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Barb Olsafsky, Founder and Principle Consultant of Blou Designs, is the interviewee in the latest episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. In this episode, Barb and Neil discuss how work life has changed since Covid-19, the positives and negatives of online teaching, having better reach through video, changing perceptions of professionalism as well as foregrounding clarity.
Here is Blou Designs Website: http://www.bloudesigns.com
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Our goal with this podcast to deliver high-quality, actionable tips and advice from business leaders. Advice that will help you succeed. Oh yeah and that video bent - we are going beyond the typical business tips, we are going to explore the use of video with these business leaders too, from marketing to sales, to internal communications - how they use it and how it impacts their businesses. Thanks for tuning in.
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(upbeat music) - Welcome to this episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. This is business advice with a video bent. We'd like to talk to people who are using video in interesting ways and find out what they're doing with it and how it's helping their business. This episode, we have Barb Olsafsky of Blou Design. Barb, it is great to have you on. As you and I well know, we are trying a little bit of a different format for recording this podcast. We're doing this through OBS.Ninjas video capture service and we'll see how it works quality-wise and all the other fun stuff that comes with new tech. It's great to have you Barb. - Great to be here (laughs) - And I would love to have you do a quick intro yourself is how I usually do it. What do you up to these days? - Okay, so I'm a data wrangler, and basically what I do is I help people better align their data and their processes with their business strategies, so they can make the impact that they want to make. - Excellent. And I guess, let's talk career journey a little. You have an interesting one. We've talked about that a lot within the Creator Network itself. You weren't always a data wrangler. And - Correct. - What were you prior to being a data wrangler? - So my bachelor's and masters are in computer science and I actually veered off of that for a little bit to go into cultural studies and educational technology before coming back and starting a freelance career as just a software engineer. And that has morphed over the years into various things as I worked with businesses, and I did more hardcore training and corporate training. And then we came into this space where data became a hot thing. And I realized that actually all the projects that I'd been doing had been data related all along. So they'd all been software but software around data and analytics. And I realized that actually a lot of the stuff that I was doing was also not just the number crunching type of analytics, but a lot of the qualitative data that people tend to ignore. And so I was like, "Wow, you know, I guess I'm a data wrangler actually." And I sort of repurposed and renamed myself. Still doing a lot of the same stuff but just under a different title. - Excellent, excellent. Well, it's good to know or kind of find the path, right? - That's right. - Barb, you found a thread of everything you had been doing and just were able to engage with it more completely. - Yeah. - So that is excellent. I usually have people boil down what they do to like one little nugget. A data wrangler does what for businesses? - Help people find the data that they actually have everywhere, the qualitative stuff and the quantitative stuff so that they can actually use it. - And what do they typically use it for? - Strategy. So there's a lot of strategy related stuff where they're trying to figure out what their strategy should be and what that needs to look like. In addition to actually getting the support service, the data collection in the format that they need and the analytics that they need to support all those strategies and get the metrics in line as they go along. - Well, that's an awesome explanation. This is an awkward segway, but we are going to move on to the next thing in my notes, which is just that we kind of started working together and, you know, dealing with each other during this COVID lockdown, partly because we were both kinda forced into a more video based, I think existence. How has kinda work life changed for you over the last year or so? - So I would say it changed drastically. My business while the software engineering part was remote, all of my training was exclusively face-to-face. And most of my marketing efforts and referral efforts were actually all word of mouth marketing. And so when the pandemic hit, all sorts of parts of my business funnels sort of fell apart because then people weren't getting together anymore for the word of mouth marketing that was working for me. And I couldn't go into people's facilities anymore for the face-to-face training. And so I really had to step back and evaluate, and see what I could really carry forward. And it was one of those things like, Well, do I just go back to being the nerdy software engineer and forget all the other strategy stuff or do I figure out how to repurpose? And luckily video is here. And so I happened to have some components just laying around the house that made me a little bit more agile for that. I was actually also adjuncting at SUNY Buffalo State in one of their masters programs at the time. And so I got to play around in a way, not guinea pigging the students per se, but they got to be a good test case of what it really looked like to take a lot of the stuff that I was doing, like database training and Excel training, and flip that around so that it was all going to be a hundred percent remote. And so I was able to record a whole bunch of instructional videos for them in an asynchronous way in a flipped classroom way. Like, "Here, go home, watch this, and then we're going to come back and talk about that over video and, you know, delve in that way." And so we had these instructional things that they could then access, however they needed to as many times as they needed to. Video awesome for that. And particularly as they were getting their stuff together in terms of technology, they didn't have to worry about being able to log on at the same time as me necessarily, except for that little bit of interaction where the technology didn't have to be so up to par. And so I learned a lot too, of what I really need out of interactions and what other people needed out of interactions during that time to say, you know, "What do people really need out of a video, and what do people really need out of an interaction to make that work over video?" And at the beginning, it was like a sensory deprivation chamber because I was sitting there with my video on and everyone else had theirs off. And so it was like little names and squares and advocate was at this weird place too, where no one really wanted to turn on their mic because we still had that very sanitized idea of what professionalism was. And so with dogs and moms and everything else in the background, you know, I'd be like, "Okay, does everyone get it? Is everyone following along?" And I was like over asking that because I was so deprived of, you know, other senses and, you know, either eventually get something back in the chat, like, "Yeah, that's good." And I'd be like, you know, "That's just not good enough for me," but, you know, we all acclimated. And I think our sense of all of this stuff is different now. - Well, and there's so much feedback that you can receive, right? When you can just look across a classroom. That is a lot harder to kind of gauge in the online world. But given all that experience, you're going to have a ton to contribute I think this next month on the Creator Network where we are going to explore exactly that kind of presentations with video presentations in the digital space versus, you know, face-to-face. But before we get to that, I did want to talk a little bit about you recently launched some workshops. So kind of the... You've touched on some of the differences between live teaching and workshops but I guess just to get to the workshops and that stuff, is that something you plan to do anyway or is that something that was brought on by the lockdown and kind of embracing video? - So a couple of my workshops are things that I had already planned and I needed to make them more virtual. And then other things like the vision to action, more strategy talk types of workshops were things that actually were born out of onboarding video is more of my overall business strategy going forward. And so a lot of that became part of that reassessment of what does it really need to look like going forward? What are those things that people are getting out of the interactions with me that I still need to be able to deliver? And even more importantly, how do I replace all of that word of mouth marketing and face-to-face networking? And so I had to now play around with different ways to get my face out there and still be a person in front of people in this very remote world. And so video was a perfect way to do that and not the kind of video that I had been making for classes where I wasn't a part of it, but actually putting my face on it. And so that had to be a thing. And then the talking head video as just a little introduction like, "This is what we're going to cover." And, you know, now you get to see me. And so I'm not so much of a stranger going forward as well in that same way that you aren't a stranger when you walk into the same networking thing again and again even if people don't really talk to you, you're at least not a stranger. And so replacing all of that had to be a video component. - Excellent. Yeah. And, you know, so many changes to be made there and different ways to look at that. And that kind of ties us back. I mentioned, we are going to be talking about production value and presentations on the vidwheel Creator Network. And I think we've covered some of the questions (laughs) in the notes here about what was different, what was better. Well, let's go to that one. Do you think there's anything that's truly just better about presenting or teaching or training through video, through a digital platform? - So I actually think there are an awful lot of things that are better and they weren't the things that I expected to be better in a lot of interesting ways. So if you think about the typical workshop that you go to even if you're taking your laptop and you're presenting or participating in an interactive way, you know, it was a lot of that, Oh, and then you'll go home or you'll go back to the office and you'll delve in differently or you're watching me or someone else up there do it, and you're like doing it along with it. And what I've done with some of my other one-on-one training now is we can just get into Zoom and I'm like, "Share your screen." And we're doing it on that person system now the whole time. And that's something that just wasn't even a possibility before. And I think too there are things that you prepare when you go into training in the face-to-face situation. And there are things that you don't anticipate for as much as you try to anticipate. And now even when something comes up that's a little bit more unexpected, I'm sitting here with all of my resources. And so I can be like, "Hold on a second." Pull up that resource and share it differently over video in a way that I, you know, would've been like, "Sorry, I didn't bring it with me before." - Those are both excellent points. Yeah. I mean, you can really connect to the different level especially through some of the training and stuff. I've had a similar experience with a lot of the setups and stuff that we've done with these cameras. If it were more of a classroom or a larger setup, you wouldn't have that individual kind of attention. So that's a great, great point. And then, yeah- - I guess, would also say one of the things too, though that I think has come out on a more interpersonal level. And I don't know if it's because people are sitting in their homes, but they're more honest and they're more open about what's going on. And we, I think have deeper conversations now as well than we did before. Even when we were in, you know, sort of pseudo private settings, now we're just delving in much more quickly and really getting into it. - Right. Yeah. We talk all the time in the Creator Network about authenticity and how it's like... It's such a buzzword right now but it is so kind of important and more accepted than ever when, you know... Yeah. Dogs, and cats, and kids and all the other things that actually happen in real life that you would be hiding behind the curtain end up on Zoom calls and, you know, things like that. So that is- - Yeah - That's also interesting. - No, once upon a time. Yeah. In the name of professionalism, I would have hidden my kitty condo and cleaned up my workspace differently. And now I'm like, "I got a cat," you know. (laughs) - And your cats made some appearances in some of our meetings, right? - That's right. - So that's fine. And my children I think. so it's all... Yeah. I think that's an interesting take on it. People are able to be a little more authentic. Do you think there's anything that's like, significantly worse through the digital setting for training or teaching? We brought up already that as the instructor you can't look out at the classroom and see if people are getting it. Is there anything else that you think is just like, I don't know, a problem to solve in this space? - One of the things I think is just the everyday technology barrier. And so part of it goes back to that etiquette of now people feel like they should have their cameras on but sometimes it's actually the best thing for that internet connection. If you just turn it off and you're like, just turn it off. Like, you know, it'll all just be better if you just turn it off. And personally, I've become much more aware of myself in meetings in a way that I never was before. And I think that kind of sucks because I think it kind of takes away some energy from what I'm doing, but because I'm up on the screen all the time, I'm looking at myself, you know, and I scroll through everybody's video constantly, which I think is still nice, but, you know, I'm always up there pinned as the presenter. And I used to, you know, get dressed in my work clothes, go out, walk into a room and then just get really involved in what was going on around me. And now I'm always like, "My shirt color is turned up a little bit or that hair is sticking up. And because the screen is mirrored I can't quite get to it there. - Fine. - Weird stuff happens now. - Yeah, that's a great point spending mental energy because you can always see yourself out of the corner of your eye, right? - Yeah. - If you're doing the presenting. I think it happens to everybody. I find myself, you know, looking at my own feed and being like, what are you doing, or you're always looking over to check something here or there. I don't have hair problems but, you know, there's other things that come up so... Now one of the things I do want to talk about is one of the main things that can be great with any of the kind of digital format, video format, teaching or training or, you know, like using your workshops as an example, is that you have so much more reach available to you. Have you been able to take advantage at all of kind of reaching outside of the Buffalo area with some of the teaching that you've been able to do? - So I think actually it's an interesting thing. I've definitely reached people even locally that I just somehow wasn't coming across. And I do also now have a lot more international connections and things like that, sort of seeing my videos and not necessarily reacting publicly, but I get a lot of messages that let me know that they're there or like private messages. And so that's been interesting as well. I don't know what goes on. We're on social, they're not as likely to comment and react but I know that those videos are making a connection. And certainly the monthly video that I put out where I just have that little data strategy, business strategy tip, and visualizations or whatever else. Those have really helped me break out of the local ecosystem. - Yeah. I mean, it's such a powerful thing, when you can kind of harness it. So yeah, it's an important piece I think for a lot of people to do. The next thing I have in my notes is the importance of production value. And I know you put a lot of work into that video series that you just mentioned. Where do you stand on a production value influencing I guess, people's ability to retain information or being interested enough to watch a video content? - So I think in a lot of ways, it kind of goes back to what we touched on a little bit earlier in changing perceptions of professionalism. And so we used to have these very, you know, sort of I guess, very different things of you had to be dressed in a certain way and sit in a certain way. And now I can have my cat in the background but what I have to have is adequate lighting and good sound quality. And those types of things are now more marks of professionalism than even necessarily what I'm wearing or what I have in my background. Although my background has to be, you know, set in the right way to still count as professional as opposed to just, you know, whatever on the couch. But so I pay a lot more attention to those. Those things end up in my standard operating procedures in a way that they wouldn't necessarily have done for my face-to-face training. Nobody ever walked into a networking room and was like, "Man, she really doesn't know how to stand with relation to the light or the window versus, you know, the fluorescent bulbs." But now we're all. And I think because we're all playing with our lighting much more highly attuned to that, so I've got to pay attention to it. And then I think just showing that you're trying. So if I were now just slapping the rest of the video together without worrying about the production quality of that, I think the bar has been raised for what looks like a put together video. So, you know, in the early days when the lighting was bad and the graphics were kind of half-assed people were like, "Well, okay, video is new," but now video is not new. And so I always I'm paying a lot of attention to the visuals that go along with it and making sure that they're clear for the video. So nothing can be grainy to start with things like that. And that production quality I think helps retain my viewership all the way along. And it's a weird thing to track because, you know, you'll see things in Google analytics, like, you know, when people are tuning in but then you've also got that view duration that, you know, lets you know how many minutes people are watching too. But as I noted in the network if I watch on two times speed, like they're not tracking that someone watched the whole thing, it looks like everyone is watching exactly half of my video and I guess because I enunciate so well and I'm so clear that's a thing that's happening for me. And I guess that's a good thing too. So people are consistently getting half way through my video. So I think I'm retaining pretty well. - Excellent. Yeah. And, you know, this comes up a lot when I'm having discussions with folks about creating video and everything. There's a level of professionalism or like well-made video makes you, you know, builds that expert status, establishes you as a professional but it is a different standard than it was just a year ago. So it's an interesting time to be in video. But you also brought up while you were chatting there, your standard operating procedures. And that's something I did not put in our notes for tonight but I think I should bring it up. You are one of our kind of beta test brand new expert panel, well, experts of the vidwheel Creator Network. And you have a lot of content coming out on standard operating procedures and how it can affect your video production. Thank you for doing that. And I don't know if you want to give a little SOP plug. Feel free. (laughs) (Barb laughs) - I'm always happy to do a SOP plug cause SOPs are the best. But no, I think it's really true and it's helped me stay consistent over the months because so much is changing and as I'm learning about different videos. I think I'd get sloppy without my SOPs about a lot of the other stuff, because I'm trying something new or playing with something new. And my SOP helps me get those must haves that keep my brand consistent across time and everything that I'm experimenting with. And so it's been good for that, and I hope that through the network, I help share the joy. I know listening to some of the other folks and what their SOPs are looking like lately, they've all been documenting a lot of interesting must haves and what's cool is that they're not mine. They really are everybody's idiosyncratic must haves. So it's actually been fun. - Yeah, that's going to be an interesting thing to see everybody's, you know, SOP habits and so on, right? To reference- - That's right.(laughs) - One of your (laughs) operating procedures. So that is great, and thank you again for doing that. So we're going to get here to the point in the podcast where I asked that one question that kind of is the thread that ties all of these episodes together. And that is what is one thing, and it has to be one, right? That makes it the most difficult. That you've done to make your business or a client business smarter? - And I think that one thing would be really foregrounding clarity. And that's clarity of vision and clarity of business strategy because data is a support service in all the technology I work with and the training as a support service. And so when you're clear on that vision and you're clear on that strategy, you can place all those other things in that support role that they're supposed to have. - Excellent. That's a great answer. That's one we haven't had yet. Sometimes you get repeats after, you know, 30 episodes or so here. All right, Barb. So the next question that I have in my notes is the same way that I end every interview both podcasts and in-person interviews and it's open-ended. Did our conversation kind of knock something loose or is there something that you feel was left unsaid from our conversation here today? - Okay. So I guess I would just really want to remind everyone that data is everywhere and it's not just in those numbers that you crunch and your customer reviews, but it's all sorts of things like your branding keywords and how those stayed consistent through all of your materials and your strategies. And then all of those things that you put out into the world, like your video also become your data. And so just be mindful of that. And as you're thinking about what that means to really harness it, remember all the different places that pops up. - Thank you very much, Barb. This is the time where we typically would have shaken hands way back once. We usually just give a little webcam wave. It's been great to have you on excellent information. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. Please subscribe and share this episode with people who you think may find it helpful. (Upbeat music)