Ship It

We are all artists. No matter what you create, there’s a distinction between creating art and shipping it.

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Here’s a useful definition of art. How does (re)defining art this way change the way you think about your own contributions? What is your art?

My favorite author, Seth Godin, often writes about going beyond the status quo by creating remarkable art. As we explore and expand our creative practice, Godin also suggests that if we don’t ship our art (i.e. send it out into the world), that it is all for naught. He leans on how art is all is about connection, and if nothing is shipped, there cannot be connection.

Entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, side hustlers, students, and community builders willing to ship, fuel positive change with their art. Unfortunately, the ego often fears external evaluation. This fear is compounded when a lack of success may occur, which is always possible. As apprehension calcifies over time, it becomes tough to resit the temptation of hiding our thoughts, emotions, and activities within the safety of solitude.

Creating art to enjoy by yourself can build skills and provides internal layers of sentimental value, but to go beyond the status quo, push past the fear of feedback.

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Failure is an illusion. We either succeed or learn.

The world is loud, so avoid wasting time shouting just to make noise, but know that we need you to ship your art. This encouragement is not an excuse to rush into bad ideas, ship something that hasn’t received proper attention, or not deliver on a promise. It is however, a friendly reminder that pursuing perfection can devolve into an enemy of progress.

We’ve all heard inspiration like that before, but listen to those you admire. Perfection is rarely required when all you need is enough success to continue creating art. Let such liberation fuel confidence. Translate expanding confidence into fresh curiosity. Augment this curiosity with creative action. Rinse and repeat.

As belief in oneself grows, one interesting hesitation is disguised by good intention. We tell ourselves it’s not wise to be too self-serving. This is virtuous, but sometimes endless humility makes silence feel safe. As we protect ourselves by staying quiet, a self-limiting restraint develops. For example, many people find writing into journal to be therapeutic, but are quick to dismiss the idea of sharing these beautifully raw writings with others. Of course it’s good to internalize some things, but as you learn more about yourself through writing, know your art can make an expanded impact when it ships.

Ready to ship your art? Think about your own super powers and the people you care about. How might connecting these two things provide value? Experiment with small actions and as this develops into a practice, expand the connected nature of your creativity. As your art connects with those who care, find a cadence that allows you to be consistent. Seth Godin suggests that we all ship something daily, but one size does not fit all and the right tempo depends on the art you’re planning to ship. To find your own signal, consider your personal bandwidth and the audience you seek to serve. Talk with others and experiment, then tweak your timing to find the right rhythm.

If you’re shipping art, I’d love to hear what makes it remarkable and how you stay consistent. If you’re looking for new ways to make a ruckus, the Roasted Reflections library and my curated Resources page will help spark fresh movement.

No matter your current state of now, thank you for continuing to create art. More important, thank you for being courageous enough to ship it.

Early Moves

So you have a business idea you’d like to explore? Yes!

It’s easy to say “Let’s gooo!” but when you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else. This is opportunity cost, so be strategic with your early moves. Before you go too far, remember that an appropriate “no” early on is better than a long, wrong “yes.” Let’s explore how to decide what ideas to activate and how to help them bloom.

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Things you dedicate time to will grow.

It takes discipline, but time alone with any idea is a good way to avoid swinging at bad pitches. Dig into online research before going too far. Determine what related products or services already exist. Run some numbers. Talk to potential customers and see if you can snag a few preorders. The goal is to understand the realistic impact you may be able to make in the market by confirming it’s something strangers are willing to pay for.

If you start to feel genuine interest, talk with others who may be interested in collaborating. Think about your own skills to identify where you’ll need help. Attend related events to further qualify early concepts. Even if you’re not ready to share details, the readiness to Show Up and #GiveFirst often leads to new allies who can connect dots as you continue working through ideation, team development, research, and testing.

Before you go much further, take a pit stop with your future self. Is this a business/market you want to work on for the foreseeable future? If you like to quilt, it doesn’t mean you should start a quilting business. The hardships that come with being a business owner can actually kill your passion. Dance with all your ideas, but recognize when something should remain a hobby.

Early moves are exhilarating, but there’s value in being efficient as you decide if something is going to work. If this evolving business idea continues to touch your heart after internal and external analysis, you may have something ready to pursue! Inspiration is perishable, so when this happens, be ready to take action. As you do, stay patient. It’s not how fast you move, it’s that you find ways to keep moving. Avoid the headline trap and find lasting energy knowing that even hints of progress can nurture an idea toward reality.

As you continue moving forward, think big, but remain realistic by doing one thing really well. Stay intellectually humble and welcome doubt by working with others and be ready to iterate quickly. It often takes many versions of an idea to land on something ready for the wild.

Slide Deck Design

Ready to inspire the audience at pitch competitions? Perhaps you’re presenting a business at an event? Maybe you’re simply looking to host a meaningful meeting this week? Let’s explore translating your transmission with sharp slide deck design.

Before we dive in, why are slides even needed? Building a slide deck supports your key points while also establishing the tone and cadence of your performance. One development approach is to plan what will be said, and then wrap slides around that narrative. An alternate approach is to build the slide deck, which helps synthesize your storytelling. I personally find that the process of building a slide deck helps me lock in the story.

No matter how you find your flow, allow clean visuals to support your verbal queues and learn how to share your story in a natural way. The goal is to deliver the most lasting impact in the least amount of time. Honest passion, transparent vulnerability, and concise simplicity are great ways to accomplish this.

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Pitches are built to impress. Presentations are mean to share.

No matter the environment, a clean slide deck is always a good place to start. This is the visualization of your story. Slide decks should create flow while supporting your verbal presentation. They must concisely highlight key aspects of your business. Slides also help address any specific criteria of the environment it’s being used at, such as pitch competitions or other business presentations. Slides should not include full sentences or bullet points for you to read aloud. If the audience is asked to read the slide, they’re unable to pay attention to what you’re actually saying. Titles or short phrases may help guide the audience, but great slide decks use very few words.

With a foundation of strong imagery, make your presentation stand out. This does not mean a bunch of distracting transitions. Keep transitions between each slide simple, but consider how content comes and goes on each slide. Subtle animations and thoughtful hints of movement on each slide will keep your audience captivated. With a striking slide deck in place, practice what you plan to say and sync the narrative to the timing of each slide.

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Think deeply about the specific environment, your audience, and various objectives to craft the most compelling experience. When a message resonates, attendees express interest through questions, introductions, and future engagement.

Being prepared is obviously important when all eyes are on you. Whether you use animated content or not, it’s best to have a single click to move between each slide. As you speak, your attention should be on connecting with the audience, not the slide deck or the handheld clicker. My suggestion is to memorize the flow and order of your slides, but not exactly what you plan to say. The sentiment of your pitch should remain consistent, but it won’t sound the same each time. Memorizing a talk word-for-word is safe for some, but a more genuine tone comes from the heart.

Are questions allowed? If so, include supportive back slides. Back slides live behind the final slide. They are used to highlight material not included in the main presentation. Handy back slides include detailed pricing, competitive analysis, marketing strategies, research data, and intricate financial information. The optional, but available coverage back slides provide make them well worth the time to prepare. People who understand what they’re talking about can use fewer words, and back slides allow you to deliver a strategically simplified presentation. For the audience, this reduces the numbing effect of information overload. With back slides in place, you can indulge in clarifying conciseness. This makes for a more impactful tone. It can even be good to purposefully leave out a curious topic from the main presentation. When the inevitable question pops, you can use the sneaky back slide to share a more focused response. Memorize the order of your back slides and you’ll soon be leading a smooth, more authoritative exchange. In short, back slides prove you’re a pro.

To complete a slide deck build, export all the slides into one PDF and include a JPG image for each slide. The richest presentation will always come from the software (Apple Keynote, Microsoft Powerpoint, Google Slides, etc.) a slide deck was built from, but the PDF and JPG formats can be used as marketing materials. More important, they are quick substitutes to counter any sort of last minute technical issues. Deliver the digital assets on time and drop everything on a flash drive, just in case.

As you tell your story, take feedback seriously. Feedback from people you don’t know will sharpen the business, your slide deck design, and your presentation overall.

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Happy Thanksgiving!  2021 has been remarkable and I’m grateful for so many things. Along with treasured time with family and work I’ll always remember, the ability to consistently deliver these Roasted Reflections every single week is definitely an achievement I’m thankful for. I hope you’ve enjoyed these weekly ruminations and I can’t wait to hear what you think of the YDNTB audiobook this holiday season!

Pitch Competitions

Pitch competitions create hype within conventions, conferences, and trade shows. Business competitions can also be standalone events. When a founder’s storytelling becomes award winning, pitch competitions can enrich your business. Feedback, awareness, complimentary services, and cold hard cash are all up for grabs.

As you explore business competitions, recognize the commitment required for each event. While application fees are rare, applying for pitch competitions can be time consuming. As you apply for different types of events, repetition makes the process more efficient. Save content before submitting each application for a head start on future submission forms. Along with bettering the application process, consider the competitive environment you’ll be occupying.

How can your initial application solidify a positive first impression? What will be required to participate in a meaningful way? Will the audience respond to a presentation meant to share or a pitch built to impress? How much time will you be given? Who are the judges? How can your narrative be catered to the judges’ scoring criteria? Will there be time for questions? If so, what questions should you be prepared to answer? With these considerations in mind, it’s time to prepare the transmission.

NEXT WEEK: Slide Deck Design

Feedback is Data

Customer discovery paves the path to profitability.

This really is the work for entrepreneurs starting a new business. Customer discovery requires curiosity, patience, humility, hard work, thick skin, an interest in being wrong, discernment, and a willingness to adapt.

For many entrepreneurs, impartial feedback can be scary. Customer discovery puts our ideas on the hook and conversations with strangers may contradict past assumptions, but that’s the point! Interacting with the market you seek to serve allows us to learn from “no” in a way that gets us to “yes.” As you collaborate with those who criticize what you’re building, learn why naysayers disagree with your hypotheses. Be humble and make your concepts more compelling to change their minds.

Collecting such real-world data is human and intellectual capital that will attract more network and financial capital. The more you learn from others, the more you’ll recognize—and be able to meet—true demand. This can be a protracted process, which can make it feel unnecessary, but honest feedback will strengthen your value proposition and allow you to eventually go further in the right direction.

When learning from the perspective of others, remember that feedback is only data. This data should be collected, organized, and examined like a scientist. Inference is more effective with more data, so the more feedback you have, the easier it can be to make decisions.

As you translate feedback into action, you must also find your own way. Even with good intent, people who provide you feedback are doing so based on their own experiences. The experience of others is based on the past and is unlikely to harmonize with your exact situation. There are many ways to build your business, so perpetually gather as much feedback as possible and use diversified data to guide your company toward product-market fit.

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My community visit with 1MC Joplin was sweet, this feature article was a neat chance to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, I’m gathering my own feedback by presenting Pour Over Publishing at 1 Million Cups Des Moines, and the much anticipated YDNTB audiobook is almost done!