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Comedy and self-promotion

| entrepreneurship, marketing, social, web2.0

We headed out for taco salads and soup at the Easy Restaurant on King Street after our last class of improv comedy. My three classmates and the teacher were all deeply into the Toronto improv and sketch comedy scene. I was the lone non-comedian, and I got a fascinating glimpse into that world.

They talked about the awkwardness of telling non-comedians about your interests. When the conversation turns to what people do, they feel that people who are outside the comedy scene just don’t get it, saying: “Oh, you’re a comedian? Tell me a joke.” One of my classmates said that this was probably why practically all her friends are also in the comedy scene. I wonder if they also have problems with the echo chamber effect that we see online, when people end up talking only to people like them.

They talked about the challenges facing the Toronto comedy scene. There are lots of stand-up rooms in Toronto where people can practise their material, but attendance is hit-or-miss. If you liked a specific comedian, it was hard to find out when and where they’d perform next. Shows were better publicized, but individuals were hard to track. I asked them if it was a matter of marketing. To me, it seemed obvious: if you were starting out as a stand-up comedian or an improv comedy performer, why not make it easier for people to find out when you’d be performing next, and share your adventures along the way?

They reacted strongly against the idea of self-promotion. To them, the idea of an amateur having business cards, a website, or a Facebook fanpage smacked of pretentiousness. It was okay if you’d done a number of well-received shows, or had some kind of national profile. If you were just starting out, you needed to know your place.

I found that really interesting because we run into the same social norms against self-promotion in different business cultures, and it can get in the way of connecting.

I think people do want to keep an eye out for teams and people they like. Facebook’s use of “Fan” might turn people off, so they’d need a more neutral space that can keep track of teams, individuals, shows, and locations. It would be a natural fit for Facebook integration, calendar exports, RSS feeds, and mailing lists. You could probably build the whole thing using out-of-the-box Drupal and the Content Creation Kit. Data entry would have to be done manually for a while (listings from Now Toronto and from the major venues?), but it might eventually grow into something that people can update on their own.

I don’t see people paying to use a service like this, but it might be supported by advertising (and perhaps a share of ticket sales, if you have an e-commerce system tied into venues’ ticketing).

In terms of marketing, you’d probably approach venues that don’t have event lists, as well as teams and individuals. Teams and individuals would be your primary channel for marketing. You could also offer a badge for venues, teams, and individuals in order to advertise upcoming shows, and pre-designed flyers (like what Meetup now does), and provide webpages for people who don’t have their personal sites set up yet. Posters near established comedy venues would be good, too, and hand-outs given to people in line. Business cards might be interesting too.

A business idea for someone who’s really interested in the comedy scene, perhaps! =)

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The great laptop ad campaign

| laptop, marketing

BarCampEarthToronto was a blast, and so was my laptop ad campaign.

It didn’t generate any qualified leads, but it did get Orange & Bronze and WordPress.org some warm-and-fuzzy feelings, and now it’s a good story.

It’s about time that we stopped advertising just Apple or Dell. ;) Do something creative with your laptop cover! Double-sided tape peels off quite cleanly, so go do something funky with it! =)

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Starting your own business

Posted: - Modified: | barcamp, marketing

@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.

Laptop ads sponsored by: Orange & Bronze and http://www.wordpress.org

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Building a community

Posted: - Modified: | barcamp, marketing

@BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

Terrific idea! Ryan McKegney identified the top 1% in his RedFlagDeals.com 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.

Laptop ads sponsored by: Orange & Bronze and http://www.wordpress.org

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Win-win-win: The power of asking

| barcamp, marketing

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.

Laptop ads sponsored by: Orange & Bronze and http://www.wordpress.org

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BarCampEarthToronto: Search engine optimization

| barcamp, marketing

@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 blogspot.com 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.

Laptop ads sponsored by: Orange & Bronze and http://www.wordpress.org

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Livening up your laptop lid: self-adhesive reusable surface

Posted: - Modified: | laptop, marketing

All you need to transform your laptop lid into a reusable surface
where you can display your latest doodles are: one photo album with
self-adhesive pages, a knife, and double-sided tape. Get a photo album
that uses plastic and a sticky(ish) surface. Life is easier and neater
if the strip that keeps the plastic attached to the book is on the
outside edge. You’ll see what I mean.

Step 1. Position the laptop face-down on one page of the photo album
so that the strip that keeps the plastic attached to the book is along
the top edge of the laptop lid. Trace laptop outline onto one page of
the photo album. (If you feel particularly diligent, you can measure
it instead.)

Step 2. Cut the photo album page to size. Trim a bit off the bottom
part to avoid hitting the laptop hinge.

Step 3. Attach double-sided adhesive tape to the laptop.

Step 4. Mount photo album piece on laptop.

Step 5. Peel back plastic and put in stuff.

I like this approach because it doesn’t require me to bring any
special supplies in order to add to the display. For example, I can
add fortunes from fortune cookies, Post-it notes, or even business
cards.

This is handy for my wild idea about selling advertising on my laptop. This laptop hack’s primarily about creatively expressing yourself, though. =)

Good stuff.

I came up with a terrific plan B: a whiteboard with a plastic
protector to keep it from being erased in one’s backpack. That one’s
pretty cool, too. I’ll blog about it more on Sunday, Aug 27. In the
meantime… enjoy!

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