Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Takeover

I was super-organized for this Christmas. By the time the office closed on December 20, the gifts had been bought and wrapped; the food purchased and stocked in the fridge and freezer and the tree stood erect and decorated all ready for the best of the season.

Just as well. Talk about the best laid plans…. From the time we closed the office, I was sick, coming down with some dreaded flu bug, and forced to retreat to my bed where I could be heard barking and coughing all day.

Now I am not someone who usually capitulates to a sniffle or two. Being of strong Scottish blood, I have been trained to carry on regardless but I tell you, I was beat with this one. Not only did I miss several local parties, but my kids had to rally round and cook Christmas dinner.

And I have to say, I was totally impressed with how they took charge. They assigned the tasks, divided up the chores and wouldn’t let me darken the doors of the kitchen. And while I was proud of them, you could tell they were pretty pleased with themselves too because the meal was great and Christmas was saved.

It was also pretty nice to just sit and have the meal prepared and cleared away by someone else. I could get used to this but they’ve already told me it was a one-off. Normal service is to resume next year.

Too bad.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saving grace

“I don’t do vulnerable”  I confessed to my friend.  But years ago when I was going through chemo and my kids were little, I did just that.  I had to.  I needed friends to drive me to and from my treatments, to pick up the girls and help prepare meals. And I will always be grateful to the team of friends who rallied round to support us.

I think of this as I receive help once again.  This time it is business-related.  I am usually the one offering assistance – be it to friends or women starting out in their business.  So it feels strange to be on the receiving end and I am trying to accept the generosity with grace.

Company of Women’s magazine Company, has been my pride and joy for the last four years.  But as anyone in the publishing/printing business will tell you – this industry is hurting, big time.  Up until now, I have been using my own money to bale it out as advertising sales dropped and continued to drop, but a month ago I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t keep doing that.

Enter Michele Bailey of blazing the Agency.  Michele has a successful marketing agency, complete with design studio and over coffee, she generously offered to have her studio design the upcoming issue of Company, which ironically is about partnerships and collaboration.  This is HUGE and enables me to use the advertising dollars I collected to cover the costs of printing. 

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to Michele.  Not just for having the work done, but for her faith that our small, but mighty publication deserved to be saved.  I have always talked about women helping women, but now I have lived it.

So Company is off life support and breathing on its own for now. 

Thanks Michele.

PS Watch for your copy coming out in late January, 2012

Friday, December 16, 2011


Christmas is a hard time for many people, especially for those who have just lost a family member or friend. 

To commit suicide always seems such a desperate and selfish act to me, as family members are left to pick up the pieces, always questioning what they could have done to avert this tragic action; what cues they missed and what they could have done differently.

So to commit suicide a week before Christmas seems the ultimate selfish act to me. Why? It sounds almost flip to ask this, but couldn’t you have waited? Now every Christmas your family is left with the haunting memory of your death.

It does make you wonder what drives people to take such drastic steps. And I am not immune to this. I have a cousin who tragically took her own life on the birthday of her son, who she had to give up for adoption, at a time when it was not socially acceptable to keep your child as a young, single mother. I often think of Eileen and reflect how differently it could have been if she’d just lived a decade later when her life choice would have been more acceptable.

But what a waste. And how hurtful for the surviving family.

None of us knows what happens behind closed doors or closed minds. It speaks to the power of depression and mental health challenges which are insidious but eat away at a person’s ability to logically combat and fight against all the negative feelings that they hold close inside. It tells you how for some the force of negativity and feelings of hopelessness are too strong and outweigh the ability to see options beyond the current situation.

So I find the sudden and tragic death of a young man we knew, who has a young family, just beyond my comprehension. I just keep thinking why? What could have been so bad that it warranted such drastic action? Why? And why now?

My heart goes out to the widow and her two young daughters. I hope they find the strength and peace to accept what has happened.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lost in the Woods

The one badge I never passed when I was in the Brownies, was map reading.  A skill, my husband would attest, I have still not acquired.  So often when the kids were little and we escaped for a romantic interlude, we’d barely be speaking by the time we had reached our destination. My navigation skills left a lot to be desired, and of course, he wouldn’t dream of asking for directions.

Well, the other night I got lost again.  This time I was with a girlfriend and we’d been to visit a new friend in her home.  We got there OK, but coming home was another story.

One of the challenges of living in the country is at night, it is dark and one tree looks like another.  The road signs are hard to see, if there at all.  So we literally drove around in circles and whenever we reached a junction, I’d suggest turning one way and my friend another.

Eventually at one point I joked that I knew what my friend needed for Christmas – a GPS.  “Oh I have one “ she replied. “It’s under the seat.”  I laughed out loud and questioned why we hadn’t been using it.

Well we dug it out and sure enough it got us home.  We were miles away and definitely off the beaten track.

It made me think of when we start a business.  We don’t know what we don’t know, so eager to learn we listen to all the advise people are quick to give us. And like deciding    which way to turn, it is often conflicting.  Who do you listen to?  Someone, or something like the GPS, that has more expertise, who knows how to help you get there, preferably on the shortest route possible and with no tolls.

My advice? If you are a newbie to business, turn to experts like accountants, lawyers, marketing gurus for advice.  Filter the other suggestions and listen to your gut. Consider getting a business coach.  Otherwise you too could be going around in circles, lost in the woods.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

That Final Event

I have reached the age of maturity when much of my time lately has been spent going to the funerals of friends, my peers.

I know this trend will only continue as we all get older but it really doesn’t make it any easier to take. And of course it makes me face my own mortality.

I often come back with a few more notes for my funeral file on what I want and don’t want when I finally check out.  My daughters think I am joking – I do have a black sense of humour – but more and more, it makes sense to think ahead. Plus as someone who has made a career out of putting on events, of course I want a say in that final one.

1.   I don’t want any fancy coffin – rent one if you like.
2.   No, I repeat, no open casket. As the fashionista I prefer to be in control of how I look and likely someone will put on the wrong jewelry that doesn’t match with the entire ensemble.

3.   I want to select the photos now.  Years ago my daughter held a surprise birthday party for me, with a gallery of photos chosen based on the criteria, I believe, that I looked dreadful in the photo. None of that.

4.   Talking of photos, the family better start clicking now because there are no recent ones of me.           

5.   Have some stirring; lively hymns that are upbeat and everyone can burst forth into song.

6.   Have a private family service early on and a Celebration a few weeks later, when family and friends feel less raw and ready to party
7.   No dreary speeches – make people laugh, that’s always been my motto and hey I have provided enough material for you to share some funny stories about me.  In fact, with some advance notice, I could even write a few.
8.   Have a party – celebrate each other – some good food, wine and company. (Will just be sorry to miss it.)

But I plan to stick around for a while yet – I mean there’s a lot to organize.

There’s a quote from Tuesday’s with Morrie that I have always found comforting –
 “Death is the end of a life, not a relationship.”

So even when I am not here, I am. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tough Times

I have just heard of the demise of two long-standing businesses – Homemakers magazine and POWE (Power of Women Exchange).   It’s kind of a wake up call to this changing economic climate.  Businesses that were doing well one day, and are gone the next.

And as someone who publishes a magazine, I know how tough it is.  We are down to two issues this year and even that is pushing it.  I am grateful to all the advertisers who have stuck by us and the writers and colleagues, like Michelle Bailey from Blazing the Agency, who have rallied round to make sure we continue.

As for POWE, I really feel for Lia and Tina who started the organization.  It is so hard to close the doors on something that you know was making a difference, and which you have poured so much of yourself into making it happen.

One argument might be that there isn’t a need for women-based business organizations, but I don’t think so.  It’s more that we need to pay attention to what is happening, adjust what we are offering so we continue to provide meaningful, real experiences for women.

It reminds me of when I ran mothers’ groups for Children’s Aid.  Obviously their mandate was to improve the women’s parenting skills, but when they didn’t have enough money to put food on the table or were worried about when the next blow would come from their abusive partner, teaching parenting skills seemed a bit futile. 

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the women needed basic life skills and once those basic needs were met, and they felt better about themselves, then they would be more willing to tackle their parenting skills.

Likewise, for the past nine years we have put on event after event, brought in amazing speakers and helped women learn and connect with one another.  But I am not convinced that this is what is needed now in today’s climate.  Yes, we all need to continue learning, and we will still bring in the speakers and cover topics of interest to business owners at all levels. But if you are worried and feeling all alone, finding out that others feel the same way and that they have some solutions to share, can really change your reality.

People seem to be hunkering in.  Let’s face it, when money is short and you are feeling discouraged about your business, the last thing you feel like doing is shelling out even more money so you can put on a mask and pretend all is well with the world.

No, it is time for some honesty, some authenticity and some down-to-earth, practical conversations.  We can support one another.  We can problem-solve together and yes, we can get through this challenging period, and not only survive, but thrive.

As the Dalai Lama said “ It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom, and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.”
So don’t give up on networking.  Yes,  meeting people online is one alternative, and I maybe old-fashioned,  but I still like meeting people face-to-face.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fast Forward to Next Year's Trends

Looking for what will be hot in 2012?  A recent article in Entrepreneur highlighted ten trends that will shape business next year,  and for website and software developers it would seem the sky’s the limit as nearly each trend has technology implications.

More and more we are relying on information, feedback and recommendations from others to help us in our decision-making,  Knowledge is power.  In a 2010 study it was found that 62 percent of online retail shoppers think product recommendations are useful.  With sites offering recommendations on products, restaurants, decision-making does become easier. So how can you tap into this trend?  At minimum, ask for referrals and make sure your testimonials are front and centre on your website.

Collaborative commerce speaks to the increase in businesses interested in sharing, bartering, lending and renting goods, skills, money, space or services. Take Getaround, it’s a social car-sharing service that enables a car owner to make money by renting out their car when it is not being used.  Or TaskRabbit which is like an eBay for errands.   What services do you need?  Is there someone you can barter with?  We actually will be talking about collaboration at our January Oakville dinner.

 More and more customers are wanting products customized to their needs and they are willing to pay for these special orders – be it chocolates, shoes and jewelry.  Closer to home, Megan Barnes with her customized play mats for children can testify to this growing trend, with orders flooding in from all over the world for her product.

New electronic devices, like the tablet, give people mobility and make it easier to work from home or while on the road.  Any applications that can further increase their productivity will be successful in the year ahead. Are you accessing useful apps on your mobile phone?  Consider checking out what is available to you.  You might be surprised.

Today resources are available to foster creativity and help creative artists sell their wares.  Websites like Etsy, an online marketplace for direct-from-the-artist crafts clocked up $314 million in sales last year.  While other sites like sell in-person lessons on everything from guitar to gardening and with Blurb, authors can self-publish bookstore quality books or produce photographic journals.  

The push for food grown locally is growing. As a society we are more concerned about what we eat and what we put into our bodies. With urban farming, people in cities are converting their back yards into vegetable gardens; public places are being developed to include community gardens; and local farmers markets are turning into social gathering spots where the community collects and supports its local farmers.

The popularity of social gaming devices has been ever growing, but gamification is actually looking at “how to use game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” explains Nathan Landes, founder of Gamify, which has developed a product that allows individuals and brands to gamify their own virtual space.
 Simplicity and authenticity are the current driving forces behind design. It is about moving back to basics. Several websites are marketing design products.  With the increased interest in industrial design,  the Rhode Island School of Design, is equipping its graduates with “artrepreneur starter kits”  in preparation for this growing market.

High intense boot camps proved more popular this year compared to fitness centres where people join but never go.  Software designers are also capitalizing on this extreme fitness, developing boot camp apps that let its users develop their own circuit training workout.

With unemployment at an all time high, online tools such as LinkedIn are linking people to jobs through social media.  Entrepreneur reckons “the employment support sector is rife with opportunity.” New software apps, for example, are being developed to make it easier for job-seekers to post their resumes on numerous job sites at the same time.

Regardless of your business or industry, if you are not online, don’t have a website presence or are not taking advantage of all the new software and apps out there, you may well find yourself on a desert island. 

One fast growing trend for sure is that technology is changing faster than anything, and now is the time to get on board.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Power of Women

Recently I witnessed first hand the strength of women working together to support one another.

I was attending the WeConnect conference which brought women entrepreneurs from across Canada to learn more about how to tap into corporations that operate supplier diversity programs – i.e. they encourage and support women-owned businesses to apply for their contracts.

The group I was in had spent an hour discussing the merits of mentorship and how best to run a mentoring program that was a win-win for all involved.  The challenge was finding the necessary funds to run the program in a professional and organized fashion. 

The recorder for our discussion group then reported back to the whole audience and advised them that we needed $15,000 to make the program happen.  She worded it in such a way that it became almost like a live auction and before we knew it, one woman business owner offered up $5,000 towards the program and within ten minutes, $12,000 had been raised.

It was a magic moment and demonstrates how as  women we have the power and influence to make things happen.

Kudos to all who signed up.  And yes, my cheque is in the mail.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mistaken Identity

I had been looking after my daughter’s cat – Phoenix – while she was away on vacation.  Now Phoenix is an indoor cat who often sits by the back patio door looking out longingly at the great outdoors, anxious to explore it for herself.  So we take great care to lock the door after the dog has gone out as we don’t want her to escape.

So you can imagine my horror when I came back one evening to see a black and white cat sitting on the front door step.  My immediate thought and horror was that somehow I had let the cat out and my daughter would never forgive me. 

On getting closer, I started to reflect on Phoenix’s colouring – all white, with some black.  This cat was the complete opposite – all black with some white.  In my panic I was struggling to remember exactly what Phoenix looked like,  so I was still second-guessing myself and rushed into the house shouting “Phoenix, Phoenix.” Timid by nature, she eventually showed herself and I gave a big sigh of relief when she appeared.

I had nearly scooped that cat into the house. Just imagine my daughter’s surprise when she came home to find not one happy well-fed cat, but two!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Speaking Out Loud

While I am getting much more comfortable with public speaking, my interview at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore made me more nervous.  Mostly because I didn’t know the questions and therefore couldn’t rehearse my answers.  I’ve never been someone who felt confident speaking off the top of my head.  And then there was the reading out loud – I had to read two or three sections from my book. 

First, which ones do I choose?  And second, and probably more important, I suck at reading out loud. I always went to great lengths to avoid this at school, where there was the expectation that the students in leadership roles (I was one)  would frequently read to the whole assembly.

Well you know what… it was OK.  Actually it was more than OK, it was pretty good.  What I had forgotten is that when you know your topic (which was me and my book), you know the answers.  On reflection there were a couple of things I probably shouldn’t have said – being critical of a well-known entrepreneur – but hey, take a number,  there are many who take pot shots at him.

My thanks to friends who came in to be supportive, especially those who drove in from Oakville.  It was lovely to see some familiar faces and it made the whole event seem like a friendly conversation between friends. Annemarie Shrouder was a charming host who made you feel comfortable and at ease and she seemed to have genuinely liked my book, which helps.

So my advice to those of you facing a demon or taking a risk – just do it.  It is usually worse in your head than in reality.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Learn From My Mistakes

I have been in business for myself for ten years now so you’d think I would learn and not repeat mistakes from the past.

Maybe it is menopause and my short term memory is shot, but yet again, I find myself feeling ripped off and while I am loath to admit it, I am partly to blame.

It actually all boils down to communication, or the lack of it.  Just like with teenagers, you have to ask the right questions and when you don’t, you forge ahead with misinformation and make assumptions - a dangerous way to go.  When you don’t have the full picture of what is involved, you proceed unaware that trouble lurks around the corner.

So what have I learned this time?

1.        When you don’t know, what you don’t know – ask the silly questions, do your homework and have the other person explain in full what is involved in the project and for how much.
2.        Get it in writing, spelling out exactly what will be done and what each component will cost and how the person will be reimbursed, with a payment schedule.
3.        Be specific on what you want, why you want it and how the end product will be used.

4.        Don’t expect other people to resolve problems in the way you would and then you won’t be disappointed.

I guess I am just a lifelong learner.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beyond the Writing

When I was pregnant I remember focusing so much on getting through the childbirth, that I gave little thought to what happens after the delivery.  

Likewise, I put all my energies into writing my book and getting the message right, that I paid little attention to how we were going to sell and market the book, once it was published.

In fact, in my book  Day to Day – Tales of business, life and everything in between, I compare starting a business with motherhood.  As in both instances you can go through such a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement to out and out fear and self-doubt that you are not up for the role – be it as a parent or as an entrepreneur. Well I now want to add publishing a book to being similar to giving birth. 

In fact, authoring a book is a whole new career and for us creative types, sales is not always our forte.  Truth be told, it makes me downright uncomfortable.  I can do a great job selling and marketing other people’s products, but my own – and my own book about myself to boot, it is just not happening very easily. 

 Silly really because I know I have an important message to share.  It is almost as if I expect people to know this through osmosis and buy the book anyway.  And I have heard from those who have bought it, that it is a good read, which is reassuring and good to know.

So trust me all you would-be authors, just like childbirth, writing the book is just the beginning.  It’s a whole new world out there and I, for one, am taking toddler steps as I learn the ropes.    

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Be True to Yourself

Are you running a business or pursuing a hobby?  challenged Pat Mussieux, our speaker at a recent dinner event.  Good question. 

So much depends on why you started your business in the first place and what your end goal is and lastly your definition of success.

For many women, turning a hobby into a business is a logical next step but that doesn’t mean that they want to make lots of money, but more that they want to lead a productive life and pursue a passion.  Does that mean they are not true “business owners?”

I’d argue that they are, but their definition of success is different.  For each and every one of us, our definition will vary.  The key is to be true to your own.

We all strive for different things out of our businesses, and yes, when you have to put food on the table, you need to be more driven to succeed, you have to be.  But for some, the motivation is more about taking control of our lives or living a meaningful life that makes a difference in the lives of others.

I’d hate for us to get into the same competition from years gone by, when stay-at-home moms and those who worked outside the home, each considered themselves better than the other. 

Why you start, pursue and build a business is your choice and how big you want to make it, is up to you.  Don’t let others determine your definition of success. Let’s respect the decisions others make and not compare or compete with one another on who is a “real” entrepreneur.  We all are, to one degree or another.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Taking risks

I have been talking and writing a lot lately about taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone.

One of my suggestions to get used to the concept, is to just drive home a different way and deciding I should practice what I preach, that’s what I did today.

I was feeling quite adventurous as I went straight ahead, instead of turning right.  First thing I noticed was a local hotel where a friend will be staying next month. Good to know, it’s not actually where I thought it was.

Next as I turned the corner I noticed several large trucks and a young woman holding a stop sign.  My first thought was to be pleased that there was a woman working on the site.  That generous thought lasted two minutes, maybe three max, as the traffic came to a standstill.  Five minutes later we were all still there.  Nothing was moving either way.

Eventually being the A type personality that I am, along with the other less patient drivers, I did a three-point turn and got back onto the main road and came home the usual way, thwarted in my attempt to step outside my travelling box.

So what did I learn from this little escapade?  There were no signs warning you of the road works ahead, but then in life, we don’t see flashing neon signs of danger either.  You just have to deal with the cards you are dealt with, make a decision and move on or in this instance, turn around.

Instead of being in autopilot, I was much more observant than usual, taking note of my surroundings.  It isn’t wrong to take a risk, but like anything you do for the first time, it could take you longer than you think to reach your destination! 

But hey nothing ventured, nothing gained. I now know where the hotel is.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Be Real, Get a Life

For the past twenty-one years I have lived with cancer.  And I have done so privately. I haven’t been secretive about being a “cancer survivor” but I have chosen not to let cancer define who I am.  It is something that happened to me, but it is not me.  Yes, it has shaped who I have become and what I have chosen to do, but it is not me.

But recently I have decided to speak up more – not because I want sympathy or a pity party, but more because I recognize I have a message to convey.

I see too many people who do not realize or appreciate that we have one life to live and it could change on a dime.

I see too many people who do not realize their full potential out of fear, not stepping forward to shine.

I see too many people who sweat over the small stuff when it truly doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.  Get rid of the negativity in your life, you don’t need or deserve it.

That’s why I wrote my book.  And my message is – live life now. Surround yourself with people who believe, love and support you.  Do what you are meant to do…now and take that risk, swallow your fear and become who you are supposed to be.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Four-Letter Word to Ban

Soon. As a child that seemed like a vague term given just to pacify you and make you believe that whatever you wanted would be happening…. well, soon. As an adult, it’s a cop-out. 

And in the six years since we bought the farm, that is what we’ve heard about high speed Internet. How does the ad go… Coming soon to a neighbourhood near you. Well high speed may have come to numerous neighbourhoods near us, but it ain’t here yet. 

Some of you may be wondering what the big deal is? Remember dial up? How s..l..o..w it was? After a couple of years of tying up the phone line and still not getting great service, we gave in and went to satellite. Now this is not an inexpensive option and while faster than dial-up, high-speed it is not. It is also very fickle – and very sensitive to the weather – so if we have had a storm, it has rained, or a bit of snow… forget it. 

Lately there has been a rumour that we are getting high-speed …soon. But I am somewhat cynical and it can’t come quick enough for me. 

Word of advice to advertisers – forget the word soon – be specific – you might get more buy-in then.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Time Strapped? Revisit How You Spend Your Time

Like many women there are times when I feel time-strapped to fit everything in.  So I was interested to read an article on how to get an extra hour out of my day.   

There are several culprits that eat away at our time – too many face-to-face meetings when a decision could just be made without the meeting. For the perfectionist, procrastination was another time guzzler, as the strive to make something perfect stopped us starting in the first place. The article also touched on our inability to value and use free time without feeling guilty.  When you own a business, the day is never done and if you work from home, it is even harder to close that door and leave the work behind.  

Certainly in terms of meetings, I get a lot of requests for face-to-face meetings and much as I love to meet with people, I am finding it harder to do and have become stricter about with whom I meet.

One screening tool I have introduced of late is asking people to send me information in writing, so I can determine if it is worth our time getting together or whether we can just talk over the phone. I often then hear nothing and the request fades away.  That’s when I know it is not a win-win situation, but someone trying to sell me something or hook me into something I don’t want to do.

Another point that the article raises is that it is not just the meeting that eats into your schedule, but the time prior to the meeting when you don’t start anything important because you know you will have to leave it unfinished. And then there’s the time afterwards when you have to change gears and switch back to the work on hand. 

I remember years ago being on several committees with one woman who started to evaluate the use of her time.  We nicknamed her “The Terminator” as she would ask questions at the meeting like – Why are we meeting? Do we still need this committee?

And she was right.  Often we get locked into meeting or serving on a committee, because we’ve always done it, not because there is a need.  When the purpose of the meeting/committee has been achieved, maybe it is time to say “Congratulations, we’ve achieved what we set out to do.” and end it there. 

What’s the answer?  The article suggests we take an audit of our time and how we use it. By examining it more closely, we likely will find areas that we can change and curtail and more importantly, they say, reframe how we look at quality time and the value of taking a break.