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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?

image

(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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Networking with notes – and sketchnotes, in particular

| connecting

Incredibly powerful technique. I don’t know why more people don’t use it. So I’m going to give this “secret” away, even if it means that I might have to come up with different ideas once Toronto folks catch on and start mobbing speakers for autographs. It’ll be a good problem to have, because I’ll learn from more talks.

Most people are lazy when it comes to taking notes. That’s because we think we understand things when we listen to them. Everything makes sense. We’re sure we’re going to remember everything, or at least the important parts. Besides, if we take notes, then we’re looking away from the speaker, and we might miss something on the slides, and what’s the point of coming to a presentation instead of listening to the podcast or reading an article if we can’t watch the speaker’s eyebrows go up and down? It’s hard to listen and take notes at the same time, and it reminds us too much of school. (I totally hear you. I hardly took notes in university. I wish I did. I wouldn’t have fallen asleep in lectures if I were taking proper notes, and I would’ve made better use of that time.)

Taking notes gives you an instant follow-up excuse. I am such a lazy networker. Small talk and regular networking is hard. You’ve got to come up with a way to do enough of a “deep bump” (as Keith Ferrazzi puts it in Never Eat Alone) that you’re memorable and you’ve found something valuable for your follow-up. Notes? Notes are awesome. They work for practically everyone. Talking to someone who didn’t take notes? Offer to send them yours. Talking to someone who took notes? Offer to swap notes. That gets your e-mail conversation going, and you can take things from there.

Sketchnotes are even more awesome. Simple notes with stick figures, colour, whatever else. Nothing fancy. But  they resonate with people, they’re easy to review, and they’re fun to share.

Here’s how you can really take advantage of sketchnotes in a way that you can’t do with text notes or live-tweeting:

Walk up to the speaker after the talk and ask for their autograph. You’re there. The speaker’s there. You might as well. While waiting for your turn, you might get to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. And when that turn comes and you bring out your sketchnotes and ask for their autograph, you’ll most likely get this reaction:

“Wow! That’s so cool! Send me that!”

… cue the speaker’s business card, and often a deluge of business cards from other people around you. Send them all a link to your notes once you’ve posted them. Voila! You’re memorable, you’ve created something of value, you’re on people’s radars, and you can ask them questions in that e-mail in order to continue the conversation – maybe even set up a phone call or coffee get-together.

Most people have never been asked for their autographs, and are delighted to oblige once they see you’re not asking them to sign a contract or a blank cheque. It’s a little weird to autograph someone’s text notes. Visual notes, though, especially with a little sketch of them? Excellent excuse to make contact. It doesn’t matter if you have a signed sketchnote or not (this isn’t like a signed first edition or anything), but it gets you that human contact with the speaker and with other people who’ve stuck around for questions.

(Lenovo tablet PC tips: you can disable the buttons on your stylus. I just figured out how to do this, and it will save me so much explaining to speakers.)

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