What can happen when you leave your phone at home by Monika Kanokova

theartofconversation

Do you ever leave your phone at home? Do you leave it in your bag when you’re out with friends, or do you keep it on the table? Often, my phone ends up being on the table and when it vibrates, it distracts me from the person I am talking to. Usually the person who is sitting opposite of me also has their phone on the table. And when their phone vibrates, they become distracted, too. 

When I got to Germany two weeks ago, I ordered a sim card, but because of the long Easter weekend, it had not arrived for twelve days. And so, once again, I took a break from having a phone and making myself available to people at all times, trying to be in touch with everyone around the clock.

Sure, I couldn’t get half of the things done that I’d usually do on the go. At the same time, knowing that I couldn’t catch up with people online, I could focus on the conversations I was having in that very moment. I could focus on the people fully. They noticed. And suddenly, they also left their phones in their pockets. It was like a pleasant social phenomena; setting technology aside and being present.

 These past ten days were filled with various business meetings, but also with an unusually high number of intense, hour-long conversations; exchanges that went much deeper than the usual intermezzos we seem to be capable off these days; before, once again, we get distracted by our phones. It was a time filled with conversations where you might run out of topics, but because you don’t look for distraction in your phone, you manage to pick up another topic and surf the wave of unexpected ideas. Maybe you might appreciate the read about the Art of Conversation from last year’s December issue of the New Yorker. 

Next time you go out, think of me and leave your phone in your bag or at home. Enjoy what happens next. Silence is ok too.

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What’s important when building digital plugins for partner websites? by Monika Kanokova

sched

It’s not unusual to handle the most diverse tasks when working with startups. When Taylor asked me to support him with the concept for a SCHED plugin for Eventbrite.com, I was very excited about having another opportunity to work directly on a digital product, and so, we kicked off January together.

For everyone who doesn’t know what SCHED is, it's the perfect software for every event organiser who wants to give their attendees a personalised schedule on their mobile device. When SCHED was founded, their MVP was to give every event organiser a mobile app. Now, years later, the service SCHED replaces the need for a separate web presence. Their product is sophisticated, customizable, and simple to use. In short, SCHED offers everything you need when organising a conference, educational gathering, or any other event. 

When Eventbrite approached the team at SCHED to provide a plugin, it was an incredible opportunity for SCHED to grow their user base by doing what they do best; building a great service for people in the event business. SCHED was asked to provide two features – the iconic feature for organisers to upload thumbnails of speakers to make their event pages look better and a customisable toolbox to visualise session calendars. While both of these features eventually make the event pages look better, they serve a different purpose. When Taylor and I discussed SCHED’s product features, we figured that it didn’t make much sense to provide both of them under one and the same name in the menu, originally planned as the “SCHED plugin.”

When building digital products, names play a significant role. They must be intuitive and immediately give the user a clue what to expect. I didn’t see much sense in trying to combine both of SCHED’s services. Can you think of a digital service that succeeded because it could do it all and could do it all from the beginning? 

When you start building a digital product, it’s important for it to have one feature that works really well. You need to be able to summarise the use of your product in one sentence. On Wunderlist, you can create to-do lists. With Mailchimp, you can send beautiful emails to a large group of people. On Kickstarter, you can realise creative products. Do you see my point? These companies don’t try to pitch to you all the small services they provide: when you see their name, you know what these products are useful for.

Ok, let’s go from a macro-perspective and look at the micro-perspective of digital products, such as a website’s directory. When you click on ‘about,' you expect to get a description of what a company does. When you click on ‘references,’ you want to know who the team has worked with in the past. You have expectations and probably no patience to ‘search’ for content you cannot find immediately. 

For the reasons described above, when Taylor and I conceptualised SCHED’s plugin for Eventbrite, we decided to make two single purpose plugins. We knew that the Eventbrite team might not want to give us two menu referrals immediately, but we had a clear explanation why it made more sense to only focus on one feature at a time. 

Knowing we would build two separate concepts, it gave us the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time – “SpeakerList by SCHED” and “Visual Schedule by SCHED”. Two names that immediately tell you what to expect even before you click and read the copy. And let’s be honest here, how many of us really read the descriptions on websites? 

With the possibility of having a permanent link to one’s service on such a great website such as Eventbrite, we knew we wanted to be one of the teams Eventbrite always mentions when explaining why they collaborate with third-party services. There were several other companies Eventbrite could mention in their announcement, so what did we do to have Eventbrite choose SCHED as one of their top plugin partners? 

It’s a very simple idea…we did everything to make them look better: our entire approach to building a feature was to make it as seamless and as native as possible. It was important to us to give Eventbrite everything that would make their users feel even better about using Eventbrite. Every decision we made was completely user-centered while respecting this user to be Eventbrite’s user and not SCHED’s user (yet). If you follow Eventbrite’s blog or their newsletters, you might have already noticed that our approach has worked. 

When you build a plugin for a third party service, you of course want to increase your user base, too. Everyone who installs SCHED’s plugin on Eventbrite and agrees to share their details with SCHED automatically creates a free account on SCHED. In the first instance, our aim was to have as many people as possible install SCHED’s plugin. Our next aim was to have a number of these new users upgrade to the paid version of SCHED. We decided to follow up with everyone via email and showcase how upgrading to SCHED’s full version would benefit them and their attendees. We knew all our efforts paid off when Eventbrite suggested another collaboration that will eventually benefit both sides. Of course, also financially.

I am still plugged into SCHED’s back-end and receive daily reminders of the increasing number of signups. Another project we have worked on together with Taylor was a communication cycle to keep these users looped in, which I’ll blog about another time. Now, to summarise what I’d recommend to consider when building third-party plugins, here are three bullet points:

x) When choosing names, make it obvious for the user what to expect. Your company’s name won’t make the cut.

x) Make your plugin look as native as possible to the website where it’s featured.

x) Whoever the partner website is, make them look better to impress their users. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

I hope my take on building digital products for third-party websites has inspired you in one way or another. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out: monikanicolettaATgmail.com

It’s a wrap! March by Monika Kanokova

taliaystudio

March was exceptionally good. I had the chance to work with taliaYstudio and help them revamp their entire communication strategy. Funny how it seems to be an almost impossible task to confront oneself and look at the communication of one’s company objectively. Sometimes, help’s needed, which is why Talia Radford hired me for a month of intensive consulting. Together, with Talia and Catalina from the collaborative studio, we had a series of workshops to figure out the positioning, messaging, and branding of the company. You can see parts of our efforts here.

In March, Raven & Finch has launched the first issue of Sonor, their agency’s magazine on sound branding. I feel lucky for having had the chance to materialise Max Kickinger’s thoughts and write the copy for the digital and the print issue of the quarterly paper. Sound experience design and sound branding are topics many brands haven’t discovered for themselves just yet. I highly recommend to every brand manager to sign up for their mailing list to receive the next issues. 

My side project, the book, This Year Will Be Different: the insightful guide to becoming a freelancer was featured on the “As the Bird Flies” blog. I also had a chance to give an interview about the book on Fritz, the regional Berlin-Brandenburg radio station. 

I must say, I’m really glad I realised #TYWBD. Not only because I loved seeing all the pictures from people who have received one of the books funded through Kickstarter (here, here, here) but also because I’ve signed a contract to work on a very exciting project together with the Kickstarter team. Thus, I’ll be busy for the next three months and only available for small requests.

So, like I said, March was great, and it led to such wonderful opportunities that I’m thankful for.Keep me in the loop on the things you’re working on!

Don't let your fears hold you back. Here is why, how and everything else you should know. by Monika Kanokova

hustle

I don’t know how it is for you but people often say to me that they would like to work freelance but that they are worried it won’t work out for them.

As it is with many things in life, the first time we try or do something is also the most difficult. Jumping into cold water is daunting and scary but once you’re in the water, your body adapts and you’re fine (!)

Personally I am most afraid of my own fear. Fear intimidates us; it makes us give up, it’s what stops us. But we should remember that once we’ve overcome our own fear nothing is as bad and painful as we first imagined it would be. I guess it’s because once you’ve taken one step, your body adjusts and balances and is ready for the next one and then you just keep moving forward.

Shortly after I decided to start my own company, I also decided to write a book about the process of going freelance; mainly as a way to overcome my own fear.
I knew I would have to invest money in the book to make it real and commit myself to writing it, which I did. Then I thought why not run a Kickstarter campaign, which is something I had always wanted to do, so I did that too. The campaign was successful.

For me, Kickstarter was a step. So, as I said above, a step leads to the next step: I started talking to people at Kickstarter a lot and somehow managed to be in the right place at the right time, having the right skill set too. Okay, so fast forward to today; I am now working with the team at Kickstarter on a great project. My side project (#TYWBD) led to a client. (If you're thinking about asking me to help you with a project, I'm free after June)

I feel incredibly fortunate; all because I dared to take that first step, which then guided me to the next step, and so it goes. I walk on this freelance path while meeting and working with great clients along the way. 

Everyone is at least a little bit afraid that they won’t make it, whatever the “it” is for them. But you must take the first step; you must jump into the cold water and after the initial shock it will be fine, invigorating. And once you’ve made this first jump, you can think about what is the next thing that you’re scared of and how you will overcome that fear. Good luck! 

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Why you should invite people to work from your home. by Monika Kanokova

freelancecoworking

Successful companies often work well because they are a group of people that have come together to achieve a common goal. It’s a group who can bounce ideas off one another and support the team and goal with their specific skill set.
As a freelancer, we don’t have that kind of backbone; we are on our own. We are our own account director, our own project manager, copy writer and all the other things that need to get done to run a business. When you have a side project, alongside your other job, you are in more or less the same situation; you’re working on things all by yourself. 

A couple of weeks ago, I invited a group of freelance content strategists to work together with me out of my apartment in Vienna, as a way to tackle the "own-ness" of freelance life. I bought breakfast, I made lunch and made the gals some coffee whilst we chatted and discussed freelance matters as a group of people who are all in the same boat. It was wonderful.

We founded a Facebook group to enable us to ask questions and help each other out. I recommend that you too find a group of people who work in the same field as you, so that you can get a second opinion on whatever questions you have. And of course I encourage you to invite them over for a co-working day at your place. If you are looking for a group of community & content strategists, comment below, so I can include you in ours.

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Let’s talk about money: how do you deal with your pension fund? by Monika Kanokova

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What are your thoughts on pension provision, finance, reserve funds, investment and stock options? For me they are all part of a world in which I don’t belong. The other day, I had an appointment with my bank consultant and I came out of the meeting wondering whether everyone has a pension fund but never talks about it, or whether no-one is dealing with their future responsibilities which is why no-one ever talks about money.

My bank consultant suggested that I invest in a company fund and mentioned “financially trustworthy companies” such as Unilever and Nestlé; I flipped! These are companies that I try really hard to avoid; I purposefully try not to spend my money on their products so why should I invest in them to support their growth?
My bank consultant said; “But you must think like an investor!” Which of course I do; as Cristiana said in her interview for #TYWBD: “You must have money, to spend money, to make money.” But at the end of the day, how do you spend money in a reasonable way and avoid becoming part of the “evil” gang? How do you make sure you save up or spend to save up so that you have enough on side when times aren't as good as they are today?

I wonder and leave you with a question; what do you do to save up for your retirement future? Or don’t you do anything about it at all? 

I look forward to hearing about your point of view. As always, please leave a comment below.

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Why and how you should set yourself small goals. by Monika Kanokova

How do you set yourself goals? Do you have a big goal you strive to get a little closer to every day or do you prefer to have several smaller goals? 

When I was little I knew that one day I would become a fashion designer. I was trying to reach this one big goal, but because I wasn't there yet, I felt like a failure every single day. I was so dedicated to achieving my goal that I almost didn't recognize how the entire industry had changed. Suddenly, fashion wasn’t a world I wanted to be a part of. It took me at least six years to redefine myself after I gained this life-changing insight. During this time, I was very upset because I no longer knew where I belonged. But I knew that I didn’t want to have a goal that would make me feel the way I did when I dreamed of working in fashion.

Eventually, I decided to do things differently. Instead of having one big goal, I started to make up small and achievable goals. Goals that would allow me to celebrate my little accomplishments every day. Ever since I changed my attitude towards goals, I’ve been happier and far more motivated. Most important of all, I’ve never been short on creativity.

I wrote the above because I was asked how to get out of creative blocks - something that I have not experienced in years. Why? Because I've learned how to make celebrations a set part of my daily life, I am motivated, inspired, and connected to the next step; simply because I value every small step and see it as an achievement. 

So, again, what is your goal? And how can you make up several small goals worth celebrating along the way while you’re working toward your one big vision?

I look forward to hearing from you; just comment below. 

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Greetings from around the world! by Monika Kanokova

Have you pre-ordered and received your book? I've loved seeing the photos and captions shared from places I still dream of visiting one day. Here are some of my favourite pictures (I hope to see some more in the coming days) that were tagged with #thisyearwillbedifferent and #TYWBD on Twitter and Instagram

f you've read the book already, I'd love to know: what story inspired you the most and why?