Investing time into building sketchnotes as a business

Posted: - Modified: | business

Something shifted, and I was curious about what it was. I’ve been drawing a whole lot more than I did last year and the year before that. How much more?


(Data extracted from my Evernote notebook using XSLT and Microsoft Excel)

That much more. Over the past 50 sketchnotes in my Evernote notebook, I’ve averaged a sketchnote every 1.2 days. There are 119 sketchnotes there now, all searchable, and it’s fun to trace the developments in my skills and style. (For example, I’ve recently discovered colour!)

I think the inflection point was getting feedback from people that this was really useful for them. When I go to events and mention that I do these sketchnotes, people light up in recognition and tell me the notes are awesome. Some ask me if I cover corporate events and conferences as well, and I’ve been setting up lunches and coffees to discuss the possibilities. On Monday and Wednesday, I have some paid gigs coming up – sketchnoting a conference, then sketchnoting to support business communication.

As part of this 5-year experiment, I think it might be worth seeing what kind of business I can turn sketchnoting into. It’s so different from the consulting and web development that I did at IBM. I can see how it creates value for and delights people, so why not?

So, what do I need to do in order to explore this?

  • Get the hang of talking to potential clients and understanding their needs. I want to deeply understand that spark of curiosity and desire that prompts people to ask me if I can do this for their organization. I want to know the kinds of words that resonate with people, and use that when talking to them and to others.
  • Simplify the experiment so that I can learn about it in chunks. For example, I was uncertain about pricing because I was curious about what this would look like with value pricing, which means I need to get a better handle on the value it creates. I think it will be easier if I simply pick a rate (say, $75/hour) and go with time-and-materials pricing.
  • Open for business! Invest in business development, get engagements, and make stuff happen. Some “trophies to unlock”: get three clients; get a recurring relationship; get a completely remote client.
  • I can keep improving my website so that people can find out about my services online. I’ll start with this page, which I can link to from all the sketchnotes. I’d like to add more of a handwritten feel to my website and start putting together tips specifically for helping people with visual communication and engagement, maybe even splitting off a separate blog for easier navigation.

Other considerations:

This is still a service business like consulting and web development are. While less lucrative, it does offer the following advantages:

  • I can learn more about marketing and sales because the service is more visual and easy to communicate
  • It uses smaller, more flexible chunks (two hours here, four hours there, a day scheduled well in advance) instead of the more solid chunks of focus I need for development
  • It’s less stressful – I don’t have to worry about bugs or systems going down, just typos
  • It lets me experiment with building a radically different business
  • I can use the skills and knowledge gained to build products that are relevant to more people

I’m taking December off from consulting and focusing on building this as a business. By the end of December, I want to have the beginnings of a clear value proposition stated in customer language, testimonials based on paid engagements, and a marketing plan for identifying and going after companies I might want to work with. I also want to have an idea of what wild success might look like, so that I can get a sense of whether the end game appeals to me. We’ll see how it goes!

As another part of this experiment, I’m going to see what happens if I share as much as possible during the adventure. I’ve shared the kinds of services I’m thinking about offering, key competitors (including links!), my motivations, how to test this idea, even my pricing thoughts. The past ten years of blogging have shown me that sharing often leads to amazing conversations and even more things learned, so let’s see what happens if we do that in business, too.

I’m going to be learning a lot – and I can probably learn and share even more with your help. I’d love to talk to people who have hired or contracted with illustrators, social media people, and event promoters to find out what those buying decisions looked like. I want to learn about managing deal flow from freelancers who work on small gigs. What else can I learn from you and share with everyone else? What kind of help should I be asking you for?

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