a nearby studio (Pamela Dodds’).

My first exercise was to draw shoes with lots of soft lines. The teacher said to focus on drawing each line in relation to each other instead of thinking about the whole shape. That makes it easier to defamiliarize yourself and draw what you see, instead of this preconceived notion of a shoe. I ended up making this shoe a little shorter than it actually was, but it was recognizably a shoe, hooray!

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My homework was to draw more shoes.

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Since I’m curious about translating abstract concepts to concrete images and vice versa, my teacher also suggested that I draw different kinds of shoes and the ideas associated with them.

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The second class focused on negative space and chairs. On the left, you can see the chair I drew in class. On the right, here’s a chair that Leia (one of our cats) often likes sleeping in.

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The third class was about lines, angles, and proportions. I started by drawing the scissors, then drawing the detergent bottle, and then finally by drawing the overlapping shapes of the coffee mugs.

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At home, I practised by drawing the salt-and-pepper shakers, and by drawing the mouse.

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My last session was one about faces and proportions (see above). Both of these were drawn from (rather odd-looking) mannequins. I like the profile likeness, although it was a little difficult getting the hang of the chin.

I’ve read many art education books such as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and Drawing by Seeing, so that sped up the teaching and gave us a shorthand for discussions. For me, the art classes were more of a meditative space where I could deliberately practise techniques, with feedback from a teacher who could warn me when I was getting too close to the paper (and thus shifting my viewpoint) or who could figure out where I was a little bit off in terms of proportions.

It’s a very different style of drawing compared to sketchnotes. I’m usually just focused on getting the gist of an idea across in a very simple, iconic form. In terms of getting better at sketchnoting, I’ll focus on broading my visual vocabulary by sketching different terms of concepts instead of focusing on drawing more realistic images. Still, it was fun discovering that even though I hadn’t been practising much “proper” drawing, I was getting better at seeing things!

Decision review: Good decision to experiment with art class, although I’ll keep looking around for other classes and I’ll keep practising on my own.