Category Archives: wild-success

Thinking about how virtual assistants can help me with learning and writing

I’ve been challenging my assumptions about what I have to do myself and what could be better with help. It would be a waste of time and talent to limit virtual assistants to just data entry or transcription. People can do so much, and they can learn even more.

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects

Writing is one of those tricky tasks. I can’t stand generic link-building, keyword-stuffing articles. You know, the ones bashed out by SEO robots or humans doing a reasonable simulation thereof. Hasty writers hodgepodge snippets from various places. They may change words just enough to avoid plagiarism, but how can they add anything to the conversation? They don’t have the experience you have. They can’t tell the stories you can. They have a surface understanding of your field.

Still, I’m curious. Can I outsource part of my writing without feeling like I’m breaking the promises of my blog? Can I use people’s strengths instead of bumping into the weaknesses of outsourcing?

I have a personal blog, not a corporate one. I have no problems filling every day with things I’m learning. People find my writing readable. I don’t need help… but maybe I can learn how to make the most of it anyway.

For example, I’ve started making myself delegate web research tasks. This is tough. I keep thinking, “It’ll take me five to fifteen minutes to do this research myself.” I read at a blistering speed, and the research process helps me reformulate questions. It’s faster. I don’t have to wait.

But it turns out that delegating research means I have to be clear about what I’m looking for and how important it is to me. I can learn from other people’s search keywords and summaries. And each little bit of knowledge leaves its traces on two people: the assistant and me. Before, I was the only one who learned from any research I didn’t capture as blog posts. With delegation, the two of us learn, and the summary becomes something I can share.

Example web research tasks:

So web research is one thing that might be worth delegating, even if I think I can do it faster myself.

What about drafting and writing? One of the challenges of writing is empathizing with people who are new. When I write while I’m learning, this is easy. I struggle with the same things people struggle with. But what about the things that people ask me about, the things that I already take for granted? This is where other people’s questions and words can help.

I’ve assigned people to write about a topic I’ve outlined or sketched. I like the way that my outline becomes something both recognizable and different. Here are a couple of examples:

I really like the way people go beyond what I might think of doing or asking on my own. For example, this Trello tutorial is funnier than I probably would have made, and I like it.

What’s beyond that? Maybe more conversation. Speaking can be faster than writing. I struggle with speaking because it feels so unstructured. I’m not used to dictation yet. Maybe I’ll grow into that, in time.

I’ve been practising through interviews and transcripts, but not a lot of people host shows. Maybe I can ask my assistants to interview me about topics. That way, we’ll get a recording out of it as well (for people who prefer to listen or watch). They may ask follow-up questions that I wouldn’t have come up with.

Writing through other people also helps me learn more about my individual style. When I edit their work and give them feedback, I get a better sense of how I say or organize things. Maybe the differences will inspire me to pick up tips from them, too.

$20-30 seems a lot for a blog post that I can write myself, especially if I also invest time to outline and revise it. Still, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of learning from other people’s perspectives. I like the way that I can assign topics of mutual interest, so that both my assistant and I grow through writing. It’s worth exploring.

What would wild success look like? During this delegation experiment, I think it would be great to get to the point where I can make a list of questions I’m curious about. Assistants dig into those questions further. They interview me and other people along the way. I review their drafts, experiment with the ideas, and enrich the drafts with stories and results. We all learn.

I think some of the promises of my blog are: I will post things that I care about. I hope some of them will be useful for you. I won’t clutter your feed reader or inbox with bland, impersonal articles that you could find everywhere else. I won’t resort to clickbait headlines. I’ll share what I’m learning.

Maybe delegation is compatible with those promises. We’ll see. Here are two posts I’ve written with some help:

What do you think? Can there be an authentic way of blogging with other people’s help?

Going fishing for three years

People often ask me if I could draw for them, or write for them, or code for them. I refer all that business to other people. Here’s why.

2014-02-19 Teaching people to fish, selling fish, fishing for yourself #experiment #sharing #my-learning #teaching #confederates #community

2014-02-19 Teaching people to fish, selling fish, fishing for yourself #experiment #sharing #my-learning #teaching #confederates #community

You see, some people want to learn how to fish. These are the people who want to learn more about sketchnoting or Emacs or other things I’m interested in.

Many people want to buy fish. They don’t want to learn things themselves, but they can build on what they buy.

Most people just want to buy sushi. (Or fish and chips, or whatever.) Already prepared, no work needed, yum. They’re too busy to cook. They don’t want to know the details. They just want good stuff.

I want to learn how to fish for rare fish. The kind of fish few people bother with because you have to go into uncharted waters. Interesting, elusive fish, almost too smart to get caught. I want to learn how to ask good questions and share what I’m learning.

I want to be part of a community of enthusiasts who swap tips and stories. I want to find other people who have gotten bitten by that bug, and I want to help other people discover the joy of exploration. That’s why I’m not selling any fish. I’m focusing on learning how to fish rare fish, and teaching what I’m learning. My top priority is to learn how to fish. But I’ll take the time to teach you to fish because I want to be able to learn from you someday.

Sure, I might be able to learn a little while catching fish for other people. I know from experience, though–both mine and others–that it’s too easy to get used to that. You forget there’s a world beyond the fishponds. Better to force myself out there, while I can.

At least for the next three years (the rest of this 5-year experiment), I’ll be out fishing. That is, drawing, writing, learning, playing – somewhere out there, where few people get to go. What would wild success be like? Plenty of stories, maybe a few mementos, and a great community to keep exploring with.

2014-02-19 Imagining wild success for this experiment #experiment.png

2014-02-19 Imagining wild success for this experiment #experiment.png

Thanks to Evan Smith for the nudge to explore this metaphor!

(Note: I don’t know anything about fishing, and I’m not planning to add it as a hobby. But I do like cooking, though, which might explain some things.)

Tell me what you think!

  • What can I help you learn how to fish?
  • Are you looking for rare fish too? Let’s learn together!

Reflecting on wild success

While cleaning out my blog drafts (150+ had accumulated over the years), I came across a post that I had started writing in February 2009. Part of the draft had been incorporated into this imagination of wild success, but the draft had more details I had never gotten around to posting. It’s been almost five years since then, so I thought I’d dust it off and see what had happened.

What would wild success look like? Thinking about this helps me figure out where I want to go and how I want to get there. The picture is still fuzzy and I know it’ll change over time, but it’s interesting to see what’s in it and what isn’t.

Here’s what a day in my future wildly successful life could look like:

Life is fantastic. I’m happy, I’m making a difference doing something I love doing, and I smile every day. I wake up at 5:00am to kisses, cats, music, light, and colors. I exercise a little in the morning, to help me wake up and get the day off to an energetic start. I have a delicious and healthy breakfast with loved ones – fresh fruits in season, steel-cut oats, fluffy pancakes, or other favorites. Then I clear the kitchen table, do my morning planning, and work on some fun, creative things: brainstorming, writing blog posts and articles, and developing prototypes and systems. I snack on nearby fruits and nuts throughout the morning. I may launch a new information product before lunch, or at least once a week. The payments start rolling in.

As it turns out, 5 AM is much too early for me. 8 AM is more reasonable. Yes to kisses and cats (technically, cat – only Neko is allowed in the bedroom). Reading this reminded me that I should set my alarm to some music instead of the chime that I set during my last system restore. Lights and colours are accomplished with bedside lamp and smartphone. I don’t bother with exercise unless I really need to wake up fast; with enough sleep, I usually wake up well-rested. Our breakfast routines have settled into plain rice and fried egg, occasionally with beef tapa; sometimes oatmeal or congee if we make a large batch. I work on the kitchen table because I like the sunlight, although I also like using the desk I’ve set up downstairs. I decided against the information-product route, at least for now; I’d rather learn, explore, and share for free.

We have a light and yummy lunch: leftover pasta, salad, soup, or something like that. Then I work on more routine tasks: testing code, editing and formatting documents, answering mail, following up with people. I also check on the status of my delegated tasks, and things are going well. Towards the end of the day, I wind down by doing chores. Sometimes we take a walk to pick up new books or groceries. We exercise, make dinner, and take care of other things. I spend some time connecting with others socially, too – writing on my blog, connecting with people online, calling people. The day ends on a happy and thankful note.

Routine tasks get deferred to low-energy time at some point during the week, now that I’ve learned to be less guilty about my inbox. Things are going well with delegation. =) Chores continue to be a great way to wind down, although I tend to do library walk after lunch so that I can get some exercise and sunlight. I’ve decided to not bother with making phone calls, although I’ll dip into social networks at the beginning and end of my day. Google Helpouts has become an interesting way to schedule interaction, too.

The income from investments covers my basic expenses, freeing me up to work on information products and experiment with things I’m interested in. I’ve figured out how to create and capture lots of value using the Internet, and I enjoy making little experiments and creating value. The money from that goes into my “retirement” fund (which is really just about freeing up even more of my time to work on larger projects), and into a few luxuries. Our lifestyles remain simple, and our expenses are minimal.

I crunched the numbers for last year, and I was surprised to find that my (theoretical) capital gains exceeded my expenses by a healthy margin. Yay! This and other things mean I can experiment with giving what I know away for free / pay what you want, which results in much less friction and much more happiness (at least for me). =) Our lifestyle is pretty much the same as it was in 2009, except that I buy a slightly wider range of groceries and I occasionally buy tools.

I visit the Philippines at least once a year, and I sometimes stay there for a while so that I can hang out with friends and try different experiences. When my friends are busy working, I work remotely, creating more things and trying things out.

It works out to every other year or so. Last time, we stayed for a month, which was much more awesome than staying for just two weeks. =)

I regularly give presentations to companies, universities, and other groups, and I have a good workflow for putting those online and helping people learn from them. I help organize virtual and in-person events, bringing people together for great conversations. I experiment with ideas for helping people connect and collaborate. Sometimes I coach people, too.

Semi. Writing and drawing is much more fun than giving presentations, and I have a good workflow for putting my sketches online. I help organize a couple of meetups in Toronto, and I’m getting pretty comfortable setting up online conversations. And yes, I’m experimenting with helping people connect through Google Helpouts, and a lot of those conversations look like coaching. Funny how that works out…

I enjoy playing some favorite tunes on the piano, drawing diagrams and pictures, and writing about life and technology. I enjoy sewing, and my wardrobe is full of clothes that make me feel happy and creative.

Nope on the piano and the sewing, but yep on the drawing and writing. My wardrobe is pretty much the same it was back then (aside from the addition of a few tech-fabric shirts and pants). It’s better-tracked, though! <laugh>

It’s amusing to unearth old notes and reflect on how things actually worked out, and how my tastes haven’t changed much over the years. What I’d sketched lines up closely with how I live, but that’s because my wants are small. I knew back then that I would probably do an experiment like this, and that helped me save for it. Here I am, learning things I hadn’t even put on my list. =) What will the next five years be like? I’m not sure yet. If it’s more of the same, that will be awesome; and if it’s different, I’m sure it will be awesome too.

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!

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!