Friday, April 25, 2014

Life is a blog. Living out loud.

I am often asked how I decide what to write about when I blog and for those starting out, I suggest you do up an editorial calendar and chart out themes for each month.  They can relate to the time of year, seasonal activities or issues that you feel are common with your peers.

Much of course depends on why you are blogging in the first place.  Is it to promote your business and to get known as an expert?  Is it to personalize your brand, so people know the face of your business or are you writing about one of your passions?  Perhaps writing is THE passion.

When I started out over ten years ago, I just loved writing.  I didn’t really care that much whether people read what I wrote or not.  I was having fun putting my words and thoughts to paper, and in many ways that hasn’t changed that muchJ

I don’t actually take my own advice as I don’t have an editorial calendar that I work to, except for when I am guest blogging. There I try to fit with the theme put forward but be creative at the same time.  I like to put a different twist on the topic.

On the whole, I tend to write about what is current in my life – so it could be a challenge I’ve faced; a common issue I have observed, some practical tips for other business owners or sometimes, just sometimes, a bit of a rant.  Although I have to say, some of the ranting ones don’t always see the light of day.  Pure therapy.

What you don’t want to do is write about what you had for lunch, for example.  Who cares?  Certainly not your readers.  I find the blogs that work the best are when I am sharing a piece of myself; perhaps being more vulnerable or what I am saying hits a chord with people.

The other popular blogs are those that are actually useful, with content and information that’s practical and the reader can implement and see results.

I recently did one for Huffington Post about being glad I was not a twenty-something, and that very much arose from a TV interview and a video I’d watched on the topic.  They had got me thinking and I was able to weave some of the dialogue from these two shows into my piece. 

The blog met with great interest and has generated a week-long discussion in HP, but it does flag another issue for the blogger.  You have to be prepared for the negative feedback or questioning of your point of view, and give comments back. I am working on developing a thick skin.
As I said to a friend this week, life is a blog.  Something is always coming up that I think… ah, I can use that.  I am big on analogies where we can learn something from a totally unrelated event that will have an impact on our businesses, for example.

In fact, my friends now know to keep quiet, or they could find themselves centre-stage in the plot of my next blog, in a good way of course.

When you start out, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to write daily or long blogs.  Seth Godin is the king of short, pithy blogs and look how popular he is.  So be kind to yourself.

In terms of style, lose the jargon, uptight corporate speak and keep it real.  Short sentences and short paragraphs, and then you are more likely to get people to read.  Don’t use a long word when a simple one will do.  This is not the place to show off your grasp of the English language, but do use words to paint a picture.

Best advice I got – write about what you know. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Giving back

National Volunteer Week is just behind us and over the years, I have done my share of volunteering.  To be honest, I have gained way more than I have ever given.

Here are just some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

1.             There’s more than one way to help someone
As a volunteer probation officer, I was assigned to a young lad who was into motor bikes, especially those that didn’t belong to him.  I can’t say it was an easy match.  

I connected more with his parents, and in the end, it was through working with them, that I was able to support him.

2.             Small things make a difference
Early in my volunteer career, I used to run a mothers’ group for Children’s Aid.  I had this Pollyanna approach that I was going to “save” the women which I soon realized was so not the case. So I lowered my expectations, and was content if a woman wore lipstick one week, as that meant she was feeling better about herself. 

3.             People show you what they want you to see
It was through the mothers’ group that I learned this important lesson. I had been showing the mothers how to do crafts at home inexpensively, with shaving cream and food colouring. 

One woman refused to do it. It turns out that if she’d gone home smelling of shaving cream, she would “pay” for it.  (We later hooked her up to the local shelter and helped her on her escape plan.)

4.             Words are powerful
As a “reporter” for a newsletter – Halt-on-Abuse – I was fortunate to be mentored by the editor, who was my first teacher on the importance of words and how with the right ones, you can have an impact.

5.             Mutual respect and a shared vision makes things happen
I have served on numerous boards, and when they work well, much of it is due to people respecting each other, the contributions and talents shared and have a common vision of what has to be done.  When that is not in place, it is tough and often the group is doomed to fail.

6.             You can’t always win
As an entrepreneur I am used to making my decisions without too much consultation.  That strategy doesn’t work when you are part of a volunteer team, each with an equal voice on what happens.  So not only does it take longer to reach consensus, but you don’t always get your own way.  Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

7.             You don’t know where it will lead
Several times in my career, I have stepped up and taken leadership roles within an association.   Little did I know that as a result, I would have exciting work opportunities come my way such as Editor of Today’s Parent.

8.             You broaden your network
I have met people from around the world as a result of my volunteer work.  Folks I would never have met except for our common interest in the organization that recruited us as volunteers.

9.             Know when to leave
No matter how much you may believe in the cause, there are times when the frustrations and dysfunction make it impossible to stay involved.  That’s when you have to step back and ask yourself if your contribution is worth the personal grief involved.  It may be time to leave and share your expertise elsewhere.

10.         Bottom line, it has to be fun
I have made some wonderful friends through my volunteer work and to me that is one of the biggest gains.  If you are not learning, growing and having fun, then it may not be a good match.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On camera challenges

This week I took part in a photo shoot.  Everyone else was fooling around, hamming it up, but somehow my British DNA always holds me back.  Why?

Part of it of course is I don’t like getting my photo taken – too many double chins, too many extra pounds and frankly I have rarely had a photo that I have liked.  Except maybe the one I have been using for the past ten years, but as friends have been saying, “time to change it, Anne.”

For one my hair is now au naturel and second, I have new glasses.  Well, actually several pairs of new glasses – they’ve become my signature – much to Wendy Buchanan’s joy.  I am like a walking ad for her and her company Perceptions Eyewear.

But back to the photo-taking.  There is actually quite the story to the photo I have been clinging on to.  The day it was taken, I was also speaking at Ryerson University.  It was International Women’s Day and I spoke on a panel that was asked to speak on Work-Life Balance. (Don’t laugh)  As my husband said at the time, that will take you all of five minutes, you’ve never had it.

So I leave this speaking gig, armed with a beautiful bouquet, for my photo shoot.  Now if any of you have ever had your photo done by Yanka, you will know it is an experience.  First there’s the wine  - not a bad idea – then she does your make up and has you chanting how beautiful you are.  Now this is where the Brit in me kicks in again. Really??

It was a long shoot, and in the chosen photo, I am not even wearing my clothes – Yanka had me in one of her jackets. She wanted me to look more corporate  (I had arrived in a purple jacket.)  I loved the end result which is why I have kept that photo all these years.

But the story doesn’t end there.  On my way home – on the Go train – I sit opposite this young couple.  Now you have to picture this, I am made-up to the nines, and carrying this beautiful bouquet of flowers.  So the young woman leans over and asks me “Who are you?”

I guess I looked like someone famous or something.  Although if she’d thought that one through, she would have realized I wouldn’t have been travelling on the train, if I was that famous.  We had a lovely chat all the way to Oakville, when I gracefully embarked.

Bottom line – here’s the new photo.  What do you think?  It was a painful process (for me) but I think we got there. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Grow yourself first

What does growth mean to you?  That was a question I was asked at a recent networking event when each of us had to share what growth looked like for us.

As we went round the table everyone was referring to growth in terms of number of customers, increased revenue or deeper, newer programming to offer to clients.  Until it was my turn.

Perhaps it is indicative of my age and stage in my business, but my answer was totally different and actually I think it made the women pause and reflect on what I was saying. 

Growth for me right now is focused on personal growth, of learning new skills and continuously growing as a person, a business owner and a business leader.  I am not sure we can separate who we are from what we do, much as we might like to.

I would argue that when we learn, we bring increased potential to our business, because we are personally moving forward, changing and evolving.  Knowledge is power.  And learning is a lifelong experience and some of its lessons we learn the hard wayJ

We all learn differently.  For some it is reading a book or watching a video, while for others it is attending a workshop or conference, and then there are those of us who are hands-on learners.  Personally I dabble in all learning styles, depending on what I want to learn.

Reading a manual for example is not helpful to me.  Getting down and dirty and trying something out, is how I learn technical information. In this instance, I am a hands-on learner.

What I enjoy most is attending conferences.   I value the face-to-face contact, hearing inspiring speakers and connecting with the other women in attendance.  The key however, is to take away and implement what you have learned.  Not easy when you have a business to run. It is one of the reasons we provide notebooks at our conferences – we want you to keep a record of what you have learned and make a commitment to implement at least one new idea when you get back to the office. Just one.

It is also crucial to hear from speakers who make their talk interesting, informative and jam-packed with practical tips and material.  Too often sadly it can be what I call “death by power point.”  Having been to my fair share of conferences, and organized even more, the day has to flow and provide information to meet the needs of our different learning styles.  Sitting in one spot being lectured at all day, for example, is not my idea of fun, or a positive learning experience.

Just like plants, we need watering and nourishing, if we are to continue to blossom and grow. So I encourage you to invest in your learning.  Your growth can only help your business grow as well.  When you go to a powerful conference, you leave motivated, with some new skills in your business toolbox and useful connections to help you. Take the time.  Invest in yourself.  We all know you are worth it.