The Vision Thing slowly says goodbye

One of the first BPM-related blogs to be added to my newsreader was The Vision Thing, and today Ethan announced that he’s shutting it down. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Ethan for one of his Sound of Vision podcasts last May, then meeting him face-to-face at our own little bloggers dinner in Dallas in December.

There’s a few things that you should check out on his site: the flowchart article archive (anyone who can write five articles on the theme of “Visio is Evil” has to have something to say about process mapping!), the rest of the Sound of Vision podcast archive, and the snippets in Process for the People.

This month, Ethan launched Vision Monthly, an online magazine that covers a much wider range of business issues. The first issue included an article by Elisa Camahort (co-founder of BlogHer), one by Paul Gimbel of Razorleaf which led me to his blog on process analysis, and others.

Ethan, we’re sorry to see TVT go, and good luck with Vision Monthly.

Blogging evangelist

I’ve written about business blogging in the past, and I firmly believe that it has become an essential tool for small business marketing in any business where the personalities and personal knowledge of the participants form most of the value of the company. As a company of one, I’m all I’ve got, and I blog in part as an online portfolio but also as a way to engage smart people in conversations of mutual interest. Somehow along the way, I became an evangelist for blogging.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been doing some very occasional mentoring for the son of a friend and his two buddies as they start up their company, Trioro. Every time that we have met for the past year, I’ve asked them when they were going to start blogging, and gradually their looks changed from “she’s crazy but we’ll tolerate it” to “hmm, that might be a good idea if I can fit it into my spare time” (Scott, I can read your face like a book). I strongly suggested that all three of them blog, since they are the company, and a few weeks ago they finally came through. I think that they’re still finding their voice, but it’s a great start.

It’s a little strange to have to push this new-fangled technology to people young enough to be my own kids (well, okay, if I had decided to have kids instead of taking grade 11 algebra), but when I think about it, I’m not really pushing the technology, I’m pushing the concept of a blog as marketing. I can’t fault them for not getting it: a huge part of the business world doesn’t get it yet, either.

I have several friends with small businesses, many of them one-person businesses, and very few of them realize the power of blogging for their business. My long-time friend Pat, a very talented photographer, has her first show of photographs for sale hanging at Barrio Lounge (a great local restaurant) this month. She takes beautiful photos of fruit and vegetable arrangements, lit to look like 16th-century Flemish still life paintings, and prints them on large-format canvas. She’d like to eventually quit her job as a technical writer and do this full-time, and this show is her first step towards making that happen. So you think that she’d be blogging about it, right? About the technique in creating and lighting the arrangements. About the settings on the Canon Digital Rebel that she uses. About the difficulties of finding a printer who could print the large canvases. About the technique for stretching and mounting the canvases. About how we scrambled to hang the show in two hours last Saturday afternoon. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. Okay, she’s busy: while preparing for this show, she was also finishing her Master Gardener certification, in addition to holding down that fulltime job. But at some point, she’s going to realize that success at selling her photographs is going to come much more quickly through greater exposure, and that a blog about how she creates these masterpieces is a powerful tool for gaining that exposure. It’s not like she doesn’t have the skills: Pat’s a professional writer with a degree in English, and she writes many emails to me every week about the same stuff that she should be blogging about.

Another friend of many years, Ingrid, is also a writer. She has degrees in law and journalism, and specializes in plain language business writing on a variety of subjects that usually aren’t so understandable, like tax law. She writes a semi-monthly email column, On Being, that I would love to be able to point you to except that she doesn’t post it online. In other words, she’s a wealth of information on topics that many people would be interested in, but very few of us get to see them. Unlike Pat, however, I think her reasons are more around intellectual property than time constraints: during our latest discussion about On Being, she said that she hoped to be able to sell the columns to a magazine, so didn’t want to put them in the public domain. (I blame the legal training.)

Maybe the problem is that when we write for a living, or if we’re used to highly-polished “marketing writing” as being the world-facing view of a company, we think that everything that we publish has to not only contain pearls of wisdom, but be perfectly proofread. Blogs make that untrue. It’s not like you shouldn’t have something to say, and use your spell-checker once in a while, but you’re not writing your Ph.D. thesis, it’s a blog post! The half-life of the interest in any particular post is less than two days, so there’s not much sense in spending more time than that writing each one.

Interestingly, I wrote most of this post yesterday afternoon, then was interrupted to head off for dinner with Ingrid. We discussed blogging again, and she offered up this last concern — that she was a professional writer and that more casual writing in her blog might impact someone’s view of her finished product — but I think that she’s going to come around on this one.

I rarely write about personal blogging, since I read very few purely personal blogs — most of my reads are technology or business-related. One trend that I have noticed in the past year is “elderblogging”, or blogging by seniors. I’m not talking about what baby boomers are doing as they finally start to retire, I’m talking about their (our) parents: the 70+ crowd. Just as businesses started to realize a few years back that “grey power” was a huge market force, mainstream media is finally starting to notice that the geezers are blogging. That made it easier when I was trying to explain blogging to my 82-year-old mother last month: I just showed her a blog written by a woman her age. Two weeks later, the inevitable email from Mom arrived:

I read Millie’s note today wondering why there aren’t senior bloggers and that she’d helped some get started. As you know my computer skills are not too good but thought that learning how to blog might be fun. Can you tell or send something about how to do this? Don’t know what I’ll blog about but it might be fun.

She started blogging last week. No evangelism required.

Blogs just a fad?

As you can tell by the multiple postings, I’m catching up on email newsletters and RSS feeds that have gone neglected for the past few days. This one caught my eye: in the same email from ebizQ that announced my blog joining this site, they preface the link to an AMR Research report with “wikis and blogs may seem hokey and faddish”.

To be fair, it’s a direct quote from the article, but I’m ROTFL, as we say in the blogosphere.

Blog agility

I’ve been invited to move this blog over to ebizQ, where I’ll join David Linthicum and a few other integration-minded bloggers. No, I’m not selling out — I don’t get paid for blogging, and ebizQ has no control over my content — it’s just a symbiotic relationship where we both (hopefully) benefit from greater exposure. I’ll keep this location available since my previous posts won’t be moving over.

I’ll be redirecting my FeedBurner feed, so for those of you who subscribe to that feed, the change should be transparent. If you visit my blog directly instead of through a feed, or if you use the Atom feed, you can link to my Column 2 domain which will redirect you to my blog’s new home to get reconnected. Thanks to the internet services director at ebizQ, most everything on this blog will move from this Blogger template over to that Movable Type template, including my blogroll, links to the Column 2 Frappr map and my Squidoo BPM lens, and my Technorati search form and profile link (if you visit my Technorati profile, you’ll see this blog as “Column 2”, and the new blog as “Column 2 – ebizQ”). All of my other non-blog links are already on my BPM links, the links page on my corporate website or Squidoo.

Please be patient over the next few days while we get any last wrinkles ironed out.

Business blogging in 2006

Nothing like starting off the new year with some new corporate attitudes: an article in today’s Globe and Mail (which in turn, reviews a Business Week article that I couldn’t locate) talks about business trends for 2006. One of these with which I completely agree is blogging as a marketing tool; it became painfully obvious with a mid-year Business Week cover on blogs that blogs have become mainstream. I’ve mentioned previously that this blog is my main marketing channel: I don’t do any sort of traditional advertising, and rely primarily on personal contact and word of mouth for new business. This blog is a way of extending that word of mouth (or “word of blog”) by putting my ideas and opinions online; not exactly an online portfolio, but a way for anyone out there who’s interested in working with me to learn a bit more about how I think.

I had a funny experience in a meeting a month ago with two people from a large systems integrator: the sales guy asked me how, as a one-person firm, I do sales and marketing, and I told him that this blog was my key marketing tool. His expression was something between distaste and derision, while his project manager colleague asked me what a blog was. Knowing what I already know about blogs and other types of viral marketing, and reinforced by the opinions that I’m seeing everywhere (including the G&M/BW article quoted above), I can see that these guys — and likely a large part of their organization — are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and they don’t even know it: in fact, they would describe themselves as being on the cutting edge of technology. It put me in mind of an older gapingvoid post about smarter conversations: I especially like point #5: “Ruthlessly avoid working for companies that ‘don’t get it'”. Many of my customers embrace the smarter conversations concepts, even if they don’t know what a blog is (yet), so I’m not ready to fire any of them yet; however, I can do my best to avoid partnering with SI’s who don’t get it, since that usually results in an experience akin to a steamroller running over me.

Over the past few months, I’ve bookmarked a number of posts about business blogging, and this has been a good opportunity to review them. I’m not a “professional blogger”, that is, I don’t get paid to blog (and the ad revenue isn’t enough to even cover my ISP charges), but I see blogging as an essential part of my business because of the global microbrand potential: I am a tiny brand but have the potential to provide my services anywhere in the world, and this blog is part of what gets me out of my own backyard. I provide some niche services out in the long tail, so I’m marketing to a few customers spread over a large geographic area.

The Content Factor’s To Blog or Not to Blog states a key point, although their message is targeted at larger companies: “Companies don’t blog; people blog.” This blog contains my personal opinions, not some groomed marketing-speak that I think will sell my services. My premise is that if you read my opinions (and even agree with them sometimes), then we’re more likely to do business together sometime in the future.

Mike McLaughlin on Guerrilla Marketing asked Should Consultants Blog?, and stated that you don’t really need to blog if you work in an industry where blogs are “still an oddity, not a fixture”. I couldn’t disagree more: I work almost exclusively with financial services and insurance clients, typically with their back-office operations, where blogs are definitely an oddity. However, I’m starting to hear many comments from people within my clients’ organizations about how they’re reading my blog (which they found because it’s right there in my email signature) and are learning something from it. Presumably, that adds value to their business day, reinforces their good opinion of me and my skills as they applies to their business, and therefore improves our business relationship. Don’t assume that just because your clients are in a “traditional” industry that they aren’t interested in expanding their horizons by reading some blogs of value. Especially yours.

Face-to-face bloggers

I had the unique experience of meeting two other BPM bloggers this week for the first time, one unexpected and one planned.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was in Dallas to deliver my Making BPM Mean Business course for Imagine Solutions, and was pleasantly surprised when George Dearing of the ECM Blog walked into my classroom at the end of the first day to introduce himself. I link to his blog on my blogroll, so I knew that he works for Imagine, but I had totally forgotten about that in all of the activities around preparing for the course. He read my blog post from Sunday night (in which I didn’t mention that Imagine was my client), and thought that this was too much of a coincidence that I was in Dallas so went scouting around his office to find out if I was there.

On a more planned note, I met up with Ethan Johnson of The Vision Thing for dinner; Ethan and I have been trading blog comments for months, and he interviewed me for one of his Sound of Vision podcasts, so when I knew that I was coming to Dallas, we made the arrangements to connect. I didn’t wear my Process For The People tank top (too cold!), but we still managed to identify each other. We had our own little geek dinner, and as he pointed out, it was unusual because we had equal gender representation, which likely doesn’t happen much at geek dinners. I also noted that we had equal representation from Canada and the U.S.: sort of a NAFTA geek dinner, if you will.

Great to finally meet both of you guys face to face!

BPM en français

Although schooled in Canada where we all have to learn some degree of French, my French is dodgy at best (although, in my opinion, it tends to improve when I’ve been drinking). However, I noticed that my blog appeared on the blogroll of a French BPM blog that just started up, and I’ve been struggling through the language barrier to check it out. There’s no information on the author, but I was instantly endeared to him (?) when I read the following in his reasons for starting the blog:

le marketing bullshit est omniprésent

Isn’t that just too true in any language?

The disappearing blog

I hate it when a blog that I read semi-regularly just vanishes off the face of the ‘net. I commented back in June about vendors starting to blog, and I had my finger on the RSS pulse of CommerceQuest’s blog in spite of some of the blatant self-promotion. Today, however, Metastorm and CommerceQuest have merged under the Metastorm name, the CommerceQuest site is redirected to Metastorm, and the blog is gone. All that I have left are a few crumbs in Bloglines.