1 November 2010
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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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18 October 2010

OK, I admit it. I kinda hate online video.

Not my streaming Netflix (hello iPhone in bed!) or Lynda.com or Nettuts+ patiently, pausably teaching me stuff with hands-on, screencast tutorials, — but blog posts, product or company information and “about me” stuff. I know it’s a controversial view. I know video is au currant and terribly hip, and colleagues and clients are asking me about “doing video” all the time with a “this is going to be cool!” gleam in their eyes. Furthermore, I can imagine that one feels pretty accomplished getting a digital video camera all hooked up and recording something and actually posting a video blog post. I know I would.

But here’s the thing. If people don’t have time to read on the web, which apparently they don’t, how the hell are they going to have time to sit through a video?

I know I really have trouble interrupting what I’m doing to pay attention to information being disseminated via time-based media in a way that is not an issue for the written word. With a blog post (or about page or product info), I can scan if I want, to the degree I want, or read carefully. I control my time-commitment. With video, I have to wait through it.

We know multitasking is not productive, or even good for your brain. So, ideally, if I’m to watch a video, I should be just watching the video. But, unlike an article, which I can take at my own pace, video egotistically demands that I sit through 1 minute 24 seconds or 5 minutes 3 seconds, or whatever it decides I should,  whether I like it or not.

Lacks bonus features, doesn’t play well with others

With written items online, I can cut and paste bits I want to reference later into Evernote or some other organized digital collecting depot. I can email specific bits to someone. I can click the links and follow up. With video, I have actually write or type notes real-time, perhaps pausing the video, perhaps scribbling furiously. If I want to share the info, I have to send a link to the video and tell someone to watch starting at a certain point in the timecode — knowing, full well, that they’ll have the same barriers to entry that I just experienced and probably won’t bother to play the thing at all.

Oprah sells transcripts for $25. As you’re (probably) not Oprah, think about offering free ones.

The first thing I do, habitually, when confronted with an online video is to check to see if there’s a transcript below it that I can read instead (like with the audio on the NPR website — thank you!). There almost never is. I suspect part of the appeal for people who create videos is not having to type up their thoughts. Though, I suspect they, at least, have some notes. It’s a bit of a pain to transcribe an extemporaneous talk word for word — but would you do it if it meant more people got your content, commented on your blog, liked your product, etc.? Might be worth it.

I believe that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service can afford one some very cheap transcription services, as well. But I don’t know, for sure, because the “getting started” info was only in a video, and I didn’t want to interrupt my writing long enough to watch it. Might have read a quick blurb if there was one there, though.

I’m not saying give up your video if you really want to have it, just give your visitors some options.

On the horizon

Mozilla is pioneering very cool new technology for subtitling videos in a community-driven way. This has terrific potential — especially for localization and accessibility issues. A side-effect, however, is going to be video with transcripts. In your choice of languages, if someone’s contributed them. I like where this is going!

Not absolutism

Far be it for me, a visual designer, to absolutely decry the use of visuals! Video certainly has its place online — in didactic settings and for exhibiting time-based art (movies, tv, animation, science stuff, commercials that ad agencies think are cool enough to go viral on the web and sell more stuff, crap on YouTube) it’s perfect. It’s those talking-head videos (which offer little additional information by way of imagery) that I think we can usually do without. People are going to skip them. Or at least they’re going to put them in some background window while they start reading something else, or checking their email or Twittering or playing Bejeweled or designing an invitation or otherwise not giving you full attention.

So, think twice about what content you choose to present in video format. If it really does need to be time-based or is imparting extra information in the visuals that video provides, go for it — but consider offering a summary or transcript.

If you’re thinking, “but my business is all about me and my personality and people need to see me on video to know if they’ll like me”, I say, yes, perhaps. But your authentic tone and personality should come through in everything you put out there. Your writing, your marketing, your branding. People can get a good feel for “you” without the audition tape. Sure, go ahead and offer one if you like, but please make it a supplement, not a barrier.

Am I too curmudgeonly on this front?

Beyond the research about reading online and multitasking, this is all a bit anecdotal — from my own experience with, and reaction to, video. But I do think there’s truth to it. What do you think? Are you a rapt watcher of online video, or a skipper, like me? Should I stop complaining, press play and get with Web 2.0/3.0?

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22 January 2010

Ok, it is a blog, technically. But I’m calling it a zine for several reasons. (And maybe, eventually, I’ll make it look more like a zine, and less like a blog… but today, going live is goal number one…)

The dangers of reading all those books and blogs about blogging

First of all, I know too much about how you’re “supposed” to write a blog and that is not necessarily what I have in mind to do. In a way, it takes the pressure off. Blogs are all about diving deep in your niche — letting your sustained interest take you further and further into your topic — perhaps for years on end, and eventually, creating a massive resource about said topic for your readers. That’s cool — I love blogs like that. I read a lot of them. I admire the authors endlessly for their dedication to their subject and their ability to concentrate so singlemindedly.

Some stuff I like

I, however, seem to be more of a serial obsessor (and maker upper of verbs). I know myself — I go very deep on a thing for a time, then it fades. It could be the year I collected antique buttons, spending evening after evening sorting them according to different taxonomies, learning how to test their material composition, going to antique button events in seemingly made-up rural enclaves with terrifying elderly button ladies, excitedly waiting for my new issue of the National Button Society journal. It could be my bout of making anything and everything into a pinhole camera (mint tins, cookie tins, toothpaste boxes, old cameras, Polaroid Land cameras, film canisters, hotel rooms, large public monuments…) and reading about camera-construction and taking all manner of workshops. The obsessive crocheting year, the genealogy, papermaking, making buttons out of clay, German new wave cinema, bookbinding, screenprinting, Australian movies, the jewelry upcycling, the various historical screenplays, user experience, design research, design management, typography, dog photography, deconstructing clothes to make sewing patterns (yes, I have a pair of homemade leggings, based on a store-bought model) (oh, and here’s a great book, if you’re into that sort of thing) self-actualization, Getting Things Done, lens making, cyanotype and van dyke brown photo printing, Polaroids, HTML. I can’t begin to remember all the deep dives I’ve taken — but most seem to last between a few months and a few years. Most linger as something I remain interested in and come back to and still do. But the very serial nature of my obsessions makes me completely terrified of committing to a single topic or niche for a traditional blog.

Another reason I don’t want to call this a blog, is that I’m afraid I may defy the generally-accepted wisdom to write simply and clearly without too strong an accent and to stay on message. I definitely agree with that for my clients and for more traditional “marketing” endeavors, all round. (Mr. Godin has a concise bit about your writing accent, and I would argue even more strongly that in marketing copy, the accent, or more correctly, the “voice” needs to born out of a strategic decision about what’s right for the audience.) But, for me, part of being “authentic” (oh, overused but still crucial and valid word) is reserving the right to sometimes be a bit florid. A bit purple or convoluted in my prose. Sometimes I use a lot of big words. Sometimes I talk like someone in sixth grade in a Boston suburb in the mid-80s. Sometimes I think I’m a Victorian novel. Or at least English. So, take me or leave me. I can’t be (or don’t feel like being) held responsible for keeping it syntactically simple. Ideas are another matter.

What’s my point, even?

Also, my primary goal here isn’t really marketing. Yes, I certainly want to attract and get in touch with awesome people who need my design and strategy services. Working with awesome people is pretty damn gratifying – especially when you get to do creative work for them that helps them to fulfill their business or personal objectives and makes them happy. And especially when it’s a give and take and you both learn and teach. That’s my MO in having Clove Orange, the design concern. But my primary goal (if I even have a goal) in having Tiny Flying Goats, the zine, is expression and two-way communication.

The end of analog

There’s a big piece of paper taped to the coat closet door that says “BLOG” on the top. With the Sharpie and gluestick stationed nearby, I’ve been scrawling ideas and pasting pictures on there for the past six months. My boyfriend keeps asking me, “you know blogs are supposed to be online, right?”

Despite having taken a terrific writing workshop with Grammar Girl a year or two ago at Kripalu (a hippie yoga place — great for taking workshops, but has become unduly expensive of late) where we all sat on the floor in our socks and practiced writing for different kinds of social media in our paper notebooks, I do actually know that blogs are generally online. I was just, as I was saying, afraid of commitment to a niche.

Now, what was I talking about?

The annals of Annie history

Ah, yes. The final reason that this is a zine, not a blog, is because back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was one of those DIY zine people. (Actually, ironically, I’ve always hated the word “zine” but, it is what it is. It means what it means.) It was called “Tear Down the Sky” (the name is an obscure Boomtown Rats reference, rather than the nihilistic sentiment it appears to be). I devoted myself to this project all through high school and college, and it reflects my developing, somewhat crazy brain, my growing interest in design (though even the final issue is an embarrassing typographic nightmare), and the evolution of the technology available to everyday people for publishing (it moves from a cut and paste, typewritten photocopy through an odd, halftone and offset phase and then to Mac Classic and Xerox Docutech). But, overarchingly, it represents an unbridled, uncensored passion. (I’m working on doing a reprint of an issue or two of Tear Down the Sky, despite the embarrassing factor on the design… will let you know what happens with that.)

This was, somehow, before my understanding of the world and self-consciousness was fully developed. It was before I knew too much. It was before I felt compelled to write a thousand word apologia as the first copy in a new project. I wrote about what moved me, or what came to mind. Though some issues had themes, I didn’t really worry about it too much. I drew lots of weird pictures. I roped in friends when I could, but mostly just did it all myself. It kept me very occupied, and it made me very happy when people appreciated it. It made me very happy when people wrote me letters because of it (on paper, imagine that!) In fact, I met one of my dearest and most influential friends through such a fan letter. It was cool. It was authentic. So this is my new zine. Hope you like it. Write comments or email me if you do. If you don’t, don’t read it. I’m the first to admit it’s not for everyone. Maybe not for anyone (but me).

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