1 November 2010
A color photograph of Little Italy, Manhattan ...
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And by extension, so can your business. At least they can, with the right mindset.

Yes, this requires some explanation.

Cities come in all shapes and sizes

I live in a relatively small city. Boston is 20th in the US. Neither huge nor piddly. But compared to New York, or Toronto, or London or other major players, it’s small. If you want something a bit “niche” in Boston — let’s use vegan restaurants as an example — you can look on Yelp or a specialized directory like Happy Cow and discover that there are very few choices (in this case, 2 for Boston proper, 4 more in nearby to not-so-nearby cities and 1 that’s a tea room in Cambridge). However, in a big city like New York, you’ll be wading through pages of Yelp or Happy Cow with listings for actual vegan restaurants in the actual city (52 on Happy Cow). Same thing with, say, Vietnamese restaurants, or non-chain fabric or art supply or book stores, or places to buy Hello Kitty stuff or high heel shoes in men’s sizes for drag queens.

In Boston, you feel like you can know, have eaten at, and have an opinion about all the vegan restaurants pretty easily. You can become expert on the drag queen shoe stores even more quickly. Then there’s nowhere else to go. In a big city like New York, you feel like you’d never be able to fully explore all the places that could serve you niche because there are so many — you can be very choosy. You can narrow down your micro-niche and become an expert there. You can patronize only the best of the best.

You can have faith that more will always pop up, too.

The blogosphere is just like New York

There is great abundance!

A lot of people are afraid to start a blog (or a business, or both) because they feel that what they have to offer already exists out there. They are wary of the competition, or even feel they pale in comparison to those in their space who’ve already made a name for themselves. That’s why this belief  in abundance is so powerful. There is room out there on the web for many many of us as content providers/bloggers/businesses and as consumers. To all practical extents and purposes, the number of citizens in the internet city is infinite. There’s more room on the internet for whatever your business is than there is for vegan restaurants in New York City. There are more micro-niches. There are more opportunities to be the best of the best.

There’s room for another blog on topic X, even if there are good ones out there. Your take on it is different, your style is different. You will appeal to different readers. Not all readers out there are already saturated with your topic. There are new people coming to it every day, with fresh eyes and eager to learn. Not everyone who’s been around the blog-block is enthralled with the choices they have thusfar — many are happy to check out something new. Especially if it’s better, or specifically better for them.

Don’t be intimidated, jump into the fray!

Prime real estate comes pretty cheap

While finding a space in a good location that you can bring up to code for a restaurant in NYC at a price you can afford can be a daunting prospect, internet space is democratizingly easy to come by. And ideas are free.

Of course, having people know about and come to your space is still an issue — which is where appropriate SEO and good marketing come in. But you can do that.

You still have to have the goods

When you’re limited, day-to-day, by geography, you have to work with what you’ve got available to you. Brick and mortar businesses with local clientele survive, thrive or die within the ecosystem in which they live. If you’re a new vegan restaurant in the Boston area, you’re probably going to do pretty well, even if you’re not the greatest — the ecosystem, with all its college students and liberal thinkers, is terribly under-served. But in New York, you’ll be made or broken by virtue of your merits, as there are a lot of choices in the ecosystem. The same is true in the blogosphere and online business world. You do have to be good to stand out. Your content has to be useful, your voice real and compelling.

Infinite Supply and Demand

Perhaps in the future, the online world will come to mirror today’s brick and mortar world more exactly, and there will be more limits, and less room for certain online endeavors. But these are still early, expanding-frontier days, and not all the gold has been panned out of the Californian rivers. You’re not going to “use up” your supply of potential readers/customers. New kids are moving in every day.

I say all this by way of inspiration, really. If you have an idea for a blog or online business, do it! These are the heady days of possibilities. There are no city limits.

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28 October 2010

Breakfast panel on blogging, inviteHey, at least I’m talking about it… even if I do a less than stellar job actually doing it regularly!

I’m speaking on a panel next week called “Smart Business Blogging: The Medium, The Message, The Method and the Bottom Line” being put on by Seltzer (a Boston-based design and branding firm I work with) and being held at Nexus (an educational and green-building/design exhibit space created by The Green Roundtable). Clare McDermott of SoloPortfolio and Aaron Desatnik of Nexus will round out the panel and Rochelle Seltzer of Seltzer will moderate. The talk is on blogging for business — should you or shouldn’t you? Why? How? What about ROI? What do you write about? How do you get readers? What about SEO? How does it fit into your marketing plan and your brand overall? All that good stuff and more — including a free-ranging Q&A with the panelists and audience.

Lots of networking tends to happen at the events in this series, before and after the panel talk. The audience is usually full of small and medium-sized business owners and marketing folks from a breadth of fields — from non-profits to professional services to arts to brick and mortar retail. The B2B and professional services realms seem to always have good representation.

Get more details and RSVP here.

PS: I know it is very early in the morning. But there will be coffee.

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2 September 2010

Making Ideas Happen bookcoverLast time, I wrote about the idea of making ideas happen in reference to an art project I was working on — rather, am still working on. I stole the phrase from the title of Scott Belskey’s book that was, at the time, sitting in my bathroom, as yet unread. I’ve since read it, so, let me speak a little more knowledgeably.

Book report time!

This is one of those books that, I think, is going to come as a revelation to those who’ve not yet accepted the impending creative economy into their hearts as their one true saviour. It will come as a revelation to those who haven’t yet figured out that you actually have to be organized and creative to get anything done. (And I’m not saying the latter lesson isn’t a hard-won and life-long battle for many of us.) However, for many of us modern creative entrepreneur types Making Ideas Happen is preaching to the choir to some degree.

It’s got some good ideas, and some good stories, and distills a lot of the important nuggets from productivity gurus while eschewing the fussy details that make their methods too difficult in practice (David Allen, I am looking at you).

The two most memorable and, I think, lastingly useful things I take from this book are:

1 » You need a community to help make your ideas happen. The creative genius in isolation is a rarity or a myth. Community helps you refine your ideas, edit yourself, find partners and collaborators when appropriate and aids in launching your ideas when they’re ready to meet the world.

This is something I need to be reminded of constantly. So many of my ideas die on the vine, or on my whiteboard, because I don’t tell anyone about them. I don’t have any accountability and I don’t have any cheerleaders. Like many people, I avoid critiques for fear of hearing something less than glowing — when, in fact, it’s exactly that kind of “constructive criticism” that could make my ideas better and make me stronger as a creator. It’s a catch-22 in fact. We avoid community involvement with our ideas from lack of confidence, but we could gain so much more confidence by sharing our ideas with the community and reaping the benefits of support and collaboration.

Once Mr. Belsky pointed out this need for community in the ideas > happening process, it became so obvious, but I’d never thought about it in such a simple yet meaningful way before. When you stop and think about the people you know who are successful and productive, those genius people, you start to realize, they’re not working alone! They tend to have charisma, have people around them, have support and enthusiasm. They also have their critics — but they’re confident and supported enough to be ok with that. Ah. People. Networking. Community. It’s all becoming clear. Get out of the house more!

2 » Taking notes of everything said at meetings is stupid. You should just write down your action items, and do it with a sexy pen on sexy paper.

This, well, I was already doing that, and thinking there was something wrong with me. People around me seem to be always scribbling furiously while I just sit and make eye contact and listen carefully. I feel so much better about the whole thing now. (Though, as we all know, and have been taught by Mr. Fried, most meetings are a waste of time anyway.) If I may slip into regional dialect for a moment, the wicked cool thing about idea number two, is that Mr. Belsky’s company/organization Behance sells really designy notebooks for taking notes in his perscribed format, and you order by Pantone color.

So, yes, in summary, I do recommend Making Ideas Happen. A lot of it will seem old hat to a lot of people, but in a reinforcing and perhaps even inspiring way. Yes! Down with reactionary workflow! Yes! Down with worrying about things beyond one’s control! Yes! Down with interruptions! Yes to “just ship”! Yes to “respect-based self-marketing”! Pick it up when you’re feeling at a loss for what to do next, or how to prioritize or why nothing’s getting done. And do try to look past the poor cover design.

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7 February 2010
Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempe...
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I caught the tail end of an interview with an author of a book about the Berlin Airlift on Bob Edwards Weekend this morning. He mentioned that because of the Airlift, Berliners thought of the American soldiers as “angels in uniform”. It struck me as a stark contrast with what’s going on today. It seemed a reaction to a governmental philosophy that reflects a better way to be, to live, to operate.

I’m not saying it’s not complicated. Along with keeping civilians in Berlin alive, we also bombed the hell out of their city (and of course, the German government was doing unspeakable things and dragging many of its people into it). The Airlift had a big propaganda component, too. But it also was the most ambitious humanitarian relief campaign in history, as far as I know.

Despite my undivided attention to Ken Burns’ The War, I don’t even know very much about it all. Indeed, I’m pretty sadly ignorant of the details of political history between about 1900 and 1980, though I have been learning.

I’m not sure anyone, especially not us everyday people, really knows much about what’s really going on with our present day government and its wars. Or undeclared wars. I don’t say this in a conspiracy-theorist kind of way, or even to be especially accusatory of non-transparency from the reigning administration. It’s just complicated, and much is kept under wraps for strategic reasons, and I don’t read a lot about international policy. I know we do provide humanitarian assistance to the war zones we’ve created of late (as well as to war/disaster areas that aren’t even our fault). But I don’t hear tell of Afghans or Iraqis or Pakistanis calling our military “angels”.

I should probably read the book Bob Edwards was talking about, and not speak out of my impressions of history and politics alone. But, it seems to me, that the Berlin Airlift was a big old going-beyond-the-call, giving to and helping of people because it is the right thing to do kind of event.

Not to belittle the horrors of war and the complicated nature of humanitarian aid campaigns, but I do think this has parallels with the smaller things. The decisions we make in day-to-day living. In fact, look at what Mr. Godin wrote today. It’s a little snarky, and he’s talking about business/marketing. But same thing.

I see it more and more, this realization that Giving (without expectations) is the way to be, the way to live. I’ve always been prone to act this way, but now, seeing it codified so much more often, it seems more and more important as a code of conduct. Not a gimmick, a lifestyle. And good things come of it — the universe is abundant, you know that. Don’t worry about the “getting” part. Don’t worry about reciprocation part. It will all work out. And way better than if you’d worried about it.

I think it’s really interesting that this has been infiltrating the world of business and marketing more and more. Interesting and good. A positive development. A lot of people (or corporations… or are corporations people?) don’t get it. But they’ll be forced to, eventually, or will become obsolete. At least that’s my hope. The fact that so many of my fellow entrepreneurs, designers, marketing gurus, business thinkers, activists, etc., do get it warms the cockles of my heart. Really. Makes me feel part of something positive and progressive and good. A movement. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or the Bauhaus. Idealists, yes, but I love idealism.

There are even books that try to explain this idea to more conventional (business) thinkers. Tim Sanders’ Love is the Killer App is written rather cloyingly, and can get slightly smarmy, but it makes a lot of good points — and importantly, “normal” people seem to understand it and get inspired by it. Michael Port’s Think Big Manifesto also has some of these qualities (though it’s a painfully repetitive read).

All of you out there who write blog or publish a zine or make art because you want to improve the world and give people cool, interesting thoughts and images — all of you designers, like me, who refuse to put more crap into the world, only pointful stuff — all of you who will sit and talk to someone over coffee for a couple hours and help them figure something out, and enjoy doing it — all of you who act out of compassion not expectation of returns — thanks! Let’s keep doing it. Let’s make this the movement. Let’s make this how we change the world and what we’re known for in history. I’m down with that.

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