Katrin Wietek - who you work with is more important than what you work on - S13/E01
Manage episode 358553753 series 2804354
In this episode, Katrin shares how working on personal branding and marketing as a university project launched her sketchnoting career and increased her visibility on LinkedIn.
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- Who is Katrin?
- Origin Story
- Katrin's current work
- Sponsor: Concepts
- Where to find Katrin
Amazon affiliate links support the Sketchnote Army Podcast.
- Katrin on LinkedIn
- Katrin's website
- Katrin on Instagram
- Eva-Lotta Lamm
- The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde
- Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety: Nourish Your Way to Better Mental Health in Six Weeks
- Dr. Drew Ramsey podcast
- Google career event for women.
- Richard van der Bloom
- Andrew D. Huberman
- Hell Yeah or no by Derek Sivers
- Sketchnoting: Communicate with Visual Notes with Eva-Lotta Lamm
- Steadtler pigment liners
- Stabilo pens
- Copic markers
- Tombow brush pens
- Drawing gloves
- Pick a project you are really exited about.
- Don't compare yourself to others
- Don't overcomplicate things. Don't overcomplicate sketchnoting.
- Don't over value talent.
- Producer: Alec Pulianas
- Theme music: Jon Schiedermayer
- Shownotes and transcripts: Esther Odoro
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Mike Rohde: Hey everyone, it's Mike and I'm here with Katrin Wietek. How are you doing, Katrin?
** Katrin Wietek:** I'm really good and I'm really honored to be on your podcast today, Mike.
MR: And it's so great to have you. I'm excited to hear your story and all the things you have to share with us. But first, I understand that you have a nickname, Kat, and I would love to hear what's the origin story of the nickname.
KW: Actually, in 2014 and 2015, I went for a work and travel year in New Zealand. I'm originally from Germany. And I decided I wanted to go to the place that's the furthest away from Germany, and that was New Zealand, and it was also beautiful on top of that.
I worked at a little cafe restaurant thingy and there was another employee from Germany and her name was Karina, so Karina in English and our boss, he switched up our names all the time. And then one day he said, "You know, from this day on, I'll call you Karina and your Kat." From that day on, with all my English-speaking friends, I stuck with Kat, basically. So yeah, that's how Kat came to be.
MR: Oh, that's great. You probably know how to make a really good flat white then, I suspect if you worked in a cafe in New Zealand, eh?
KW: My barista skills came a little bit later. They didn't trust me with the coffee machine. I was basically waiting tables and getting orders in and working on the till and everything. But a little bit later I was finally taught how to do coffee
MR: Oh, good, good. I'm glad to hear that. That's very important. If you go to New Zealand, you have to have a flat white, I think, or Australia.
KW: Or Mocha.
MR: Mocha, yeah.
KW: Don't forget the Mocha.
MR: That's my wife's favorite drink, so she would be happy to hear that.
MR: So, hey, let's get started. I am really curious to hear your story. You've hinted as we've gotten ready to begin that you have an interesting one. Tell us the story of how you ended up—well, actually, let me back up. I think I'm jumping my own schedule. Let's first understand who you are. Tell us who you are and what you do, and then you can jump right into your origin story after that.
KW: Okay. As a profession, I would say I am a content marketer by day. I work in B2B content marketing, part-time. And then I'm also self-employed. I do freelancing work. And that's not only sketchnoting and illustrating, but a whole range of copywriting and social media work. I have a really diverse career, I would say.
MR: Oh, that's great. Obviously, the place that I've found you and I've seen you do most of your work is LinkedIn, which is fascinating because as social media goes, I've actually been more attracted to LinkedIn in a lot of ways because the quality just seems like it's a little bit better and there's, I guess a little bit fewer ads.
I don't know, they all seem overloaded with ads to me, but I know that Instagram has a strong community around sketchnoting, but I'm starting to see, and the thing I don't know, is on LinkedIn, is it because I'm following so many visual thinkers that my feed just seems loaded with visual thinking? Or is it actually a trend in LinkedIn? It's probably more likely the former, in that I've sort of made a little bubble for myself. But I would love to hear, a little bit of your thought on LinkedIn and the work you do there specifically.
KW: I think LinkedIn is a platform where visuals work really, really well. I think part of that is that the platform is not like as visual as Instagram or Pinterest, for example. Because on Instagram you had this buildup, every visual had to be better than the other one. And people are just used to beautiful pictures and really good infographics and everything.
And a lot of the content on LinkedIn is still text-based. So, I think once you add a really cool picture that's not a selfie, that actually drives value, I think that's why they work really well. And also, because LinkedIn is a bit more similar to Facebook and the way that if somebody comments, this comment pops up in your timeline if you follow the person. It's a lot easier to be discovered by other people on LinkedIn.
Especially, when I was posting on LinkedIn, I did a lot of career content, and that's perfect for the platform. You know, it's a whole like strategic networking and the career world, if you do content in that area. I think that's just pre predestined for LinkedIn. And I would say yes, you live in kind of a bubble, but I think the amount of visuals and infographics and sketchnotes is definitely increased over time. I think when I started doing it, I didn't see a lot of work like that, but who was already on the platform at that time was Tanmay Vora. I think you know him.
MR: Oh yeah, yeah.
KW: I saw his schedules a lot. And now it's gotten a lot more, which is cool. Oh, and you also see a lot of the explained ideas visually on LinkedIn, really small graphics where it's just a simple idea. There are a few people who do that and they are all over LinkedIn.
MR: Got it. My screen up has one of your more recent sketchnotes, my takeaways from the LinkedIn algorithm report. So maybe I need to look at that sketch note and sort of understand what's going on and then I adjust accordingly, right? Yeah.
KW: Yeah. It will be a lot quicker than reading the whole 50 or 60-page report.
MR: Which is the beauty of Sketchnoting, right?
KW: It is.
MR: That's really great to hear. All right. So, we know what you do. Go into your origin story. It sounded like you had a really interesting history before, to kind of bring you to where you are. I'd love to hear that story.
KW: The story's actually a little bit longer, so sit back.
MR: Go for it. We have time. We have plenty of time.
KW: I started thinking about what you said, like, was there a moment in my childhood or in my school life? And I wouldn't say not really, but I always had really neat school notes. Because when I had a messy note from school, I wouldn't learn from it.
I always needed to make sure like my handwriting was nice and it didn't look messy. And I also remember color coding different topics. For example, we did the democratic system in Germany or whatever, and then it had like yellows, oranges, and reds throughout the whole topic. And then for another topic I chose, I don't know, blues, purples and dunno. So that helped me. At that time, I had no understanding of graphic design or how color theory works, but I did that just intuitively.
I would say I was never really good at drawing in school. Arts and drawing always can really hard. And it wasn't until I discovered the internet and that I could like retrace work of other people, that helped me understand and get better at my art skills I also remember one funny story. It was actually during my A Levels. In the German language class, we were very required to read all those classic, like all these classic books from good and so on. From the 1700 and 1800s. And I hadn't read a single one of them for my A Levels. During the years, like the grade 11 and 12, it was I think, I never read anything and then I kind of panicked.
What I did was I looked up the Wikipedia summaries, and I couldn't memorize any of it, so I drew little comics. So, I had like gorgeous work and like a little scrappy comic. And then all these other people's works, I basically just looked at the comics the whole time when I was on the bus and when I was at home.
I never had read these books because I had so much other stuff to learn. I think that's maybe when it started and when I found the power of visuals and with my really neat school notes that I had drawn. I think that's how I came to be. I'm not sure if it was you who I found first, but I think actually it was Eva-Lotta Lamm—
MR: Makes sense. Yeah.
KW: Who I found first because it was in 2015, I would say when I finished school, she did like a travel diary consisting out of sketch modes from her around the world trip. And I thought that was so cool, so incredibly cool. I was really inspired because I'd also like traveled and I thought, "I wish I had known it before then." And I think that's when I googled the term sketchnotes and then your book popped up. "The Sketchnote Handbook." I think at that time it wasn't available in German or maybe it was, but I ordered the English version on Amazon. Then I read through it and I did some of the exercises and then I forgot all about it.
I got busy because I started a degree. After school I started my degree in digital media and I was actually working in software development at the same time and I was doing user research user experience design, I think what you are doing right now as well, Mike. I forgot about the sketchnotes, but what I always had to do at work was like facilitate workshops. I worked a lot on flip charts everything and I always was really invested in making those flip charts look really, really nice and really cool and really clean.
During the whole degree I forgot about the whole sketchnote thing. When I finished my degree, I was little bit lost a because I knew what I was doing before. I wasn't sure if I wanted to pursue that as a career and I wanted to know maybe there's other stuff out there as well.
I decided I wanna take a break between my bachelor's and my master's and I got a part-time job and I decided in 2019 I was gonna do 12 creative projects. Each month was one creative project. That's when I remembered that I had your book at home and I was like, well, in January, let's start with the sketchnotes because I really wanna get better at them. And I've never got into them and never had finished any work.
January was sketchnotes. I basically listened to podcasts about topics I was really interested in at that time. So that was personal finance. I was teaching myself a lot about finance and what to do and taxes and what not to do and also health topics. From a research perspective, how do I live a healthy life? Like what do I need to do? What should I eat? How much should I sleep? How do I reduce stress and everything? Mental health was really big at that time.
I listened to all those podcasts and I basically turned them into sketchnotes to just memorize all the information that I heard on all the podcasts. I started posting them on Instagram. Basically, you set up a whole new account, said, "Hey, here's my 12th creative project."
If you scroll down, you can still see the announcement. Then basically just posted all of the sketchnotes. It was really funny because one of the—oh, and what I wanted to say, one of my core values in life is lifelong learning. And I think the sketchnotes tie in really well with that because they help you so much with learning because you're visualizing the information and it helps you memorize it, it helps you retrieve it. That's why I picked it as a first project.
Actually, I did one sketchnote about mental health and nutrition, what are important nutrients for the brain. It was a podcast with a nutritional psychiatrist called Drew Ramsey. He was from New York. I did a sketchnote. I tagged him, didn't expect anything of it, but he saw a sketchnote and he loved it. He was like, "Oh, this is so cool." At that time, I had maybe done, I would say 10 sketchnotes in total.
MR: Oh wow. That's pretty good.
KW: Yeah, I know. He was like, "I have this research about— In his research he identified 23 nutrients that are important for the brain. And he was like, "Do you wanna do a sketchnote on each of them?" I was like, "Okay. I'm not a freelancer, you know, I've just only started this, this is a hobby actually I have a February project coming up." I was a bit confused, but I said yes because I like to do things that terrify me. At that time, my process was still really, really basic. I was basically what you describe in your book, I don't know the two-way technique.
I basically had a piece of paper, I drew everything on pencil, erased a whole lot and then rearranged it and I had the whole pencil thingy, then I retraced it with a pen, then I erased my pencil lines, then I scanned it, then I put it in Photoshop and made it look really neat. That's what I uploaded. That's also what I did for Drew Ramsey, so it was really tedious. It took a lot of time to do the 23 nutrients.
MR: I bet.
KW: Yeah. And I can tell you I never got around to doing the another 11 project of that year because Drew was really happy and then he came to me and he said, "You know what? I'm writing a new book. Do you wanna illustrate it?" I was like, "Oh my God."
MR: That's great. Scary but great, right?
KW: It was really scary. I think there was a lot of serendipity involved in that whole story because I basically had just started, it was just to figure out what I wanted to do with my creative life and with my career. And it was just one project of many projects. I had so much cool stuff coming up.
I wanted to do product design and videos and editing, but I got stuck with the sketchnotes. And the book was really cool. The topic was "Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety." So basically, the nutrients that are important for the brain and if you suffer from certain mental health conditions.
Drew was super cool. He was writing the script at the same time and he always sent me the script and he basically said, "You have full creative freedom. You can decide what to make a sketchnote out of. Here's the script. You can decide how many sketchnotes you wanna make."
I can remember I got—because he published a book with Harper Collins and they sent me this whole illustrative agreement. I was like, "Oh my God, I have no idea what I'm signing here and what they want from me and file types." I had no idea what they wanted.
MR: Production stuff.
KW: Yeah. I was so terrified. But I did it. For that project actually I knew that my whole pen and paper and pencil and scanning and Photoshopping wouldn't work, so I got the iPad for that. Basically, took all the money that I made from the 23 nutrient sketchnotes and put it in an iPad so I could do the book project. That was super fulfilling. And they never had any revision wishes or something like that. They basically like, "Oh, you want to do a sketchnote on the benefits of dark chocolate, do it. Just do it. And it was so cool.
I would say, that took around half a year. Basically, my break had come to an end and I was really doing a lot of sketchnoting. Well, in retrospective, it wasn't so much sketchnoting work, but I also had a part-time job. For me, it filled a lot of my time and I didn't have time or the creative energy to do anything else at the time by the way.
Fun fact, these old sketchnotes that I created with the pen and paper and Photoshopping and scanning and everything, they also landed in the book. Nobody told me. They totally didn't fulfill the technical requirements and stuff, but Drew was just like, "I want this in the book."
MR: He's passionate about it.
KW: Yeah. He was passionate and he didn't care that they had a totally different style and like the quality was really different to the iPad because of how the way I worked back then. It was so funny that he like just put them in the book as well. That was really funny.
After the book project I started my master's degree, I was figuring out I wanted to go into marketing, and my degree was in corporate communications. It was really funny, we had a social media module. Basically, do a social media strategy. My professor, he had these companies that we could collaborate with or we could also bring our own project.
For example, like one of my classmates, he brought I think his dad's tax office firm or something like that. Then during my degree, I got really interested in LinkedIn because first time in my life I actually knew or got to know what B2B and B2B marketing was.
Then I found out, okay, there's this platform LinkedIn and everybody's on LinkedIn and I should maybe make an account too. At that time, I think personal branding, the whole term and the concept of it was really popular on LinkedIn. Right now, it's everywhere, but at that time it grew in popularity, I would say. Then I thought, maybe I can do my own personal branding strategy. Then I asked my professor and he was like, "Yeah, sure, do whatever you want. And I was like, cool—
MR: That's so smart.
KW: Cool, let's do it. And then, I think I got a book about digital personal branding. It was a German book. The author, she basically said, "Because you have to figure out your content strategy and what you're gonna write about and what mediums you're gonna use and what the purpose is and who your audience is." And she basically started like, "Lay out your superpower portfolio." So basically, write down all your skills, your knowledge, your unique experiences. Then I did the whole exercise and I put sketchnoting in there for my skills.
Then she said, "Well, which ones do resonate the most? Circle them and then make your content strategy out of it." Then I knew, okay, sketchnotes were gonna play a big role in my personal branding thingy, kind of. And at that time, because I was in LinkedIn, I was really interested in how could I advance my career.
I had basically just done a pivot from lUX design to marketing. Then there were so many content creators talking about how to negotiate your salary, what to put on your cv, how to strategically network on LinkedIn. I thought it was so cool. I never heard any of that before.
Everything I learned from LinkedIn Lives and podcasts and other people's posts, I just put into sketchnotes because I wanted to memorize it. And that was really cool 'cause like I said, the whole career content really resonates with the whole LinkedIn audience because everybody's trying to advance in their careers and in their jobs.
So yeah, that was really cool. I think basically, I had a few favorite creators and they had a huge following. So what I did, I watched a talk and then I created a sketchnote then I tagged them. Like I said earlier, LinkedIn works a bit like Facebook. So then they saw it, they commented and then their whole network came to my sketchnotes. That's how I created this, in my eyes, huge following. 10,000 followers is not huge, but for me it's like, oh my God i’ts crazy.
MR: That's pretty good. It's pretty huge.
KW: Yeah. I think so. That's how I grew on the sketchnotes. They really blew up. I would say like after the social media module we had to do a presentation with our analytics and I think I had half a million views on my content. Which to me was just mind blowing, you know. I had no idea how to explain.
It was just like, you know, I did this. I posted this, this was my strategy and it just worked so well. It was incredible. Like I said, visuals work really well on LinkedIn. That definitely contributed to it even though I had a super small reach. But since all the big creators saw it and brought their audience, that didn't matter so much.
Funny story, then it was summer and I was a bit exhausted from the module and I thought, woo, that was intense because all these people text you and write you, and like how do you do it and you wanna hop on a call? And I was really overwhelmed with all the attention that I then I went abroad.
Funny story. And then I went abroad to study in Scotland for a semester and I had another digital marketing module and our professor was basically, "You just have to create a website and market it and you can create a website about whatever you want." And I'm like, "Well, I'm gonna pick my own website and market it."
That's how my website came to be out of that university project. And with the marketing, I basically continue what I was doing anyway on LinkedIn. Then I posted a bit more on Instagram and I tried out on Pinterest as well, but I basically just continued for the module, what I was doing in the old module as well.
I'm really grateful that my university professors both in Germany and in Scotland, they just let me do my own thing and work on my personal brand because it paid off crazy. I still can't believe the few sketchnotes that I posted, I got so much attention and my audience grew. I'm really thankful they just let me do my own thing and get university credits for it. That's cool.
MR: You really got good value from your education in that sense because it was so directed and practical.
MR: As I listen to your story, the two things I reflect on is you actually started this all with, you mentioned reading about Goethe and all these masters, and you made these little comic books that you then studied. You realized really early that there was something about the visualization, at least for your brain. At that point you probably didn't think about anybody else, right.
You just wanted to pass your A levels, right? So, you were using this technique to visualize this information and you found that it worked for you and that you came back to it. And that turned out to be of the seed for everything that you're doing, which is cool.
And then the second part is what you just said that your professors were open to you directing your own path of the things that you wanted to market. I would imagine from a professor's perspective, and when I was in school, I relate to this that there was a crew of a couple of people who were really interested in doing more than the more than the curriculum said.
There were a lot of people that just did exactly what the curriculum said and they met it to the T. They did exactly what the teacher wanted, but it was kind of boring, right? Like it was the same as the sample. Like it didn't really extend further.
So, I can imagine these professors more have the problem of students, like if they gave them any choice that they would not choose anything. They would just go to the ones that everybody else does. And so, they might have actually been excited to see that you took it in a direction that most students don't, which is, well I know me the best, let's market myself and take that as the case study. So that's cool that the opportunity was there and that you kept on leaning on it.
And then I guess the third thing would be your sense with these sketchnotes that you did initially that turned into 23 sketchnotes and then a book that it reveals to me that if you're in the right place at the right time doing this work and you hit the right person, those opportunities can open up.
Obviously, they did and then you were aware enough that you stepped into those even though they were probably pretty scary, right? Doing 23 sketchnotes manually and doing all this work. And then jumping right into doing a book illustration project was, I'm sure a real challenge and maybe freaked you out a little bit at the time, but now you're glad that you did it right. Think of how much that's impacted your career and your person as well. That's just a great story. It's really fun to listen to you to share it with us.
KW: I would definitely say because what you—and there's a whole lot of serendipity involved. Like you said, I was at the right time in the right place. What I also didn't expect, you know, basically my goal with the whole like personal branding thing on LinkedIn, which people know me for now, they don't know me for the book illustration project or what I did back then, the little bit of work.
But it's impacted my career in so many ways that don't directly translate to sketchnotes even. For example, I had recruiters reach out to me. I was a marketer on LinkedIn, but I must have thought that my sketchnoting skills translate to, "Well, she must be a good marketer. She gets all this engagement, she has to know what she's doing on social media."
That was really astounding that basically they just saw the sketchnoting skill, but they assumed I was a good marketer because of what I was doing. Then also I remember I attended an online Google career event for women and I basically, they had lots of inspiring speakers and I basically just put my favorite quotes on a really nice-looking sketchnote.
Then you could apply for this Google career upskilling program as a university person. I networked with all the people that I put on the sketchnote, like the quotes. I put the quotes in the sketchnote and then I also submitted this with my application and I got into the program. I think it was a really smart way of saying, "Hey, "I'm going the extra mile and I really want this."
But that was really cool. And then also, one of my former employers, they had seen me on LinkedIn and I was doing paid media work for them, but they were like, "Do you wanna kickstart our LinkedIn strategy? "Do you wanna come up with that? I was still a student at that time, so that was kind of big, you know, like coming up with the strategy and presenting it to the founders and to CEO of the company.
That was really cool. I think also, in the hiring processes as a marketer, it always gave me a big bonus because I'm a content marketer, and I wanna make sure I have a really diverse skillset set. Be it writing or basic video editing skills or basic graphic design skills. And then I also have sketchnoting skills in case they needed it at some point.
And then I have, of course, the freelance work as a sketchnoter, but also like freelance work as a copywriter for LinkedIn. Because they see, hey, I know how the platform works and then people approach me if I can help them with the LinkedIn profiles and with their content.
Because I'm a polymath, I'm a multi-passionate person. I have many interests in life. I really appreciate it. That not only sketchnoting work came from this, but so many other opportunities. That's so cool. For me, that's the best part about the whole story.
MR: That's really great. And I think, you know, not to be missed if you're listening is Katrin was very aware of these opportunities. I remember there was a study years ago, they talked about happy people or something, or lucky people, I don't know if you've heard this story that they had a newspaper and the lucky people would notice that there was an ad in the second page that said, "If you see this ad, stop reading and go collect your money you've won or something.” But people that were unlucky who thought themselves unlucky would miss that and they were looking through this newspaper.
So, apparently, that was the whole test. The study more deeply talked about, being lucky is much more of a mindset because these things happen to many people, but many people are not prepared or not aware or not willing to do what you did.
You were aware, you were prepared, you know, to do something, but then you also took a risk, right? Doing those 23 things was probably scary. Some people might have turned that down and that whole line of books and everything that happened would go open a puff of smoke, right?
MR: This idea that you're open to trying new things and you know, the possibility of failure is there, right? That could have gone badly, but you wouldn't know that until you went down that path. I think, if you're listening to this and thinking, "Oh she's so lucky." It's like, well she kind of made her own luck.
She saw these opportunities and she took a risk that could have gone the other way and it just worked out that she did the hard work to deliver. I think that this is such a great origin story that's so inspiring. Maybe we don't need tips. Maybe you just need to listen to the origin story again instead of the tips. I don't know.
KW: I have one fun mantra that ties in really well with this. I always say to myself, "I can be terrified and brave at the same time." Same with the podcast. I was super scared to come on and talk about this and it's my first podcast. But this doesn't keep me from doing stuff. Same with the book project.
I don't understand the illustrative agreement and everything, but I'm gonna figure it out. You know, I'm terrified, but that doesn't mean it keeps me from doing the thing. And yeah, that's one of my life things that's really important to me.
MR: I love that. That's a great one. Okay. We've got your origin story. Tell us about what's a project that you're working on now that you're really excited about? Either something that maybe just came out or maybe something that's in the works that will come out when this episode releases in March, sometime.
KW: What I was really excited about was part two of the LinkedIn algorithm report thing by Richard van de Blom. It's actually quite funny. I've landed so many dream projects in my life basically by giving away a little bit of my work for free. Then the person seeing it and then them hiring me to do more of that. And that same thing happened with Richard. So basically, did the LinkedIn algorithm report in 2021 just for free. I found it and I thought, I thought, "Oh, this is a great piece of content, maybe a bit too long for LinkedIn, let's put it in a sketchnote. I think this could be really beneficial."
And Richard basically said, how it blew up. And he was like, "Wow, that's crazy. Can you do more of that for me?" And I love working with him. Because I always say it's more important who you work with than what you than what you work on 'cause he basically gives me full creative freedom. He's not somebody to do many revisions. He's basically, "Just do whatever you want. I trust you, you're the expert." Apart from that, actually, that answer might surprise you, but I've taken a step back from freelancing in particular 'cause I was doing so much freelance work and not much work just close to my heart, you know, just for myself as a hobby. Freelancing burned me out a little bit, particularly being stuck in revision hell, revisions going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
I'm taking a step back and really asking myself the question, is this something I wanna make a lot of money with or is it more a hobby? And if a dream project comes along my way, then I'm gonna do it, but otherwise, I'm gonna say no. I don't have an answer to that question yet. I think like some days I lean more towards that and other days I lean more towards the hobby side of it. I always listen to the other guests on your podcast 'cause they have made a career out of it and they are illustrators and everything. But me, as a multi-passionate person, I don't want to be like a full-time illustrator or a full-time sketchnote artist. What I do as a content marketer, I can do so many different disciplines, and sketchnoting is one of them.
So yeah, freelancing has taken the joy away from it a little bit. So, I'm taking a break right now to find my passion again and the things I'm really passionate about and then maybe get into freelancing again. If one of my favorite podcasts said, "Hey, can you be like our sketchnoter for every episode? Like Andrew Huberman, I love his podcast, neuroscience. He talks about neuroscience. Then I will be, "Of course, I would draw each of your episodes." But with other projects, I have to be really excited either about the person that I work with or about the work they do. Otherwise, it's a clear no. It needs to be a hell yes for the work that I do.
MR: Which is Derek Sivers, of course. "Hell Yeah or No," Is his famous book. It seems like what you're talking about is opportunity cost, right? If I'm doing freelance work, what if this amazing podcast comes in and I'm loaded? I can't do it. The opportunity might be lost there. So you have to be careful. I think in some ways, probably the advantage you have in working part-time is that you have to make a choice. If you're doing something like this full-time, then you would have more margin to do more and maybe you wouldn't feel it. But being part-time helps you get clarity around what you want to do.
Then probably the other thing I would say is you probably would identify that as a multi-talented content marketer that sometimes sketchnotes aren't the right medium for something. Sometimes video is a better medium or writing is a better medium, right? It's like an expert mechanic. They don't use the wrench for everything because it's not designed for that. You use the tool that's designed for that task. In the same way, Sketchnoting can be overused, I think, and if you see too much of it, then it becomes like back background noise or something. So, deploying it in the right opportunities probably is important there. So—
KW: I actually.
MR: Go ahead.
KW: I actually wanted to ask you, Mike, how you decide which freelance projects to take on and how you prevent creative burnout. 'Cause I definitely struggled with it, so I wanted to hear your opinion on this.
MR: Well, I've struggled with it as well. I do a full-time job as a user experience designer. I love doing it. I work in software. For some people they would look at what I do and think, "That's like the most boring thing ever." But I love it. Like helping work on corporate software and solving—making somebody's life. I don't know who these somebodies are. Somebody's life is going to get better because I've spent the time to think about what's the right way to work through this workflow so that it's smoother, that it's cleaner, that if I do it in one area, it applies to another area. All these things that I think about. That's my full-time work.
What that means is that all the sketchnoting stuff that I do, if I travel and I teach at a school, or if I go to the international sketchnote camp or whatever I do, like I've got a limited time to choose from. So, I have to be very choosy and picky. I think I followed a similar pattern to you. It's either really yes or no. I tend to be someone who loves to help people. So, I'll tend to say yes, a little bit too much. I've been getting better at saying no. One of my solutions has been to build a network of people who do work that I admire so that when I get the project that comes in, it's like, "Eh, I could do that, but I'm not in love with it." I could think, "John is really good at that. I'm gonna make a connection to John or Mary." Just as an example.
For me, I need this outlet of somebody else who I can trust that will handle it, that is a good fit. Like they would fit together and then I just redirect that inquiry to that person. Then try to focus on the things I'm excited about it or I think it will have an impact. That's hard. I don't think I've solved the problem completely because I certainly, occasionally will get projects that aren't exactly what I want to do. But for the most part, I think your comment about finding the right customers is really important. The people you work with are much more important than the projects in a lot of ways. Because if you're given creative freedom like you've said—I think the other thing, the other thing I would say is finding clients that are collaborative.
It sounds like many of the clients you've mentioned were very collaborative and working, working with you. They were open to your expertise and would listen to you. Being able to modify what they were thinking if they come to you with an idea and then you come back with them with an alternate idea. You just twisted a little bit and say, "Did you ever think about maybe doing this or that?" And then they're open to it. That's a really important aspect for a customer that I look for.
You can tell pretty quickly when you start working on something with someone, whether that's there or that's not there. And then you would have a tendency—I have a few people that I work with. If they call and say they need something, I'm an immediate yes. I don't even have to think about it because I like that person so much. It sounds like you have similar people. Those are the few things that I do.
The last thing I'll say is having kids for me is helpful because I can't work all the time. I need to spend time with my kids. I like cooking with my kids. I like spending time with my wife. I have a whole other life beyond all this stuff that keeps me grounded. And just reminding myself that I can't do it all and it's okay. There's many other people and it's a huge opportunity. Everybody's got plenty of work to do and if I give it away to somebody else, it's not like the work will stop coming. It just keeps coming. I don't know if that's helpful.
KW: Absolutely. I'm totally on your side and I share your view here. I was wondering, Mike, was there ever a time when you considered sketchnoting your full-time career? Because you're kind of like the inventor of sketchnote. I'm surprised actually to hear that you have this whole full-time job apart from that.
MR: I've considered it in the past. It just felt like with a family and all the responsibilities that the variability would be a challenge. I think maybe sometime in the future that would make sense. But I think honestly, having it as a side gig has been good. I've hinted to in the feedback I've given, which is because it can only be a side gig because I'm such a helper and wanting to help people, it forces me to choose. Like if I had it full-time, I might like really overload myself. Having this finite constraint is actually a good thing for me. I found that with sketchnotes too.
I stumbled on the sketch notes 'cause I constrained myself to a little book and a pen. That helped me to move into the space where visualization made sense 'cause I couldn't write everything down, I couldn't draw everything. I had to do it in the moment. That whole history was tied to constraints. I found any time where I put some limitations on myself is when I'm most creative. I think that's maybe true for other creative people too. Having that limitation on what's available forces me to make a decision. Like, am I really gonna spend the next three months working on this thing or is it better spent on something else?
Sometimes I choose and it's like, "Oh, I wish I hadn't done this." Or it's taking longer than I wanted. I'm still happy with the output. Again, the opportunity cost means, 'cause I'm working on that, I can't take something else that comes in so I have to be more careful. I think, in some ways it's better to have it as a side thing because I can really be selective.
KW: I absolutely love it as a side thing. Like I said, especially as being a multi-passionate person, it helps me so much. And then also realizing my time is really valuable. 'Cause otherwise I would've maybe the whole week and I would have a few hours every week. Then communicating this to clients and also saying, "Hey, don't expect revisions in the next five days 'cause I'm really busy with other things. It helps me prioritize and also keeps my life super interesting 'cause I have this other thing next to my regular job, like my employment. I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way. So, I can totally get what you're saying.
MR: Like I said, maybe in the future the opportunity comes where it becomes a full-time thing. The other thing that I didn't mention is when I started all this stuff, there really wasn't a sketchnoting anything. There are people doing it. Eva-Lotta was doing it around the same time. We started to build this community. A Lot of the work has been building a community of people that do it so that I have students to teach now. Now I'm doing more teaching and that's working well because there's actually people that are interested enough that they would spend money to get real deep teaching.
Then also companies being aware. I think you're starting to see this. Companies are becoming aware that visuals in the right context can be incredibly powerful. There's actually enough of a supportive market that you could be full-time. Actually, many of the people on the podcast like Ben Felis and a bunch of other people are full-time because of both of those things. There's a community that's willing to hire them to learn and then there's professionals that are willing to pay for them to do the work. I think a little bit of it is timing and waiting for the market to be there. That sounds like something maybe in the future would make sense to move in that direction. But I haven't decided that yet.
KW: It's so fun what you said about teaching 'cause I'm not at all into teaching sketchnoting to other people. So many people have asked me like, "Wow do you do it and what you use and how did you get started?" I always just point them to your book. I'm like, "Sketchnote Handbook" by Mike is the only thing you ever need to read and practice to learn sketchnoting." Then I'm always so happy when I see you have another live workshop coming up and I'm like, "Yeah, go to Mike. He'll teach you. 'Cause I learned from him and he does such a great job. Every time I hear somebody who wants to learn sketchnoting, I point them in your direction.
MR: Well, now if you're a German speaker and you're listening, there's another opportunity with Eva-Lotta's got a course that she's offering on Udemy, which think it's around 20 euros, something like that. $20. Anything that Eva-Lotta does is excellent. I'm one of her biggest fans. She's really great and she's very skilled. That's in German language. If there's Germans listening could be a really good fit if that's more natural for you to check that out. Look that up. She also does more intensive teaching on sketching. She's a great teacher as well.
KW: I can only second that. I love her work.
MR: She's really great. We've talked about your whole origin story, what you're working on. Now let's shift into tools. I'm really curious, you sort of hinted at this. You originally were doing this pencil sketches and inking and erasing and Photoshop, and that's the way I did it too 'cause that's all there was. You had to do that. Now we have really great mobile phone cameras. There's even tools on mobile phones to do modifications. We have platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram where we can share these things. Tell us about what are your tools that you use now? Let's start if you still use any analog tools. What are those tools and then digital after that?
KW: With the analog tools, I thought about it a long time. Actually, over the years I became a minimalist and decluttered my whole home and everything. I have to say sketchnoting and illustration doesn't go well with that because you have to buy a pen in every new color that's out there. It just never stops with stationary and pens and notebooks and everything. They didn't make the cut after I switched to the iPad, but if I do some work, I always use the Staedtler Pigment Liners. I think they're a favorite in the community.
MR: Excellent. Yeah.
KW: And then basically, what I had at home, I used the Stabilo pens back then. I had Copic markers, but you need a certain kind of paper for them 'cause they're alcohol based, otherwise, they bleed through everything. Copic Markers. I had a few Tombow brush pens that I used, but it was really basic. I basically had like maybe 20 pens and pencils that I used the whole time. And then I made the switch to completely digital work 'cause I was always like, "Where do I store all of my work? It's not only stationary and pens and pens, where do I keep it?"
Then there's the elements, there's heat and light and everything that works against your work. You know you have of preserve it. And I was getting really stressed out about that. Now, I'm more chill that I know it's all in a digital space. Now my digital space is really cluttered, but I'm working on that as well. But yeah, since then I've basically switched to the iPad and Procreate, the standard stuff and it's really cool. What I want to get, I haven't tried it 'cause I don't actually know anybody who's doing like iPad kind of work. But I never got one of the Paperlike skills 'cause I never wanted to put them on my iPad permanently. But now I know there's a company they do a magnetic thing
MR: I've seen this, yeah as well on Instagram. I think I've seen this.
KW: You can basically just put it on and then—'cause I watch a lot of TV series and stuff on my iPad then I don't want the paper-like thing on it. Then I can just put it off and then when I draw, I can put it back on. And what was really game-changing for me 'cause I hated doing sketch notes in the summer 'cause my hand always stuck to the iPad. Then I discovered the drawing gloves, they just go around your fingers down here. They've been a game changer. They are so cool. It's an analog tool that I use for digital work.
MR: Interesting. Interesting. We have a few friends, Rob Dimeo, who was a huge fan. Michael Clayton, another friend used those gloves. I think I have one in my bag somewhere. I haven't used it for years.
I think those were, at least for the iPad, more because I think the old iPad software was not great about determining if your finger was touching or if it was a pencil early on so you would end up getting stray marks in some apps. And so, this is a way to stop that. But it's got the second benefit is keeping your hand from sticking to the screen. Have you been using this magnetic screen cover and how does it work for you?
KW: No, I don't have it yet. It's on my list. I thought it was really cool 'cause like I said, I never wanted to put a permanent screen protector on it. I'm getting it this month, hopefully.
MR: Okay. I would say Paperlike was a past sponsor of the show, but regardless of that, I like them because I think the way they structure it is the little bumps that they're creating to create that paper-like surface, they're scientifically placing them. I've been actually pretty surprised when I use my iPad that it doesn't seem to impact when the screen is playing, like for tv. You might be surprised how clear it actually is. It'd be really interesting for you to try both then magnetic and the Paperlike and compare them and see. My concern about the magnetic one would be if it's kind of floppy and there's air between there, how does that react? Maybe that's not an issue, but that would be what I would wonder about. Maybe you could share that in a sketch note for us or a video or something.
KW: Yeah. I'll do that once I've tried it out, but it's also really cool. I've never had the chance to talk about Paperlike to anyone. It's really cool that you didn't have the impression it ruined the other things you do in the iPad. I was always afraid of that and that's why I didn't wanna buy it. But I might give it a go.
MR: All right. Maybe I'll reach out to my friends at Paperlike, and say, "Here's a person who needs a sample."
KW: Oh yeah, I would appreciate that.
MR: They like doing that stuff. They're really great people at Paperlike. It's a German-based company as well, so.
KW: Ah, I didn't know that
MR: They're in Hamburg, so, you know, they could just run a little truck down and drop it off at your place.
KW: Really cool. Cool. I'll write the review then.
MR: Okay. There you go. Well, we'll work on that offline. Okay. Well, simple tools. I like simple tools. I like buying my tool at the corner drug store. Keeps things real. Analog. So, it makes it easy to replace things when you're in another country as well. You can probably find a gel pen someplace. So, let's shift now.
This part is where we talk about tips. And we'd like to frame it as someone's listening, as a visual thinker, whatever that means to them. Maybe they feel like they've sort of reached a plateau where they're a little bit burned out or they need a little inspiration from you. What would be three things you would tell that person to kind of inspire them and get them moving forward again?
KW: I would say the first thing is pick a project you're really excited about. I always also say for me, I do a lot of visualization of podcasts, live talks, reports, anything like that, and I need to be excited about the source material 'cause I find especially with freelancing where you don't always can influence what the topic is about or whatever, that really helps.
I don't do any work anymore where I'm like, "Oh, this is really uninteresting and I don't wanna be drawing this." And then also, if you're not working of source material, maybe like do the travel sketchnotes. Like Eva-Lotta Lamm did. Pick something, pick a personal project.
I would say this was a huge learning curve for me, that I only enjoy sketchnoting when the topic is right. And what I draw about really aligns with my interests and with my passions. And then the next one, it sounds so cliche, Mike, but I think it's so important don't compare yourself to others. Full stop. I know there's like a comparison is to thief of joy or something.
But I think it's really true. I have a really basic and minimalist style and when I look at your work or at Nadine Rossa's work, I think she was on your podcast. I always get, I'm like, oh my God, I have such a long way to go and it's my work even good enough.
But the validation I got from the outside well tells me it is good enough. There are people who appreciate your minimalist style that's not super visually complex and doesn't have all the really sophisticated doodles and everything. I've come to accept that, I think. And also, I try to stay in my line.
I don't look at the work of others so much. if I do that, I set a certain timeframe where I look at your work and then I get some inspiration, but then I leave it at that. I know it's harsh, but maybe that even means unfollowing a few people on social media and only looking at the profiles like, I don't know, once a month or something.
I think all you learn basically to not compare yourself to others, but I think it takes some time to learn that. And then also, also sounds a bit cliche, but don't overcomplicate things. Don't overcomplicate sketchnoting. I think that's also in your book. A sketch note doesn't have to be visually complex.
And for me, for example, that means if I don't wanna drop people, I don't draw people 'cause I don't. Maybe I don't like the style of it or maybe I haven't put enough practice into it. Well, then I don't draw people.
I don't have to do everything that the sketchnote community says that I need to do and how a sketchnote is supposed to look like, you know? "Cause I have quite a minimalist style and I like it that way and maybe at some point it gets more sophisticated or maybe it doesn't, I don't know. I would say those are my three things. Oh, and can I do a fourth one?
MR: Yes, you can.
KW: Don't overvalue talent. People on LinkedIn, they always tell me you're so talented. And it gets me really angry 'cause sketchnoting is basically you put in the work and the practice and then you get better. It's like running or playing an instrument. It has nothing to do with talent. If you look at my early drawings and when I started practicing with your book, it didn't look great. Don't overvalue talent. There's no talent. Everybody can learn sketchnoting. I would print this on a t-shirt. There you go.
MR: I love it. Four is great. And we love it when people give us extra ones, so that's pretty cool.
KW: Four is my lucky number.
MR: There we go. I think in Asia, isn't four a lucky number? I'm not sure.
KW: I don't know. I was born on the fourth, so yeah, that's why—
MR: I think actually in Japan, four is unlucky if I remember right. I know this because I was an old PalmPilot guy back in the day. Palm did not release a Palm IV because it was popular in Japan and four, I think it's related to death or something like that. So that's why they jumped from the III to the V.
KW: Oh, no. No, with us It's a lucky number.
MR: It's a lucky number. I think so. We make our own luck, right?
MR: So Katrin, what is the best way for us to reach out to you? Obviously, LinkedIn would be good.
KW: LinkedIn is great. It's basically Katrin Wietek on LinkedIn. I have this website that I created in university, but I don't maintain it so much. But that's Katrin-kristin.com, I think. Also, that's the same Instagram handle, @katrin.kristin, I think. I don't post so often, but maybe that might change in the future. That's basically the three channels where you can find me online.
MR: Primarily, it sounds like LinkedIn is the best place. Obviously, you're pretty active there. So that's, if you wanna see your work and connect there, that would be the place to go. So that's really great.
MR: Well, this has been really wonderful. Time has flown by. It's been such a fun discussion with you and thank you so much for the work you do and your attitude and how you share your work, and really an ambassador for Sketchnoting in the LinkedIn world probably more than anyone that I can think of. I really appreciate that.
And it's so good to see someone representing and having such a positive attitude for the community. I think you're just a great ambassador for us.
KW: Well, thank you for inventing sketchnotes, Mike, and thank you for writing that book, because otherwise I wouldn't be here and I definitely wouldn't be at that point in my career. I'm pretty sure about that. And it was an honor to be on your podcast.
Thank you so much for the invitation. I'm super proud of where I got along the way. And I'm gonna share the podcast with all the people I know and also posted on LinkedIn, so maybe a few people can see it.
MR: Well, for your first podcast in English, you did an excellent job. You're a really great conversationalist.
KW: Thank you.
MR: Be very proud of that. You did a great job. And maybe I'll send this to people as a guide, if they're on the show, to listen to you.
KW: This means a lot. Thank you so much.
MR: Well, for everyone who's listening or watching, this is another episode of the "Sketchnote Army Podcast." Until next episode, we will talk to you soon.