August 30, 2011


(Supplementing my workshop at the Word11 blogging festival.)

When I talk about social media, I say that curating is an easy to way to prove your intent and build trust. That's true but not enough. I said that to nudge you to get shipping content. At Word11, I explained there's a higher level and shared the best tool.

Stage 1: Parrot

Wanna cracker?Like a parrot, you recirculate links that others have found. You simply press the button for Like (Facebook), +1 (Google+) or Retweet (Twitter).

Shortcut: If you want, you can focus entirely on LinkedIn for curating. That's an excellent environment to master. Connect Twitter, you can send your updates there too.

Stage 2: Pundit

As you parrot, you master the tools of social media. You get faster and better. You build a following. Continue your curating but now become a pundit too. Creating content is more valuable that repeating what others say. Your followers may parrot you.

Got a bright idea?Blogging is the best way to create content. Here are three reasons why blog posts rule.
  1. Easy to create
  2. Easy to find
  3. Easy to consume

Easy to create

You don't need special equipment to blog. That's assuming you already have a computer, netbook or tablet. If not, how are you reading this post?

You don't need to worry about having a good microphone or camera. You don't need to talk a course in Photoshop or digital video editing. You don't even need an Internet connection when you're writing.

Right now, I'm composing the initial draft at a desk at the Centre for Social Innovation Annex. There's noise and people are talking. That doesn't matter as I type on my iPad.
Easy To Find
Unless you're writing only for yourself, you might as well make your content easy to find. Google keeps getting better at indexing images and video, but they are best best at indexing text.
Easy To Consume
Blogs are easy to read on many devices. I’d have trouble listening to a podcast or watching a video where I am right now while writing but I can easily read text.

But ...

Creating content takes more time. That’s why there’s more value. Instead of writing this post, I could have Retweeted or Liked dozens of times. Those updates would quickly vanish in minutes, hours or days. Try finding an update from last week. A blog post lasts and makes a bigger mark on your digital tapestry.

If you're not convinced about the power of blogging, watch this short clip from Seth Godin and Tom Peters.

What do you think now and who will you tell?


PS If video is more effective for your niche, consider having a transcript for readers and search engines.

August 23, 2011


building trust with a squirrelYou're reading a blog. That's easy.
Why not write a blog? That's easy
— probably easier than you expect.

A is for Apple

When you were a child, reading took practice. Yet you wanted to learn. Maybe you started with cloth books that jingled when you shook them. You were soon ready for Dr. Seuss. Now you can read (and understand) these 10 difficult books. I can't but you can. Congratulations!

B is for Blogging

Consuming content is fine but how does that help with your marketing? Creating content sets you apart and helps build trust. Yes, there is a learning curve. Yes, you need discipline. You've shown you have both by getting where you are today.

C is for Concerns

Attend Word11 (click for details)You can certainly blog. What's holding you back? Perhaps concerns like these:
  1. What do I write about?
  2. Is my writing good enough?
  3. How do I get started?
  4. How do I keep shipping?
  5. How much time do I need?
  6. Where do I find the time?
  7. What if I run out of ideas?
  8. How do I invite traffic?
  9. Is blogging better than writing a book?
  10. How authentic must I be?
  11. How do I measure my success?
You sure have a lot of questions. To get answers, immerse yourself in the Word11 blogging festival in Toronto this Saturday (Aug 27, 2011).

S is for Shipping

My approach to blogging is a tad unconventional. Actuaries aren't known for their skill with words. I have no formal training in writing. I wasn’t required to submit a single essay in university. I learned by observing and practicing. Monkey see, monkey do.

I noticed that I was trusting amateur bloggers over paid professionals. Bloggers were more conversational and more engaging. When I started blogging on February 3, 2007, I didn’t know what I was doing or even why. Monkey read, monkey write.

Here’s the first post on the now dormant anything-goes Spark Insight blog: Measure twice. I quickly saw that I needed to focus. On the 13th, I started this blog as a detour to proving my expertise. Here’s the first post: Testing 1-2-3. On the 18th, I started Riscario Insider with What’s in a name? as a direct link to my expertise. Eventually, I got into the rhythm of blogging weekly.

This is my 470th post overall.

In the beginning, you may want to read blogs about blogging. I did for a while until I found my own style and voice. I then focused on shipping my own posts. You may find that writing one blog with two posts per week is better than two blogs with one post per week.

W is for Word11

Let's talk face to face at Word11. I'm the first speaker in the Entrepreneurial stream and most of my session will be Q&A.

There's bound to be energy and buzz. You don’t need any blogging experience. Count on meeting attendees with a range of interests and skills. Enthusiasm is catching. This event may be just what you need to get started and/or keep shipping. Drop by, say "hi" and (maybe) blog about your experience. Your audience is waiting.

(new) Here's the live recording.


PS The advance tickets are gone. There are some at the door. Arrive early to snag yours.

August 16, 2011


pizza = cardboard + paper mache + acrylic paintThat long-term customer just said your pizza tastes like cardboard. Your pizza tastes okay to you.

Sure you've been finding ways to cut down on the costs. Mushrooms cover more of the pizza but the slices are thinner and cost less per pie. Ditto for the onions and other toppings. The cheese is cheaper too.

The ‘za tastes fine as long as you don't reheat it the next day. Your dough is drier than ever which helps sell more drinks. Besides, customers can buy back the sauce you've taken away. You call it "dipping sauce". Your sauce has cheaper ingredients and more filler too.
The taste is fine ... once you get used to it.


The changes shouldn't matter to the customers and the price increases were minor. The modifications boost profitability. Besides, you need to spend more on advertising to get back some of the customers who didn't like the last batch of changes. Switching to spring water and recycled cardboard wasn't enough of an offset.
You didn't like all those changes either but as a franchisee, you have no say.


Still it's annoying when customers complain. They're getting so particular. If they had their own pizza store, they'd be doing the same things you are. You’re running a business, after all.

What's really annoying is that pizza place down the street. They're not part of a chain. They don't advertise. They don't offer pasta or wings or desserts or specials. How do they survive in today's economy? They charge more but use fresh toppings and real cheese. That's no way to run a business. What are they trying to prove? They don't have a catchy jingle or an easy-to-remember phone number. Forget about ordering online. They're behind the times. But they're still in business. Why are they still so busy?


Pity the submarine shop too. Customers see their subs being made. They know how fresh ripe tomatoes look. Luckily, they aren't good at spotting the slightly thinner cheese or the savings from switching from slices to triangles. They don't know how the ingredients have been cheapened either. Still, there's less leeway with subs.

At least your customers can't tell what grade of tomatoes are going into the sauce. Chemicals aren't exactly cheap. Even you know that a pizza baking doesn't smell as nice as before. Next month, the aroma designers will launch a scent to fix that.


There's that customer's car again. They're coming back. They always get pizza on Tuesdays. Wait … they're passing by you. Doesn't that box pressed against the window look like it came from that other place pizza place?

Maybe their cardboard box tastes like pizza?


Small changes build and big consequences. The hotel that gradually deteriorated is an example. It’s like diluting the soup and cutting down on the portions. Each compromise was insignificant on its own. Now there's no point returning ever again.

Are you adding more filler or using cheaper ingredients ... without passing on the savings? Undoing the damage isn't easy and might be impossible. Maybe your customers would prefer higher quality and accept higher prices? Even if your competitors don’t think that.


PS Have you had a great pizza lately?

August 9, 2011


Google Street ViewThe address was on a major Toronto street. Even so, I checked Google maps. The Street View showed what looked like the hotel under construction.

My months-old navigation system plotted the path to what seemed to be a brand-new building.

The hotel wasn't there.

I could see it on a side street but not how to get there. I was in the left hand lane and the path looked like a right turn three lanes over. I backtracked and turned on what looked like the correct street.
3 hours for a 1.5 hour event?Eventually, I got to the networking event at 7:43 AM, 13 minutes late.

I happened to be chatting with a member of the foreign property management team about the “bait & switch” address. He agreed that the address was prestigious ... but misleading. Fooling visitors doesn't make a good first impression --- especially if they've been traveling for hours to get there and battled heavy traffic.

Each attendee had 30 seconds to introduce themselves to 60+ attendees. The hotel manager took 78 seconds — more than twice his share but didn't have much to say. The facilities were going to upgraded. That's nice but of no value to us right then.


washroom out of orderempty words: we careThe washroom was in bad condition.
There was a smell. Two of the four urinals were out of order. Maybe that explained the water on the floor. At least three soap dispensers were empty.

How could this be?

The We Care notice said:
In order to maintain a high standard of cleanliness in our restrooms, we clean and resupply them every hour. If this restroom should need attention, please refer to the front desk attendant for assistance. We'll respond immediately. This is just another way we show you that we care.
That’s impressive but not true. Yet someone signed the sheet at 8 AM to say the facilities were in proper working order. Gulp!


normal parking rates are cheaper"special" parking ratesWe got a "special" parking rate of $6 for 7 AM to 10 AM. That’s three hours. That’s excessive for an event that runs 1.5 hours from 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM.  Even two hours (7:15 AM to 9:15 AM) would have been ample.

The parking rate sign showed the normal rate for two hours was $4.50. Our “special” cost us 33% extra and the spots we vacated could be resold.
This is worse. Another group paid $6 from 8 AM to 5 PM. That’s nine hours.

The property manager’s representative listened to my concerns and gave my business card to the hotel manager. Nothing happened. Surprised?

What About You?

If your actions don't match your words, your customers will find out and can easily tell others. Proof is easy to provide since today’s smartphones have cameras. Google+ has instant photo uploads on Android devices. Try undoing that.

Where might you be exaggerating? What can you do to meet or exceed expectations?


PS What would you do if you endured my ordeal?

August 2, 2011


iA Writer new icon
iA Writer original icon
I've been blogging for four years and like to think I'm getting better. I get asked how I write so much so consistently.

Each post is roughly 500 words. I didn't realize this until last year when I started using an editor that showed word count.

How To Save Time

Writing shorter posts would save time. Google doesn't like posts that are too short. You probably want 250-300 words as a minimum. That length might work for you. I find my ideas tend to run to 400-500 words.

Use a tool that helps you focus. The iPad is the breakthrough for me. It's the right size, instantly on and portable. An external keyboard is essential. The delay between idea and typing needs to be short. That's why using an onscreen keyboard or a small keyboard on a smartphone isn't satisfying.

Speed And Distractions

Why not use a notebook computer? There are two problems: speed and distractions. Maybe it's just me but a new computer feels as slow as the last one within weeks. I don't know why. Maybe more apps are running in the background. For instance, an idea might strike you while a virus scan has made performance sluggish.

Distractions are the bigger problem. Even if you're running your editor in full screen, you'll see icons for other applications. You might get alerts when there's a new email. You might want to look up something on Wikipedia or check email for just a moment. Even if you don't, you know you could. Holding back takes willpower. The delicious chocolate chip cookies are in a jar in a kitchen cupboard ... yet they still entice.

With the iPad, apps run full screen. You can switch to another task, but that takes effort. You might as well do what you're doing. The result is focus.

The Write App

You can type using any app but a specialized writing app helps immensely. I'm using iA Writer. It's brilliant. All you can do is write. You see the word count and estimated reading time. That's it. You can even suppress them and the spelling checker. You're left with a blank page with only three lines highlighted. The rest fade are faded. This makes your focus even sharper. You edit later.

What about fonts, bullets, bold, italics? Not available. All you can do is type. The special font is large and inviting but doesn't get in the way.

If you have an iPad and are having trouble writing, get iA Writer. It may be just what you need.

Other Time Savers

Learning how to write would probably help. I'm self-taught. I (still) don't know how to type.


What’s the best way to capture your thoughts? Before, I'd jot bullet points on 5"x8" paper. Once both sides were close to filled, I knew I had enough for a blog post. This brainstorming only takes 10-15 minutes. The hassle is getting the thoughts into digital text. Sometimes I'd have trouble finding the scribbles. The solution is typing directly into your computer. That's where the iPad shines above everything I've ever tried.


I can't create diagrams with what is essentially a typewriter. That requires another app or a scrap of paper.


PS Whatever tools you use, practice helps. What a surprise!