More on Omni Outliner and iCal

Some of you may know that I’m filling in for Keith Robinson at “to-done”:http://www.to-done.com while he’s honeymooning in Mexico. I recently posted a piece there titled “How I learned to stop worrying and love my schedule”:http://www.to-done.com/2005/08/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-my-schedule/

That piece has generated a fair bit of interest, so I’ve just posted a follow up outlining exactly how I use the system to try to keep some control of my day. If you’re interested, you can follow along and see “How I schedule actions and tasks”:http://www.to-done.com/2005/08/how-i-schedule-actions-and-tasks-2/

A Guide to Business Blogging

Seeing as I’m almost cool, I figured it was time I got off my ever growing rear end and write myself a book. It’s the cool thing to do, after all.

But you’ll note that I’m *almost* cool, so I haven’t written a complete book per se. Rather I’ve written a booklet. Or more specifically, a guide. A guide to business blogging, in fact.

I describe the guide as

bq. One man’s approach to business blogging, in which I say ‘It depends’ a whole lot, and share some of the exeperiences I gained in the journey from non-blogger to full time blog designer and consultant.

The guide is now available for “download”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/guide (1.5mb pdf). It’s aimed at the small to medium sized business owner who is contemplating jumping into the blogging fray. It’s not a how-to manual, rather its a ‘what should I think about before jumping in’ manual.

Frankly, it’s not aimed at you, dear reader, but if you know anyone who might be thinking about blogging for business, would you mind letting them know about the guide?

Thanks!

Business Blog Basics

The first bit of news I want to share with your is about a course I’m offering in conjunction with the fabulous Andy Wibbels of “Easy Bake Weblogs”:http://www.easybakeweblogs.com and “Andymatic”:http://www.andymatic.com fame. Our 3 session live phone-in course is designed to give the business person interested in blogging a good basic understanding of the terms, tools, and techniques of blogging for business.

The 3 hour course is ridiculously well priced, and a tremendous value. If you know anyone who’s contemplating this whole business blogging game, please let them know this thing is coming up soon. Details are available at “www.businessblogbasics.com”:http://businessblogbasics.com/

Let's talk about estimating.

How do you do it? What tools to you use? Do you track your efficiency?

I’ve been using “Omni Outliner”:http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnioutliner to manage my estimates. I quickly list the steps required and the time I estimate they’ll take. It’s a pretty good tool. It’s light, super easy to use, and is able to perform addition.

But that’s it. Only addition, no multiplication. Which has me considering the move to excel. I’m a excel wizard. I can make a spreadsheet sing. But the software is soooo heavy. Even on my dual 1.8 g5 it takes *forever* to load.

What tools do you use? Leave a note in the comments, or create a link back to your own site if you write something up.

The current blogging advice is wrong

Darren at ProBlogger”:http://www.problogger.net is running a series on blogger apathy. I think I may have helped inspire him (I don’t know, because he hasn’t mentioned it. I think he’s getting back at me for not linking to him in a “post”:http://www.peterflaschner.com/?id=153 he inspired a while back. )

The comments are where the action is at ProBlogger these days – which is not a swipe at Darren by any means. In fact its to his credit that he draws some bright people, that he puts a subject on the table, then gets out the way to let his audience flesh it out.

A recent comment on “this”:http://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/08/04/declaring-war-on-blogger-apathy/ post (no comment permalinks, so I can’t link to it) hits on something I’ve been thinking about lately: blogging schedules. In particular business blogging schedules

The mantra for some time has been ‘post at least three times a week’. *I think that’s wrong.* Here’s why:

* It doesn’t take a site’s goals into considerations *at all*
* It inevitably produces burn-out
* The pressure to post can produce guilt and stress
* It can lead to posting for posting’s sake (ie crappy posts)
* It can water-down the value of your blog
* It can seriously scare potential bloggers off getting started

I want to look at this last point for a moment. Let’s assume that your regular readers are subscribed to your newsfeed (a safe assumption?). I put it out there that new readers landing on a series of weak filler posts are less likely to stick around and subscribe to your site than if they were to land on a strong post.

I’m taking the stance that your regular readers will continue to be your regular readers whether you post once a week or once a day. They read you for the quality of the content, not the quantity.

I think the quantity game is a dangerous one for a business blogger.

Now, if your business *is* blogging, it’s a different scenario. Your goals will be to get maximum total exposure. A blog talking to an established or niche customer base (say, like a designer talking to potential customers) will be less concerned with adsense click through rates and more concerned with earning and keeping happy clients.

More to come on this.

Entrepreneurs R US

I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with a couple of folks regarding how hard it is to make a living as a freelancer. Sure, there’s money to be made. Lots of it in fact. But with rare exceptions, as a freelance worker, you need to be sitting at your desk in order to be earning.

This is hardly revolutionary news to anyone who’s ever worked for themselves.

Just about everyone I talk to is fast turning into an entrepreneur. We’ve got web 2.0 programs in development, new services on the whiteboards, books to write… Looks like need really is the mother of invention!

This outpouring of creativity is just so inspiring to be around. It warms the cockles of my heart to see my fellow web-o-naughts exploring the boundaries of our craft in an attempt to free ourselves from the shackles of ours desks (ahhh, the dream).

I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire, and I bet you do too. Which leads me to wonder about the business of design. Or more specifically, the business of web based businesses.

When I was in business school a decade or so ago, there wasn’t any talk of web based business. There _wasn’t_ any web-based business. No doubt I could go back and take a course or two (note to self: not a bad idea). But what with the 14 hour work days and all, it’s kind of tough.

Other learning options include good old fashioned books. A google search for “web based business” book (quotations used in the search) returns 74,800 matches.

Seminars are valuable too. I’ll certainly be attending my share – just as soon as I’m not so desperately house-poor. Note to readers: when your contractor says “Thirty to forty thousand”, laugh out loud and double it. See “this”:http://www.peterflaschner.com/index.php?id=23 post for more reno tips.

I’m betting there’s a bunch of designers/developpers out there who would read and find value in a site devoted to running a design or application related business. I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of paying taxes, finding a merchant account, comparing banks, etc.

What do you think? Is there value in this idea? What kind of information would you like to see? What format (blog, wiki, regular site, etc)? Does this kind of site already exist?

Who owns a brand?

Over at “The Blog Studio”:http://www.theblogstudio.com, I’m running a series discussing the ongoing process of redesigning Toby Bloomberg’s “Diva Marketing Blog”:http://www.divamarketingblog.com. So far, its been an very successful endeavour, with lots of comments and emails flying. (See the post “here”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/the-divas-design-takes-form as a starting point)

It’s incredibly interesting to note how passionate people are about making sure the new look match’s Toby’s brand. What’s so interesting about it is that Toby hasn’t done very much specific branding at all. And yet her readers know exactly what her brand is. *The problem is, many see her brand in completely different ways.*

Letting your audience design your brand is an interesting experiment. Note that I’m not talking about a logo or a colour scheme, but rather a “brand as an experience”:http://www.peterflaschner.com/?id=110, much like I talked about in an earlier article. There are some significant benefits (a sense of ownership), and some significant pitfalls (misinterpretation, a resistance to change).

Ever try to rent a movie with a group of people? Disagreements, right? Now imagine if you had to choose your flick based solely on the rental store’s boxes – no movie art, no action shots, just a few lines describing the film. How difficult would it be to get a consensus then?

As an example of how differently Toby’s brand is viewed, some of the comments ask for more “girlie” elements to be added, some ask that they be taken away. Some find the colour palette too fashion-oriented for a Diva, some find it too playful. Some readers have taken the word “Diva” to mean *fah-bulous* and some have taken it to mean *difficult*. That’s a pretty significant difference.

That there are differences isn’t so surprising. What is surprising is how reasoned the arguments are. The reasoning ultimately ties back to what the individual perceives the Diva brand to be. And there is obviously some disagreement about that!

h2. So who owns the Diva Marketing brand? Is it Toby, or is it her readers?

This line of questioning is pretty important for anyone in the early stages of business blogging. Most successful blogs have become that way organically. My personal site, for example, started as a design experiment, yet along the way it became my primary point of contact with my work world.

Because I’m a designer with a keen interest in how branding works at a brain-function level, I built this site with the hope that it would become associated with the kind of work that I do. That is to say that I controlled the visual and non-verbal aspects of my brand from the outset.

My bet is that many business blogs (and again, I’d consider this site a business blog) begin without much of a thought as to how (or if) the brand is being supported.

This does not mean that you have to spend a ton to hire a “designer”:http://www.theblogstudio.com (of course I’d be quite alright with it if you did!), but it does mean that you need to be aware that your audience will be developing their own brand around you.

h2. Is this good or is this bad?

I think you can make a case for both. It’s good to have your audience invest in your message. The act of brand building may give them a deeper sense of ownership of you. This is good.

On the other hand, unless you’ve made some very specific, well researched decisions, your audience may interpret your brand in ways you never intended. An example of this is the various ways *Diva* has been interpreted. Does Diva mean fabulous or high-strung and difficult?

Offering some visual clues can help your audience have a more uniform view of your true intentions. Using the Diva example again, we could use colour to help make the point. For example, cool pastels with hits of chocolate and teal scream “fab darling, absolutely fab”, while rich reds and opulent greens say “bring me another scarf, I can’t possibly be expected to perform in this weather!”.

As I’ve written “elsewhere”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/why-is-a-blog-so-good-for-your-brand, blogging is an incredibly important and effective branding tool. This exercise has shown me how vital it is to use that tool properly. Whether you know if or not, your audience is creating your brand. Every time they are exposed to your site or your message their mental model of is reinforced.

Ever try to rent a movie with a group of people? Disagreements, right? Now imagine if you had to choose your flick based solely on the rental store’s boxes – no movie art, no action shots, just a few lines describing the film. How difficult would it be to get a consensus then?

Ownership of your brand is vital. You brand exists as a mental model in the minds of your audience (no where else!). As it is, you have only limited control as to what goes into that model. Personally, I think there’s too much time and effort at stake to leave so much of it to chance.

Why blog design?

So, in the ongoing spirit of making bold, somtimes totally wrong statements, I bring you the following, from an article recently posted at The Blog Studio blog

bq. Finally, blog design is a tool to help you maximize your return on the time and energy your blog will consume. Imagine giving a presentation in a flat monotone. Now give that same presentation with animation and passion. That difference is the role and responsibility of good blog design.

This is very much true of design as a whole. I target blog design with this statement though because so many businesses are using inadequate stock templates for their business blogs.

Inadequate is a pretty strong word, but given what I’m seeing out there, it’s perfectly apt.

If you’re interested, the full article is posted “here”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/what-is-blog-design.

Who should be blogging – Part 6. Ski Resorts

It’s hot out. What better way to cool off than by thinking about skiing. Part 6 in the ever expanding Who Should be Blogging series continues with a match made in heaven. Blogging was made for ski resorts, golf courses, scuba sites and more.

You can read the article “here”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging—part-6-ski-resorts

The index thus far:

“Part One – Specialty Retailers”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging—part-1-specialty-retailers

“Part Two – Realtors”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging—part-2-realtors

“Part Three – Used Car Dealers”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging-used-car-dealers (I still can’t believe no one is doing this!)

“Part Four – Freelancers”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging—part-4-freelancers

“Part Five – Virtual Assistants”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging—part-5-virtual-assistants

“Part Six – Ski Resorts”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/blogarticle/who-should-be-blogging—part-6-ski-resorts