As many of you know, my background is in technology and for the past 15 years I’ve been working in technical writing as an employee and for the last 6 years through my own company ClearComm Information Design Inc. There is so much to know as a technical writer, not just writing, but research, development, project flow, software use, usability, audience evaluation, not to mention requirements and regulations (like FDA or ISO). I’ve learned and written for tens, if not hundreds, of proprietary software programs and hardware configurations. I’m telling you, the big picture is not about the pieces but more about how the pieces create the final outcome. So how do we draw this line between the pieces of development for a product that will equate to $ sales in our businesses?
What does XML have to do with my business?
“Recently I had a call with Don Bridges the Sr. Accounts Manager with Data Conversion Laboratory, Inc. Bridges’ industry is all about converting content to XML format. Don’t worry that you don’t know this industry, I think you will get my point here. In this industry the increase in value for larger companies or those that must meet specific regulations like those for the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) when implementing this type of content is multiplied by the decrease in how much time is required to manage content across their business and ensure accuracy.
The point here is that if you have created something that you must manage, update, keep current, review, send out, share, train, or implement over and over then you need to be thinking like the XML industry. If you don’t think this is you then you are wrong. The Big Picture here is – preparing for XML = less time and more accuracy. Every business has processes that must be repeated. Doing the same thing more than once costs time and dollars and introduces error. I’m not suggesting you use or even know about using XML, I’m saying you need to use the principles of reuse to streamline your content.
Bridges refers to this as “Future proofing your data” and I’m going to change this slightly to “Future proofing your business”.
How do I see the “Future Proof” my business?
Here are two exercises that will help you learn to look at the big picture first.
Start at the end
Here is a great exercise to help you do this. Start by imagining your product. Now get a journal or paper and start drawing what it looks like. If it is a service then write how it looks. Don’t stop with the obvious physical aspects of the product, talk about its actual size, colour(s), where you display it, how do you sell it, what does it smell like, where do you host it, how do you market it, how is it shipped, what does the store look like that you sell it in, how do your employees interact with your customers, how does your customer find you, where do you buy your supplies. Picture your costumers’ actual experience finding you, connecting with you, evaluating your services or product, deciding to purchase and then delivery. Don’t stop there, remember to picture the follow-up and customer support part of your business as well.
Envision what this would look like
Now close your eyes and visualize yourself and your business already having this product or service. Imagine you are in the future, your product is successfully selling. Spend a few moments bringing the images of the items you mentioned in the first exercise into your vision.
Now ask yourself, “How did I get here?”
Use the vision to answer your question. Did it take the sale of one seminar, hundreds of hours, or thousands of products? Did you have to get a joint venture partner to get into your market. Did you have to build a larger manufacturing department? Did you have to outsource, hire, train, educate, purchase or certify yourself or anyone else in the company?
Now that you know what your client’s experience is going to be like in the future you have a road-map for all your marketing copy and branded documentation. Always keep the Big Picture in mind when creating anything new for your business and then reuse the main pieces over and over so that the consistency of the brand is carried through everything you do from this day forward.
What’s the benefit?
Why do you want to see the big picture? Well in the XML world, there is a lot of cost involved in converting traditional data and content to an XML format. If companies take Bridges’ advice and “Future proof their data” by creating their information with the goal that somewhere down the road they will need to make this conversion,then they can reduce their costs and time it takes to make this change.
For businesses it means we need to know what we want to create so that when it comes time to make it we don’t have to start all over again. Recently I came to this conclusion:
If you want to go on vacation but you don’t tell your travel agent where you want to go, you can end up spending a lot more time and money on a place you did not want to visit.
It is the same for business: If you don’t tell your team or make the goal clear to yourself you may never know where you will end up or how much extra time and money it may take you to get there. Clarity on the “Big Picture” will reduce your costs and time to make it a valuable part of your business and increase your profits in the end.