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Why I’m Excited About Canadian Digital and Tech Businesses in 2016

It’s going to be a good year, I can feel it. Instead of writing about New Year’s resolutions for my first post of 2016, I’d like to share why I’m excited about the year ahead for Canadian tech and digital businesses.

  1. Bold, brave acquisitions and digital strategies 

    Last week, Canadian retailer Hudson’s Bay Company announced the acquisition of U.S. online excess fashion and luxury retailer Guilt Groupe. I think it’s a smart and brave move by the company to capture a younger, more digitally-savvy demographic. And it makes me proud to see one of Canada’s oldest businesses making smart, bold decisions to innovate in the digital economy.Other retailers like Canadian Tire are getting increasingly bullish in the digital space as well. Last summer, Canadian Tire launched its new digital in-store strategy to cater to a younger demographic and a more omni-channel shopping experience. From the opening of the “Digital Garage” incubation space in Kitchener (with the hopes of developing new innovations in retail), to the digitization of Canadian Tire money, the popular retailer is placing its bets on ecommerce and digital for the future.

    Both of these businesses are laying the foundation for a giant leap towards digital transformation of the Canadian business landscape. And I’m excited to see what Canadian Tire and Hudson’s Bay launches/anounces in the coming months.

  1. It’s getting easier for tech startups to grow in Canada
    It used to be that launching a business in Canada was difficult, not only from a funding and government support perspective but also from a market sizing perspective. With 35 million+ residents, Canada’s population size makes it a much smaller market in which to launch versus the U.S. or UK.But as this recent interview with the founder of Toronto startup Influitive, Mark Organ suggests it’s getting much easier because of great tax credits, local engineering talent and increased access to capital this side of the border.

    In addition, the ability to target a larger, more global audience is much easier to do online. And like Influitive, software as a service (SAAS) companies like Hootsuite, FreshBooks and Shopify are proving that it is possible to go global – even with headquarters based in Canada.

With rumours of possible Canadian tech IPOs on the horizon, I’m really excited to see what Canadian tech and digitally-focused businesses have in the works this year. Watch this space for more updates.

Full disclosure, I work with both the Influitive and Shopify Plus content teams to help tell spread brand message through storytelling.

Image via Pixabay

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Merry GIFsmas From My Blog to Yours


It has been said that “gratefulness is a sure route to happiness.” And I have so much to be thankful for in 2015. Most importantly, it’s been a pleasure and honour to continue to write on this blog and to work with many emerging Canadian technology businesses to tell their story.

Since I’ll be taking a break over the holidays to spend time with my family, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who follows this blog (or who might stumble upon this post in the next few weeks) for your readership.

To show my appreciation and to wish you all happy holidays, I’ve spent some time rounding up my favourite GIFs that celebrate the good, the funny and the downright absurd spirit of the season. Enjoy!

1. Let’s kick it off with Carlton: It’s not unusual to have fun this time of year 
Carlton_xmas_sweater_dance Image via GIPHY

2. May your days be merry and full of the holiday spirits
mulled_wine Image via ChristmasGIFs.org

3. My favourite holiday movie: Go spread some cheer!
christmas-cheer Image via Gurl.com

4. We all know cats shall one day inherit the internet
Cats_xmas_interweb Image via Tumblr

5. There are no words to describe this…
xmas_tree_shakeyergroovething Image via Tumblr

6. So full of cuteness! I. Can’t. Even.
pug_reindeer Image via BestAnimations.com

7. Just because my son loves minions
merry-christmas-minions-greeting-gif-3 Image via BestAnimations.com

8. Play us out holiday Roots avatar!
Roots_holiday_avatar Image via Tumblr

Thanks again for stopping by my blog and I look forward to sharing my random thoughts with you all in 2016. Happy holidays and see you in the New Year!

Header image via Pixabay

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What 5 Years of Content Marketing Has Taught Me

I can’t believe that 5 years ago, I started this little blog in the hopes of cms-265127_640promoting myself (back then) as a digital ad sales consultant.

Fast-forward to the present and I am now a full-time B2B content marketer who has worked with brands like the Canadian Digital Media Network, TELUS, Influitive and Shopify.

And I’m proud to say that they are all Canadian brands that I am thrilled to support.

Never in a million years did I think this is what I’d be doing when I started by own business.

But I am so glad that I am exactly where I am today.

So, to celebrate my love of writing and working with customers to tell their brand story, I thought I’d share a few of the hard lessons on blogging and content marketing that I have learned over the years.

  1. Never stop writing and never stop learning

    Even if I am not constantly writing on my own blog, I write at least 3 posts a week (in addition to working on ebooks, case studies, etc.).

    So, I keep trying to perfect my craft. Likewise, I read at least 10 blog posts a day from other writers who I admire.

    There is always room to improve, so I want to see what the pros are doing try to incorporate it into my own writing style.

  2. Only write for brands that you believe in

    Although I also do a lot of ghost writing for companies, I choose to only write for industries and brands that I am passionate about.

    That’s because I only want to put my name on something that I am proud of and I believe that passion is a huge motivator.

    Why bother writing about something you aren’t passionate about? If you aren’t passionate, it will certainly show through in your writing.

  3. Case studies: The customer is always the hero in the story

    This is something I’ve learned over the past few years in writing case studies for clients.

    It’s not the client/software solution that needs to be the protagonist in a story, it’s the customer who has been through some sort of struggle, which led them to that solution, that needs to shine as the hero.

    Basically, the customer is the rock star and the software solution is the roady or sound technician behind the scenes who makes them shine on stage.

  4. Have coffee with your target audience

    Ok, so it doesn’t have to be coffee, but you need to speak (in person) with the people who are likely to read the blog, ebook, whitepaper, etc. for which you are writing.

    You need to understand their pain points and what messages might resonate with them or get them to move from the awareness phase to the consideration phase of the purchase funnel. And that takes some time and experimentation with your content as well.

  5. Let the trolls keep on trolling

    I think I’ve said this before but you can’t please everyone with your writing. Ultimately, if you get more positive comments than negative ones, you are doing just fine.

    That being said, you can always learn something from what the haters are hating on – even if it’s just how to be the opposite of what they are as a human being.

    But sometimes there is a shred of truth to what is being said and you can always use that information to improve for the next piece that you write. Just don’t let the negativity get you down for too long.

    Thanks for continuing to follow my blog and I look forward to share more of what I have learned in the years to come.

    Have a question about blogging or content marketing? Please share in the comments below.

Image via Pixabay

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2 Tips for rescuing your sinking B2B marketing strategies #ConvRoadTrip

Ever feel like your B2B marketing results are headed for disaster? One of the best ways to avoid failure is to learn from those who have already made a gazillion Sinking shipmistakes but have lived to tell the tale. As a freelance writer and B2B marketing strategist, I enjoy taking a break from my regular routine to find out what’s new in the world of digital and content marketing. So, last week I spent the day at the Toronto stop on the Unbounce North American Conversion Road Trip tour.

I was especially inspired by April Dunford‘s presentation entitled “Marketing Strategy Hacks: What to do when all your marketing results are complete crap.”  I completely identified with her explanation that sometimes the strategies and tactics that you develop just don’t pay off. And it can be extremely frustrating if you’ve seen those same strategies work out with other companies or clients that you’ve worked with in the past. So, it was refreshing to hear her recommendations on what to investigate first when you discover that your results are tanking, despite your best efforts. I’ve provided a summary of her tips below. Enjoy!

Dunford suggests that there are two ways to hack your marketing strategy when things go sideways:

1) The easy way is to look at your target “buyers”

2) A more advanced approach is to look at your market

1. Have you been targeting the wrong customers all along?

Dunford told the audience that she once had a huge ephiphany when investigating why her hyper-optimized and targeted B2B marketing campaigns just weren’t working. She decided to look at every channel to figure out where things had gone wrong.

One day, she spent a morning with the inside sales team and discovered that one of the sales reps was calling prospects and asking to speak with the head of sales, rather than the Chief Information Officer (CIO) – who they thought were the ideal customers for purchasing CRM software. She soon found out that Sales executives were far more interested in learning more about the product that the CIOs they had been targeting. It was at that moment that she realized her team had been spending millions of dollars to reach the wrong buyer. That revelation helped to get her team’s campaigns back on track and convert more leads into customers.

2. Your target market will change over time

Dunford explained that marketers can expect your target market to shift as the market shifts.

In order to determine your ideal target market and positioning, she recommends that businesses consider the following:

1. Who does your value proposition resonate with the most?

2. Who is the easiest target market to reach?

3. Who influences the purchase the most? In some cases, this person is the better target – even if they are not the end-buyer.

4. Are your competitors underserving an untapped market?

To demonstrate that sometimes businesses simply target the wrong market, Dunford showed a photo of a sandwich board outside of the restaurant“Eggspectation” in Toronto which read “Try our burgers.”  She pointed out the irony of the sign and the fact that if she wanted a burger, there are lots of burger joints in the city. She said she’d never “eggspect” a burger at a restaurant that specializes in making eggs. Cue the laugh track😉

How to test your market positioning

1. To determine if your prospects “get what you do,” Dunford suggests to test if your messaging sets you apart versus a similar but competitive product.

2. Concerned that your value proposition is week? Dunford recommends to conduct interviews or surveys to ask your customers why they love your product? You can then compare their answers against your current messaging. If it’s way off, then you can make tweaks to tell the right story.

3. To avoid the dreadful “me too” messaging/product trap, you can interview prospects and current customers to ask them what sets you apart from competitors. Dunford was once told by a prospect (whom she was pitching) that her database software was more of a “data warehouse.” This helped her company to re-position their product in a much less competitive market. 

4. Finally, if you’re concerned that your competitors are eating your lunch, you can interview/survey your customers post-purchase to find out why they bought from you. Perhaps there is a different market that would be more likely to buy from you based on their answers.

Do you have a tip to help save sinking B2B marketing campaigns? Please share in the comments section below.

Image: By USN [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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A Content Marketing Spokesperson (or Influencer) Can Help Legitimize Your Business

A lot of business-to-business (B2B) startups and small businesses use content marketing as a 2legit2quitstrategy to generate new business leads and to increase search engine optimization (SEO) rankings. But it’s important to remember that achieving those goals can take a lot of time. And it can be frustrating if you aren’t reaching your desired results fast enough.

What’s important to keep in mind is that while emails may not be flooding your inbox just yet, you are still contributing to an important part of the purchase funnel – the consideration stage. So, even if most of your leads are still coming in through word of mouth, you can bet your sweet aunt Susan that businesses are evaluating your services through your website, blog, social media following and other content channels.

The key is to produce content that provides valuable insights and advice on how businesses can achieve greater results by tapping into your services. This does not mean directly selling your product. Instead, you should sell your vision and tips on best practices related to your industry.

Content marketing is also an opportunity to show prospective clients who you are as a person (if you are a solopreneur) or leader of a service provider. That’s why some of the most successful companies that use content marketing as a strategy have a person, or group of people, lending their voice and perspectives via a blog, social media or other content channels on behalf of the business.

After all, people want to work with others whom they like and trust. And if you come across as friendly, competent and trustworthy in your content, new clients who are evaluating your services will achieve peace of mind – knowing that their investment in you will pay off.

To give you an idea of how to do this effectively, I’ve put together a list of Canadian spokespeople and social media influencers who have successfully helped to legitimize their business to prospective clients through content marketing. Their storytelling skills, expertise and charisma help to showcase what it would be like to work with or buy services from their company. Check them out below.

  1. Peter Aceto, CEO of Tangerine (blogger, speaker, author, and social media influencer)
  2. Erin Bury, Managing Director of 88 Creative (blogger, speaker, TV personality and newspaper columnist)
  3. Tony Chapman, former founder and CEO of Capital C (now a motivational speaker, TV personality, columnist and consultant).
  4. Tara Hunt, Director of Audience Development at Totem (author, blogger, and speaker)
  5. Mitch Joel, President of Mirum (blogger, speaker, author, podcaster, radio personality and newspaper columnist)

Have a name that should be added to the list? Please share it in the comments section below. Or, send an email to andrea [at] therunningstart [dot] ca.

Image source: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/

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Putting Your Health First as an Entrepreneur

Before I had my son, I would often spend 12 to 14 hours a day at my computer working on my Stethoscopebusiness or completing work for a client. After my son was born, I had to become more efficient in managing my time and I cut those hours down a bit. And then I started to get tonsillitis every time he got cough or cold. My productivity obviously took a hit whenever that happened and I didn’t enjoy being on antibiotics all of the time.

So, earlier this month, I made a tough choice to prioritize my health over making more money. I decided (with much trepidation) to get a tonsillectomy. Apparently, a tonsillectomy for a kid isn’t that big of a deal. But for adults, it requires weeks and weeks of recovery time and it can be a much riskier procedure. Still, I knew that I needed to take care of myself so that I wouldn’t be sick all of the time – to benefit both my family (my poor husband had to take care of my son alone every time I got sick) and my clients (who were nice enough to give me deadline extensions when I had to take a day off here and there). This meant that my revenue would take a hit in March. But I know that it was the right thing to do.

It has now been 14 days since I had the operation and I am so glad that I never have to go through that ordeal ever again! What I am even happier about is how supportive my clients were through the entire process. It makes me feel very fortunate to work with great people and I am thankful for the decisions I have made over the years to prioritize clients who I enjoy working alongside and who treat me with respect.

The lesson that I have taken away from this experience is that entrepreneurs and small business owners should never ignore health issues in favour of finishing one last client project, or making even more sales for their business. I urge you to consider what is most important in life. Over the long term, you are doing your friends, loved ones and your customers a favour by taking care of yourself. The money will always be there. But you need to maintain your health and well being in order to be the best entrepreneur that you can be.

Image source: By Stethoscopes (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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The ‘Boxy’ Problem with Job Descriptions

Staying in the same job for too long can often make you feel like you are stuck in a box. In fact, a former boss once told me that “you can actually become de-skilled if you stay in the same role for more than a few years.”

Since January, I’ve spoken with a few former colleagues who are currently searching for a new full-stuck in a boxtime job. ‘Tis the job hunting season as it is a new year!

I’ve noticed that one of the most common complaints that they have is that they feel like they don’t have all of the skills required in the listing for a job. Or, that the job description seems limiting somehow and/or it omits some of the skills that they wish to continue nurture in the future.

I know that this isn’t the typical topic that I post on my personal blog. But it is a big reason why I became self-employed in the first place.

A few years ago, like many of my friends who are now searching for jobs, I felt like my current job skills didn’t match up with the job that I wanted to do. Also, many of the job descriptions for which I was applying felt too limiting and I knew that I would want to do more than what was outlined as my future roles and responsibilities. So, I did what seemed like the only reasonable thing at the time – I hired myself and made up my own limitless job description.

Of course, it’s important to be focused as an entrepreneur or freelancer. But the bonus is that your job description doesn’t have to fit into a box – nor does your current level of expertise have to tick all of the boxes required to get the job that you wish you could have. That’s because you can continue to evolve and learn new skills on the fly as an entrepreneur. In fact, you have to do that or you won’t succeed. 

For anyone out there looking to change careers or to find a job that they keep getting told that they are not yet qualified to have, why not consider hiring yourself? You may just be the best boss you ever had!

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My Favourite 2014 Blog Posts

Happy New Year! I’m excited to start a fresh year of blogging. But before moving ahead, I think it’s Typewriter spelling the words "Once upon a time"important to reflect on what stories worked well and drove a lot of traffic and/or engagement in 2014.

So, below are some of my most popular posts from the past year (across multiple publications) and my thoughts on why I think they were so successful.

1. Six steps for setting up a small business in Canada

I kicked off 2014 by writing this story for TELUS Talks Business. I think that this post continues to generate a lot of page views because the topic is evergreen – meaning that it is not time sensitive and people can refer to this post as a check list of things to do in order to get started with their small business.

2. Kirstine Stewart says Twitter offers a new beginning for television

Last May, I attend the Clickz Live Conference in Toronto and really enjoyed Kirstine Stewart’s (managing director at Twitter Canada) talk about how Twitter can help drive increased television viewership and engagement. I think that the reason that this story got so many shares on Techvibes is because the title was extremely compelling and it offered insights/thought leadership from a senior level person at one of the world’s largest social media technology companies.

3. Cheers to happy accidents

Although this post didn’t drive a lot of shares on my personal blog, it did drive a lot of conversation on Twitter. I think that the reason some of my Twitter followers chose to respond to this post was because I shared it in the evening (when people are often sitting around after dinner and looking for casual stories to read online). The topic was also very playful and interesting. It’s definitely one of my favourite posts of 2014.

Writing a highly engaging or traffic-driving blog post is an art form. And I am constantly trying to learn why some of my stories tank and others soar. Have a tip for how to drive more traffic and engagement via blog posts? Please share in the comments section below.

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Have a Virtual Yule That’s Cool and Cozy

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to cozy up to a fire, read a good book and enjoy a hot cup of cocoa.

The only problem is that I don’t have a fireplace. If you’re in the same situation, don’t worry. There is always a solution to be found on the interweb.

While searching for holiday music channels on YouTube, I recently stumbled upon a treasure trove of yule log videos. So, to wish you all a very happy holiday season, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite virtual yule logs for your viewing and listening pleasure. Enjoy!

1. Michael Bublé personally wishes you happy holidays in this 30-minute yule log video which features a beautiful roaring fire, along with his easy-listening holiday tunes playing in the background.

2. I call this one “creepy cat wheezes while you relax in front of a modern fireplace.” Ok, so the cat is not that creepy. And it looks like he is really enjoying himself. But if you look away for a while and then turn back to look at the cat, you might feel like he just keeps on getting closer and closer to your screen. Well, at least that is what I observed. There is no music in this one, just the crackling of the fire and purring of the happy cat.

3. This yule log video features holiday music with fake falling snowflakes. I know, it’s a little bit on the on the cheesy side. But I do enjoy it from time to time. The faux snow gives it a more “White Christmas-ey” feel. My toddler son also really likes this one. So, it’s going on the list. Deal with it.

4. Watch a crackling fireplace for two hours non-stop. Need I say more about this one? In fact, there are lots of these videos on YouTube. Just choose your favourite one.

I hope you enjoy this compilation of virtual fireplace videos that I have shared for your viewing and listening pleasure. They won’t keep you warm. But at least you can enjoy the glow from your TV, tablet or laptop and feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Happy holidays and I’ll see you in the New Year!

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Celebrating My Four Year Bloggerversary

My, oh my! Where does the time go? Four years ago, I started this blog with the hopes of Jour_de_l'an_feux_d'artifice,_Québecpromoting myself as a digital advertising consultant. But somewhere along the way, I discovered how much I love writing and discussing digital marketing and small business trends online. And so, a new profession was born!

Because of this blog, I’ve managed to sustain myself as a freelance writer and B2B marketing strategist through successes and failures, back pain and having a baby. And I’ve learned so much about myself, about running a small business and writing for the social web along the way.

So, to celebrate my four-year bloggerversary, I’d like to share some of the most important things I’ve learned so far.

Keep writing

Through all of my ups and downs, I still dedicate myself to blogging at least once a month on this platform – even though I contribute to various other publications. And I write at least once a week for other blog platforms. But this is my space to share personal thoughts. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Trollers are gonna troll

There will always be people who disagree with what you write. Or, people will choose to write negative comments just to stir things up. It’s better to take the high road and not spark further negativity. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and often your opinion will not please everybody.

You can always learn more

What I love about writing is that there isn’t a finish line. I know that I can always get better. And I thank the readers of this blog and my posts on other platforms for your feedback. I also thank all of the writers who are way better than me for teaching me something new every day.

Thanks again for your continued support for this blog and for my writing. I hope that in another four years, I’ll be able to share even more lessons learned.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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7 Lessons from the Founder of Reddit at the Art of Entrepreneurship

Last week, I attended the Art of Entrepreneurship conference in Toronto. There were lots of great Art of Logospeakers like Canada’s home décor diva Debbie Travis and social media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. But I was most inspired by the keynote from Alexis Ohanian, founder of reddit.com and author of Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.

For those who couldn’t attend the event, I’ve summarized some of his key points below.

1. The truth is no one knows what they are doing.

Ohanian admitted that even he and his business partner Steve Huffman didn’t really know what they were doing in the beginning and still don’t always know. When they pitched a business idea to Y Combinator for an app called “My Mobile Menu” or “Mmm,” they didn’t have the foresight that smartphones (which hadn’t really taken off in the market yet) would be required for their business to work. But the folks at Y Combinator liked Ohanian and Huffman and asked them to pitch another idea – that is how reddit was born.

2. Whatever you start, it’s ok if it is a little “janky.”

Ohanian showed screenshot examples of the first Twitter and Facebook home pages. And they weren’t very pretty. But they are great examples of how something that starts off a little rough, can turn into something great.

3. The second you care about the competition is when you stop innovating.

He used the example of the launch of Digg and how that could have thrown reddit off track if they had tried to truly “compete” with another company. Instead, they stayed focused on what made reddit great and continued to build off of that innovation. The website now has over 135 million visitors per month and over 5.5 million page views.

4. Software is the new literacy.

Ohanian likens his work at Y Combinator to be a little like working at Hogwarts Academy from the Harry Potter books. “Coding is the new wizardry,” he says. “You can change the world with just a laptop and an Internet connection.” Likewise, he believes that the resumes of the future will be based on what you have made instead of your GPA.

5. Sucking is the first step to being good at something.

Ohanian encourages entrepreneurs to learn from their mistakes. This goes back to the idea that “no one really knows what they are doing” in the beginning. He used examples of photographers and other digital creators who really sucked in the beginning. But they stayed the course and became masters in their field.

6. Earn being in front of someone.

He emphasized the importance of creating something that users truly want. And he warns that too many startups focus their energy on “playing house” – worrying about business cards and branding before they have a great product. Ohanian suggests your first priority should be writing code, creating a powerful product and getting users.

7. Every company needs to realize they are a tech company.

He suggests that every company needs to build relationships with customers via technology. He used the example of how AirBnB has taken business away from large hotel chains like Hilton. And he warns that most of the big business incumbents are never going to be able to adapt. “They’ll be hosed in 20 to 30 years,” he says.

Overall, the Art of Entrepreneurship conference was a lot of fun. I came away inspired by all of the speakers and am ready to start putting some of their advice into practice. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Creating Great Content Isn’t Just a PR Stunt

In a recent eMarketer article, WestJet’s Corey Evans, manager of sponsorship and community creating your own visioninvestment discussed the company’s 2013 “Christmas Miracle” viral video success. In the post, he is quoted as saying: “You used to do a PR stunt just for the PR. Now you do the PR stunt for the PR, and then you can tell the story through social media, and it can live longer and continue to grow.”

I think that is a really important message – especially because the lines between social media being a PR function vs. a marketing or advertising function are often very blurry.

What marketers or PR professionals must always remember is that – especially when using online video to deliver your message – what sets you apart from other social media initiatives is the story that you tell in order to explain what is truly unique about your brand. The WestJet Christmas Miracle video was so compelling because it connected with viewers in a very emotional way – teaching them that WestJet goes the extra mile for its customers.

So, the story that you tell is most certainly not just a PR stunt. And while you will get publicity for a very good story, your message is more about ensuring that people connect with your brand in a meaningful way – enticing them to want to be your customer.

Likewise, just as the eMarketer article suggests, the more you invest into making your content great, the stronger the impact and the wider the reach of your story.

Here’s the WestJet “Christmas Miracle” video – in case you were living under a rock, or didn’t have a Internet connectivity in 2013.

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Cheers to Happy Accidents

Play Doh

Image source: Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a hot summer day in Toronto. And I just went to the Dollar Store to get a few items for my son to play with inside this afternoon while it’s muggy. I also wanted to get him an inflatable splash pool to cool off on our back deck.

As I perused the store shelves for activities for an 18-month old, I came across some Play Doh and was reminded that this product came about in a very unconventional way. According to Wikipedia, Play Doh was originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner in the days of coal-based home heating before WWII.

But when home heating was switched to natural gas, houses no longer had coal soot on their walls that required cleaning. So, the company almost went bankrupt. That is, until the inventor’s nephew discovered that the non-toxic product was being used by nursery school children. As a result, a new product was born.

If your small business or startup is struggling, maybe this story can be an inspiration. Perhaps there is a happy accident or discovery waiting to happen for your product or service. You just need to look at it from a different perspective.

A few years ago, I shared my own story of how I changed paths to become a content marketer. That was also a happy discovery. And there are countless other stories like mine. Check out these other happy accidents like chewing gum, Kleenex and Corn Flakes outlined on on Forbes.com.

Do you have a product or service that came about as a happy accident? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Please share below.

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Playing Nice in the Inbox: CASL Exemptions for B2B Communications

As we celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 1st, the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) Email spamwill launch to make it harder for spammers to inundate our inboxes. As a small business owner, I thought I’d share a few links that help explain the exemptions for reaching out to business contacts:

1. Deloitte’s “Canadian Anti-Spam Law: Key Exemptions” has a great summary.

2. Business Vancouver also recently published a helpful article entitled “The ifs, ands and buts of new anti-spam legislation.”

Both summaries indicate that “there’s an implied consent to receive emails from a business when there is an ongoing relationship.” But you must also provide an unsubscribe option and contact information if you send out a message with commercial intent.

In addition, businesses with direct contact relationships need to be aware that “while implied consent has a shelf life and will expire, express consent does not expire once granted.” That’s where things get a little tricky. And small businesses like mine, who use a free platform like WordPress, need to get creative in re-affirming that consent.

Since this blog promotes my business, I want to make sure that all of my readers who have opted-in to receive my posts via email are ok with receiving them the future. I really value your readership and hope that you will continue to follow my small business journey.

But if you no longer wish to receive blog posts from me, WordPress offers an unsubsribe option at the bottom of every email post that goes out. If you are a WordPress blogger, you can also remove blog posts from your inbox via the “blogs I follow” section. If you ever have any trouble, you can email me at andrea@therunningstart.ca (or respond to the email that goes out with every blog post) and let me know if you need me to look into the matter further.

I also welcome your feedback on how I can make these blog posts more useful to you to keep you reading every month. I want to play nice in your inbox.

Thanks again for your continued support. I hope that everyone in Canada has a great long weekend. Happy Canada Day!


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How to Save Your Customers Time With Better Web Copy

So, you’ve launched your small business or startup and you’re ready to tell the image with words like strategy and successworld about it on your new website. With so much to say, it’s tempting to include everything you could ever tell your customers about your product and your company in the copy.

But too much copy can be a turn-off. That’s because Internet users are very impatient and want to find exactly what they are looking for when they arrive at your website. And they want to read it in as little time as possible.

Below are some tips for making your website copy easier to digest.

Keep it short and scannable.
You should aim to keep your paragraphs short – just a few sentences. The same goes for your overall copy.

If you can say it in 200 words, rather than 500 words, do so. You’ll be helping people to find the information they need to make their purchase decision faster.

Use sub-headings to break up text.
By highlighting your key points with sub-headings, you will help impatient readers get the gist of your message without having to read all of the copy.

Highlight important information with bullet points.
It can be tempting to write about your company’s key features and benefits as one, long paragraph. But if you want your customers to understand why they should buy from you in as little time as possible, it’s better to separate the information with bullet points.

Say it with an image, video or diagram.
It can be tempting to explain everything about what you do with text. But keep it mind that it might be easier for the user to understand your product through diagrams, images or explainer videos – especially if you sell sophisticated software or anything that takes a long time to explain with text.

Do you have any other tips for helping web visitors to make quick purchase decisions with short and snappy copy? If so, please share in the comments section below.

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Planting Seeds for Business Growth

As a small business owner, I’ve learned first-hand that it takes time to spread seeds, growththe word about what you do and to generate new
business. And it’s a never-ending process. Since spring has finally arrived, I thought it would be a good time to talk about planting seeds for business growth. Since coming off maternity leave in January, I’ve been in business development mode. Below are some of the tactics that have worked for me so far.

Reaching out to existing contacts on LinkedIn

One of the first things I did in January, even before I hired a nanny, was reach out to old clients to see if they’d hire me again. I’m happy to say that some of them did. However, I still needed to do some work to replace client projects that were no longer in the pipeline.

One of the first places I went in order to generate new business was my contact list on LinkedIn. I started by strategically going through that list to pick which contacts might be interested in hiring freelancers. I then sent those key contacts an email via LinkedIn to let them know that I was back from leave and looking for work.

It has taken some time but some of those emails eventually turned into leads and ultimately paid work. I’ve also done a lot to pay it forward for other contacts on LinkedIn by making introductions for business opportunities where I was not the right fit. After all, it’s not just about growing my own business, it’s about helping colleagues grown their business as well. I believe strongly that what goes around, always comes back around in some shape or form. And it just feels good to see my friends and colleagues succeed.

Blogging and sharing on social media

Part of building my business back up includes scheduling time into my calendar to actively blog and participate in social media. This includes guest blogging on other websites, in addition to writing on my personal blog. Welcome!

It also involves talking to colleagues and current and prospective clients on Twitter. Of course, I’ve never been one to tweet to someone I’ve never met before and tell them about my services. To me, that seems too sales-ey and I don’t ever want to be too pushy with a new customer. Instead, I prefer to write about and comment on trends in the industry. If someone likes what I have to say, then they’ll reach out to me and I’ll take the conversation from there.

Re-kindling and nurturing existing relationships

In addition to reaching out to contacts virtually, I’ve been meeting face-to-face with people – even just to catch-up and find out what they’ve been up to in the past year. I believe that the more people that you tell that you are back in business, the more chances you have of them passing your name along if they know a colleague who is looking for someone with your skills.

Building momentum

Now that I’ve got some of my lead-generating channels running again, I can already feel the momentum of my business picking up speed. I am passionate about what I do and love B2B marketing because as I discover new ways to find customers, I learn more about how I can help other businesses to grow. Do you have tactics that work for planting seeds for business growth? If so, please share in the comments section below.

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Message Lost in 140 Character Translation

“Clarity is the counterbalance of profound thoughts.” ~ Luc de Clapiers

Twitter is an amazing communication tool that allows people to share their ideas, jokes and HiResfavourite stories. It also connects new friends or business partners and provides us with direct access to celebrities and CEOs in a way that was never before possible.

But there is a downside to this innovative platform. And just like with e-mail, that drawback is often a user’s misinterpretation of the associated emotion or context related to a text message.

Earlier this week, I received what I thought was an offensive tweet from someone that I had met on Twitter. But because I couldn’t figure out what I had done or said to trigger a negative message, I thought it would be best to ask the sender (via the Twitter direct messaging service) to explain what they meant by their tweet.

It turned out that they weren’t being malicious at all. Instead, they were trying to tell me a joke. Unfortunately, I really wasn’t able to get the full context of that joke from such a short text-based message.

Afterwards, I was relieved and thankful that I had asked the person to explain their tweet in further detail. And their joke was kinda funny.

So, the next time you sit down to craft the next 140 character message that you think will enlighten or amuse your Twitter followers, try to think about how the end user might interpret it. Otherwise, you might confuse or insult someone without even knowing it.

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Springing Back to Life

Hey Toronto-dwellers, I know that winter may be getting you down. But Imagethere is hope in sight. There are just 14 days left until spring! That’s nothing when you think about all of the crazy ice storms, polar vortexes, and snowboobs (who knew there was such a thing?) that we’ve had to endure for the past four months.

Torontonians are tough. But soon we can all breathe a sigh of relief. I can almost hear the sound of birds chirping and smell the sweet scent of flower blossoms that will appear before we know it.

I’ve been cooped up inside for months now, re-building my business after being off for a year of maternity leave and I’m getting ready to get out there and talk shop again. So, as the weather warms up, I look forward to meeting potential new business partners and clients to discuss how I can help you tell your story.

If you like coffee, tea or even jamba juice (it’s sorta tropical, right?), send me an email and let’s chat.

As we look forward to the trees and flowers springing back to life, here’s a little story about how coffee can stimulate your brain – something that brings me back to the land of the living every morning.

Hang in there!

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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Six Resources to Help You Blog Like a Boss

The popular blog BuzzFeed recently published a style guide for its writers which, iStock_000015897460XSmallaccording to The Atlantic,  is “an in-house manual made public (slash a smart publicity play, slash a de-facto declaration that BuzzFeed places itself in the company of the AP and The New York Times, slash “slash” instead of “/” is not, for the record, officially sanctioned by BuzzFeed’s Style Guide).”

A publicity stunt or not, the style guide provides some guidance on how to craft an internet-friendly (note the lowercase “i”) and compelling blog. It also inspired me to share some helpful resources that I turn to when writing my own blogs.

Check them out below.

  • CopyBlogger – An excellent resource written by professional bloggers and content marketers.
  • The Definitive Guide to Copywriting– A great overview by Neil Patel which can be accessed via his QuickSprout blog.
  • On Writing Well – A book by William Zinsser that I keep by my desk and read occasionally to inspire me.
  • Lexicon Valley – A blog by Slate Magazine about language.
  • Grammarly – Copy and paste text into this online tool when you are unsure whether Microsoft Word (or your word processing software of choice) has caught all of your grammar mistakes.
  • Seth Godin’s Blog – If you want to learn from a master, Seth’s blog is a must-read.

Do you use any resources or blogs to help you with your writing? If so, please share them in the comments section below.

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If Content is the Lure, Email is the Glue

Ever notice how many emails your favourite online retailer sent Glue tube isolated on whitethis past holiday season? The messages were likely tailored to different gift ideas, discounts, party outfit suggestions and more.

Why did they do this? To keep people coming back to the website and shopping their web pages. They also probably targeted specific messages to key segments of shoppers (like myself) who are a more likely to open said offers and ideas.

I’ve written a lot of posts about the power of social media and content marketing on this blog. However, there is a key storytelling tool that is often forgotten as new social platforms emerge.

Email is still the glue that keeps your customers coming back regularly. And if you want to ensure that your customers return to your eCommerce website or App, you cannot live without this tool.

Yes, it is still necessary to use blogs, videos and social media platforms to attract and engage with customers. But if you aren’t using email in tandem with those tools to convert customers when selling your product, you are missing an important piece of the puzzle.

If you’re just getting started, MailChimp and ConstantContact are easy to use tools for a small business or startup.

How do you use email to integrate with social media and drive traffic back to your website? Please share below.

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Looking Back at 2013: So Very Thankful

The past year has been the most challenging yet rewarding time of my life. Even looking back, rearviewthough I injured my back towards the end of my pregnancy in late 2012 and spent many months recuperating afterwards, it was all worth it to have such an amazing son. I have learned so much about myself and my inner strength through the experience.

And while I now face a steep hill to climb as I build my business again in 2014, I do not regret taking time off to spend with my baby boy. I will always cherish every minute (even the late nights) of our budding relationship together.

As I embark on this journey, I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me and my writing in the past few years. I hope to bring you more insightful and edutaining posts in the New Year.

I cannot wait to start writing again as that is what I love to do. I am also excited to explore more about the ever-changing digital and entrepreneurial landscape in Canada in the coming months.

I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season and I look forward to chatting and sharing with you online and in person in 2014. Have a very merry one!

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Tip for New Freelancers: Be a Niche Detective

Last week, I had coffee with a friend who is looking to start her own web analytics consulting business. In addition to giving her operational advice about what tools she’ll need to get started, I emphasized the need to find her niche.creating your own vision

She asked me what the top three things she could focus on to serve clients in the web analytics space. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer in my opinion. That’s because it all depends on the type of business, what tools a company has (or is lacking) and what customers they are serving.

It also depends on where my friend’s expertise lies and how she will differentiate her skills from those of other web analytics consultants.

So, here’s what I told her to focus on to get started:

    • Be a niche detective. Starting a freelance business is like solving a mystery. You need to unravel the clues as to where your skills will be most useful and which customers will demand the most of your time and expertise. So, I told my friend to go out and have coffee with everyone and anyone she considers to be a possible client or industry expert. Each meeting will give her insights to lead her closer to the niche to which she is most suited.
    • Focus on your preferred niche. It’s fine to say that you should follow the path to the money. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, you must also find projects that you enjoy doing the most. That’s because you will be more likely to succeed using the skills and expertise that you enjoy. And that will ultimately lead to getting more and more work in the future through satisfied customers and positive word of mouth.
  • Be picky. I read this article from The Next Web last week about why freelancers need to be picky about clients and projects. I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t mean that you should turn down a lot of projects early on. But once you have gathered some experience and confidence in the skills you wish to sell, it’s important not to burn yourself out or spin your wheels working on projects that take you away from the work that you enjoy doing.

Are you a freelancer or consultant working in a very specific niche? Do you agree? Please share your thoughts below.

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A&W Canada Uses Hashtag Marketing Tastefully

I was frustrated last week when I couldn’t get in touch with my AW_Canada_Hashtag_Marketing_Rogershusband to ask him to stop at the grocery store on his way home for dinner. I kept trying call his number but my smartphone would hang up immediately.

My first thought was that I had let my eight month old son play with my phone too many times and his drool had finally caused it to stop working. Hopeful that this was not the case and it was just a service outage, I picked up my iPad and went to Twitter to see if anyone was tweeting about Rogers (a national wireless service) being down in the city. To my relief and amusement, A&W Canada had posted a very creative tweet that not only confirmed my suspicions but also made me extremely hungry for their Teen Burger.

The tweet read as follows: “#Rogers is down? I needed both hands to hold this Teen Burger anyway.” See the tweet and saliva inducing photo above.

I had to write about this because the message was so well timed and appropriate to the situation. It was dinner time (around 6pm) and I was hungry and frustrated that my phone wasn’t working. The tweet answered my question and suggested that I go out and get a burger. If there had been an A&W burger restaurant in my neighbourhood, I definitely would have put my son in his stroller and gone out to get one.

There are countless examples of hashtag marketing gone wrong. Some companies just don’t think before they use a trending hashtag (or don’t research the source) to promote their own product or service and end up making their business look bad. But this is a tale of Twitter marketing triumph. The message went viral and was re-tweeted over 350 times. Well done A&W Canada.

Thanksgiving is over and I won’t be craving turkey again for a while. Instead, I am salivating at the thought of putting down my smartphone, laptop or tablet and biting into a Teen Burger – with both hands, of course.

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Can You Build an Audience Through Crowd Funding?

Many startups and media producers use websites like Indiegogo and KickStarter to raise build an audiencefunds to launch their products or projects. But what if those web platforms could also be used to build an audience for an initiative before it even gets off the ground?

Last week, I attended nextMEDIA’s Content Innovators Summit at MaRS and learned how TELUS and CinceCoup, a new Film Accelerator in Canada, took a new approach to crowd funding by asking online users to choose which independent film projects deserved private funding.

The TELUS pilot project, StoryHive, encouraged Vacouverites to vote for the top six video projects to receive $5,000 in funding (from TELUS) to produce stories for Optik TV – a local television station. The winning stories included a documentary about B.C. craft beer, and a mockumentary about the life of B.C. students after they graduate film school. The StoryHive project was so successful that the contest will be running again in the near future.

CineCoup took a similar approach by asking Canadians to vote to select one independent film project to receive $1 million in capital investor funding. Film producers had to create what is similar to a “minimum viable product” in the tech startup world by filming a concept trailer for the audience to view and vet before voting. The winning film, Wolf Cop, has already generated a lot of buzz in Canada and around the world (and it hasn’t even been produced yet) thanks to the media awareness of the contest and the promotion of the film on channels like YouTube.

Check out the Wolf Cop concept trailer below. Warning: You might spit out that coffee/tea/water that you are drinking upon the realization of how awesome this movie could actually be.

During the Q&A session, an audience member asked CineCoup CEO and founder J. Joly if he thought crowd funding websites could be used, in a similar fashion to StoryHive and CinceCoup, to generate awareness of a program or product before it launches. Joly said that there is definitely an opportunity. But the concept requires more thought and discussion to determine how to use those platforms effectively as social networks for building an audience.

What do you think? How can a crowd funding website be used to generate awareness and buzz around a launch?

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Back to Work: My Post-Baby Business Plan

Back to school season has arrived. And while I am not hitting the books this September, I do working_mom_picneed to prepare for getting back to work.

If you’ve visited this blog in the past six months, you’ll know that I had a baby boy in January and have been enjoying some extremely wonderful and valuable time with my little one. But starting this fall, it’s time to get serious about re-building my business to begin, as a new mom, the next phase in my career. While it may take some time to get into the swing of things (my goal is to be back to races by early 2014), I plan to spend the next few months getting ready to hit the ground running.

To begin, I thought it necessary to share how I plan to kick-start my journey. Below is what I’m working on to ensure a smooth transition.

Step 1: Secure child care

I feel fortunate in that I have the benefit of working from home. However, it would be impossible to be efficient without having some help to watch my son at least part-time to start. It’s a tough decision, as I love spending time with the little dude so much. That’s why I’m currently exploring the option of a nanny share. I feel like I could dedicate an entire blog to all of the things I am learning about child care in Toronto. One thing is for sure – it ain’t cheap. So I need to put together a budget and plan for covering costs.

Step 2: Ramp-up promotions

I have not been blogging as much as I’d like to lately. But that will need to change in the coming months. I also intend to resume writing for third party blogs and publications again later this fall – ramping up by January 2014. I’ll also be making some much needed changes to my website and some of my other promotional outlets. Plus, with all of the new content I will be producing, my social media participation will increase as well.

Step 3: Network and reach out to current and prospective clients

One thing that I learned from the first time I started my business is that it’s so important to network and let everyone know what you are doing. That is why I’ll be getting out to events, coffee meetings and reaching out to clients. In addition, I’ll be looking to form new partnerships and try to find ways to save time and share resources where it makes sense.

Step 4: Make it work for me and my family

This could just as easily be the first step. My new mantra is “make it work for us.” My husband and I have put a budget together and have agreed on how we see the next twelve months working for our family. It means I might have to make some tough choices from time to time. But in my mind, that’s what running a business is about.

I’d love your input. Are you a mom and do you run your own small business? How do you make it work for your family?

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Why it’s OK That my Husband Plays Video Games


McGonigal’s  list of 10 positive emotions from video games

I used to worry that my husband’s video game addiction hobby was bad for his health. That is, until I was inspired by a presentation at CDMN’s Canada 3.0 conference last week.

Jane McGonigal, a world-renowned game designer and advocate for the positive impact of video games believes that games can help people achieve heightened emotions such as joy, contentment, a sense of awe and wonder, creativity and pride in achieving a new skill. As a result, these emotions spill over into other aspects of a gamers’ life and inspire them to become “more ambitious, feel a sense of positive momentum and make them want to keep trying to push even further” in their careers, etc.

During her keynote on day one of the Canada 3.0 2013 conference, McGonigal discussed how video games breed “super-engaged, hopeful individuals.” She said that video games have been proven to “outperform pharmaceuticals for treating anxiety and depression.” Apparently, the prescription is just “thirty minutes of gaming per day.”

To demonstrate that games create a positive state of mind, she challenged the Canada 3.0 audience to a “massively multi-player” game of thumb war. We all had to stand up, cross arms and simultaneously play thumb war with both hands with other members in the audience. The game had everyone laughing and smiling at each other while McGonigal explained that our brains were now wired to want to help the person sitting next to us because we had just played together – a great opportunity for networking!

She also described how she developed a video game to motivate youth in Ghana to create global solutions related to local social challenges. Touted as a “crash course in saving the world,” the game was called Evoke and taught gamers new skills such as entrepreneurship and sustainability. It attracted over 20,000 local gamers and some of the ideas inspired by the game received funding to launch in the real world. One example was a for-profit model (selling snacks, electronics and more) that would fund a new library in a local village.

McGonigal’s presentation was so motivational that it made me wonder if I should actually be encouraging my husband, and possibly my son (when he’s old enough) to play more video games. That is, provided that the games are somewhat positive and/or educational in nature and that they (my husband and son) don’t completely forget that I’m in the room.

In fact, McGonigal had me so convinced of the many benefits of video games that I’ve decided it’s time that I give gaming a try. After all, I’m a new mom who is constantly trying to stay mentally sharp and creative while on maternity leave. My husband couldn’t be more delighted by my sudden approval of his favourite pastime. He is now thoughtfully scrutinizing his video game library to figure out which game to teach me first. We’ll see how it goes.

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Looking Forward to Canada 3.0 2013

Hi Everyone, I know it’s been a long time since my last post. I am still on maternity leave (and Canadian flagenjoying every minute with our new son) but I do plan to attend Canada 3.0 2013 in Toronto next week! I’ll be there on Tuesday to check out some amazing speakers like Amber Mac, Chris Anderson, Michael Serbinis, Reed Hastings and many more. You can find the full list of speakers at www.canada30.ca.

I hope to see you all there so we can catch up! Also, look out for my summary post from the event in the next week or so. I look forward to sharing even more posts with you in the near future.

Stay tuned!

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The Year Ahead

Happy 2013 everyone! I’m excited to start another great year of blogging and sharing my personal Seeing the future
business stories, challenges and ideas with you. This is a very special year because my husband and I are expecting our first child. I am extremely excited and can’t wait to meet our little one.

While I plan to take some time off to bond with my newborn when they arrive (thanks Canadian government for providing EI for the self-employed), I do intend to continue to blog on this website, albeit a little less frequently at first. I will also continue to participate in social media discussions on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

It’s was a tough decision to take a break since I just started my business two years ago. However, I know that I would regret not doing so.

I really appreciate all of the people who continue to read and share my stories online and I thank you in advance for your patience while I am a little slow responding to e-mails and comments. Please continue to send me your story ideas and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

I wish you all a very successful new year!

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Sh*t Memes Say About Your Brand

From the Sh*t Girls Say video series, to Big Birdbinders and bayonets images created during the internet memesrecent U.S. presidential debates, Internet memes have become an extremely popular way to influence and participate in social discourse and pop culture.

There have been a lot of articles written lately about what it means for a brand to “memejack” or hitch a ride on a popular meme to raise awareness and associate your product with a cultural idea that has spread virally.

How memes can help or hinder your marketing efforts

A lot of meme marketing success relies on timing and execution. When used properly, memes can help a brand to resonate with a particular audience, making its personality seem more humorous, playful or youthful in nature. When done wrong, the joke can turn very quickly on your brand and potentially damage your company’s reputation.

Even worse, a brand could get innocently dragged into a meme, forcing companies to react quickly to control the narrative.

Below is a look at some recent meme marketing hits, misses and innocent bystanders of 2012.

When a marketer hits it out of the park

A ‘memenouncement’: Rather than issue a press release in May 2012, SEOmoz, an SEO software company, used a series of memes (with images of the Dos Aquis “most interesting man in the world” character, Willy Wonka and Jean Luc Picard) to illustrate its recent success in raising $18 million in series B funding. Check out thefull memenouncement here which received a lot of positive reviews.

Memevertising: Often, viral images or YouTube videos become memes and inspire marketers to create ads that resonate with the message. A recent example is Virgin Mobile’s Success Kid campaign which ran earlier this year. The company did a great job tying the marketing message to the meme which represents either “success or frustration,” according to KnowYourMeme.com.

When good memes go bad

Poor timing or taste: Some brands are often just too late to the meme marketing party. For example, there were hundreds of parodies created of the Sh*t Girls Sayvideo series that launched in late 2011/early 2012. The brands that followed the trend early on got lots of positive reactions from their customers and followers (like this video for Sanuk Footwear). Those that posted videos much later, or didn’t quite hit the mark, seemed either offensive or caused Sh*t People Say fatigue. This parody video says it all.

Mixed messages: Earlier this year, McDonalds tried to create its own meme and get people to share nostalgic stories about Happy Meals with the Twitter hashtag #McDStories. Unfortunately, as Forbes puts it, the hashtag became a “bashtag,” where many people used the opportunity to air their customer service complaints and other grievances about the fast-food restaurant chain.

When your brand is just an innocent bystander

Amazon and Avery binders:Shortly after U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned in the second televised debate (this past October) that he had been given “binders full of women” to hire for his cabinet when serving as governor of his state,fake customer reviews started popping-up on Amazon.com product pages for Avery binders.

While many of the jokes about binders were hilarious, it’s tough to say whether the reviews helped or hurt the brand’s reputation. According to this article, the company’s stock price closed lower on the NYSE on the days following the debate. However, the company reacted a shortly after the hoax by posting a joke on its Facebook page, saying “we’re hearing a lot about binders today!”

This tongue-in-cheek comment garnered lots of likes and showed that the company was being “good sports” about the incident.

These are just a few examples to get you thinking about how meme marketing could work for your business. Do you have any best practices to share? Please post them below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in November 2012 and has been republished with permission.
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Happy Holidays and Thank You So Much

Wow, I can’t believe another year has passed! Where does the time go? During the holiday season, I like to look back and appreciate all of the things that I am thankful for having received and accomplished in the past twelve months.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my stories with you on this blog. I plan to continue to share my insights, ideas and personal challenges and successes as I work to grow my business. I am so grateful that you read, share and comment on my posts. It definitely keeps me motivated.

I am also thankful for all of the new people and clients that I have met and worked with in the past year. You have pushed me to work harder and to do things that were often out of my comfort zone. Thank you for inspiring me and teaching me new things about digital media, startups, small businesses and about myself.

Finally, I am thankful for having the privilege to work for myself and to be able to experiment and to drive my career in whatever direction I feel that it needs to go next.

I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season and best wishes for a successful and exciting New Year! See you all again in 2013.

I’ll leave you with my favourite holiday 2012 viral video, courtesy of Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey and The Roots. Warning: This song might inspire you to put on an ugly Xmas sweater, drink some boozy eggnog and generally feel warm and fuzzy. Enjoy at your own risk!

Warm regards,


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Tips from Canadian Startup Founders on Measuring Social Media Success

There’s been a lot written about whether or not it’s possible to truly measure the return on measuring social media successinvestment (ROI) of a business’s social media efforts – especially with a limited marketing budget.

Meanwhile, many marketers argue that the impact of social media transcends the hard numbers or conversions that they are currently able to analyze.

“We know that there are many qualitative benefits that are difficult to measure effectively,” says Alyssa Richard, founder and CEO of RateHub.ca, a Canadian mortgage rate comparison startup.

Still, companies continue to invest time and resources into social media. To find out more, I recently spoke with a few Canadian startup founders and CEOs to find out what they’ve learned as they’ve built their brand online with limited resources, using social media as an essential ingredient in their marketing mix.

Below are some of their tips and tricks for measuring success.

Experiment and Set Benchmarks

“It’s all trial and error at the end of the day,” says Kelly Fallis, CEO of Remote Stylist – an online service, based out of Toronto and NYC, that offers free help from their designers, less-than-retail furniture prices and $1 shipping to Canada and the USA. “We set benchmarks for each of our programs and then measure against them. However, it doesn’t always work out the way we want. So, we have to adjust.”

“At RateHub, we set targets like reaching 5,000 Twitter followers by Christmas. Then, we work back what we’re going to do daily, weekly, etc. to get there,” says Richard. “We know that reaching that number will help us with more than just traffic to the website. It also has an impact on who advertises with us, as they know [with more followers] that we’re able to get their message out to more people through our social media channels.”

“We had no marketing budget when we launched,” says Matthew Slutsky, co-founder of BuzzBuzzHome, a Canadian destination for listings of new construction homes which just expanded into New York City. “So, we tried all sorts of content marketing strategies like question and answer discussions on Facebook and viral YouTube videos to see what would drive the most inbound links back to our website – both from social media and from traditional media sources. One of the most impactful ways that we’ve driven traffic to our site is through the development of infographics that raise questions and controversy.”

A recent infographic that BuzzBuzzHome created pitted Toronto real estate developer Brad Lamb against Donald Trump and sparked an online discussion around whether Lamb is the “Trump of Toronto.” Ultimately, this drove more traffic to their website.

Measure community engagement with content

All three business owners measure the value of their community and the impact of their content online.

Slutsky suggests that the measurement of community participation with social media content can be referred to as “‘proof of engagement.’ One of our biggest goals for BuzzBuzzHome is to build a community around real estate development – our user growth depends on it. So, if we get zero comments on a post on Facebook or Twitter, we know that we did something wrong and that the community wasn’t engaged.”

Richard’s team learns from their web analytics platforms (by looking at the most popular blog post categories and keywords that refer traffic to RateHub.ca) to determine future content marketing topics.

“We use Facebook Insights and CrowdBooster to look at community engagement (through comments, likes, shares and more) with the content that we post on various social media platforms,” says Richard. “We also use Google Analytics and a Jetpack plugin for WordPress to measure the engagement and popularity of the posts on our blog.”

Let audience feedback influence your brand and product development

Pinterest has proven to be a great resource for the Remote Stylist team to not only to drive traffic back to their website (an important metric for the company) but also to gauge audience interest in trending styles, designs and furniture that they should source for their customers.

“Pinterest helps us gather intelligence on what kind of furniture our customers are after,” says Fallis. “Most of what we pin on our Pinterest inspiration boards is in our furniture database of over 500,000 items. When users pin design photos to their boards, we’re able to pass that information on to our designers to source designs that resonate with our target market. By showing us who they are, we can ensure greater results for the customer.”

“We often crowdsource photo captions and designs from our community for our ‘Leonard the Bee’ brand mascot,” says Slutsky. By involving their audience in the evolution of their brand, BuzzBuzzHome is able to increase customer loyalty, engagement and drive repeat website visits.

These examples are just some of the ways startups are measuring the impact of social media on website traffic, engagement and product development. Do you have a tactic that works well for your business? Please share in the comments section below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in November 2012 and has been republished with permission.
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Help is There When You Need it

Dear readers,

I apologize for not posting on my blog last week. I threw my back out with a herniated disc and have been placed on bed rest for a few weeks. This has definitely been the first major set back to running my own business. Luckily, I have amazing friends, colleagues, family members and clients who have all given me their support as I take time off to heal.

The experience has definitely taught me a lesson that help and understanding is really there if and when you ask for it. It has also humbled me as I realize that I really do need to ask others for assistance when I’m in a jam.

I appreciate your patience in the next few weeks as I recover from my injury. I continue to learn what it means to run my own business and am so thankful for your continued support.

All the best,

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Can Coca-Cola Compete with Traditional Media Publications?

About a year ago, I was having lunch with an old colleague in the digital advertising industry who Typewriter spelling the words "Once upon a time"asked me where I thought the Internet was headed. Now, I am not a visionary or web guru of any sort. However, knowing that I had to pivot my business in the past year towards content marketing (because that’s what everyone was requesting from me), I told him that I thought that big brands would start to create their own web-based publications that might soon rival those of traditional media publications online. He, being a digital advertising salesman, was somewhat skeptical.

I recently wrote a blog post commenting on Coke’s big plan for digital storytelling which revealed details on how the company would develop creative content for the web. Well, according the NYTimes.com, the company is re-designing it’s website to reflect something “more akin to a consumer magazine than a business portal.”

So, I guess my prediction, if Coke is successful, is on its way to becoming a reality. It’s not a big surprise. As I mentioned in this post from July 2011, social media has basically become the soap opera of the digital age. As such, brands are developing web-based media publications and channels where their stories can be shared and commented on to spread virally online. Whether all of them will succeed in this pursuit is not yet clear. However, I think we’ll see a lot of other companies following Coke’s lead in the near future.

Do you agree? Please share your thoughts below.

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How Far into the Future Can we Make Predictions about Technology?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Yesterday, I stumbled upon details of a new book coming out from  John Battelle, the co-founder of Wired Image of discoveryentitled What we Hath Wrought which will, according to his blog, “give us a forecast of the interconnected world in 2040, then work backwards to explain how the personal, economic, political, and technological strands of this human narrative have evolved from the pivotal moment in which we find ourselves now.” So, I tweeted out an interview from 2011 with Brian Solis asking Battelle about the book.

Then, to my surprise, someone on Twitter commented that 30 years into the future is too “far-fetched,” as he believes that we really can’t correctly predict what’s going to happen in 5 or 10 years in the technology industry. Fair enough. But with 2012 drawing to a close, I’ve already noticed some of the 2013 technology prediction blogs surfacing on the web. So, it’s got me thinking. How far into the future can we really predict what’s going to happen with emerging technologies?

Should we even bother trying to predict what’s going to happen (even a year from now) at all? Or, are all prediction articles, books and blogs merely “sex and fluff,” as my Twitter commenter put it, that sell well or get re-tweeted frequently (guilty as charged)?

I still think it’s worth it to provide a vision of what might happen. It can only help others to dream up new ideas that push the envelope even further. But maybe I’m just one of a small few who likes to think about that stuff. What are your thoughts? Please share your comments below.

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Can the Old Become New Again Online?

Last week, WSJ.com published a story on how the education system is facing a massive shift due to Image of a road sign indicating a new directionthe impact of the web. The fact that do-it-yourselfers can promote their own services online today (like the guitar teacher mentioned in the article who streams free video lessons to up to 1,500 people from his basement), coupled with the new ways that young people learn in a digital age, poses a potential threat to the number of teachers and educational institutions that will be needed in the future.

Yet, it appears that almost every major industry has been impacted by the web in some way – from music to publishing, banking and business, healthcare and education. But does this mean that there will be fewer jobs in the future? Or, will jobs simply change and adapt as a result of new technologies?

The CBC.ca recently posted a video from its 1960s archives which discusses automation and how computers could eventually wipe out millions of jobs in the future. But that’s not exactly what happened. Instead, many jobs that existed in the 1960s simply shifted and evolved as new technologies made way for different career paths. Thankfully, the “calamitous unemployment” crisis, as the video suggests would happen by 1970, was averted.

The publishing industry is an interesting example of how old jobs (like those of long-form feature writers that have disappeared to a certain extent) may simply be transformed as a result of new digital technologies. Over the past ten years, news publications were pressured to offer their web content for free because online advertising revenues were skyrocketing and the expectation was that digital ads would supplement a sharp decline in print subscriptions (because everyone was going online). As a result, online content shifted to a shorter, more blog-style format – partially due to the timeliness of the web, users’ attention spans and competition from people who were publishing their own blogs for free (using new self-publishing platforms like WordPress).

However, thanks to the introduction of social media and tablets, which played a role in the increase in readership of publications like The New Yorker, the demand for longer form content is growing online, as this PandoDaily story implies. Consequently, an entirely new generation of long-form feature writers may soon emerge to produce “New Yorker-style” content for publications that might soon be able to pay for it.

You see, because online advertising revenues have not kept pace with the needs of news publications to stay afloat, pay walls are about to go up on almost all of the major online Canadian news publications (TheStar.com is the most recent publication to announce that it will follow suit). And if these publications see a turn-around in subscription revenues, as the New York Times has recently achieved, people may finally be forced to pay to access content on the web – as they did in the past with newspapers. Although, I believe that the way that people pay for online content could still evolve.

So, it seems that the more some things change because of the Internet, the more they may return to the same as before – just slightly altered or enhanced for a digital audience. Do you agree? Will the Internet wipe out jobs or just create new demands for skills that have been temporarily lost? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Two Toronto Real Estate Agents on Keeping it Real in Social Media

Many real estate agents and developers use social media to attract new business. But is there a rightreal estate social media way and a wrong way to build customer relationships online?

To find out, I spoke with two Toronto real estate agents Chris Borkowski (@CondoChris) and Mark Savel (@SavelSells).

I was curious on their insights into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to growing your business and staying true to yourself in social media. Here are their thoughts.

Build relationships by sharing your passions

Both Borkowski and Savel believe that it’s important to build one-on-one customer relationships by sharing your passions and interests.

Borkowski, a former night-club promoter, likes to share his love of tattoos and hip hop music with his network. “I talk about what I’m into with people and comment on their posts if they mention something we have in common.

That’s when I might start the conversation about where they’re living, etc. But I don’t think you should be too direct about what you’re selling.”

Savel says that “people do business with people they like.” He also shares his love of music with his social media connections. “I once got a deal on Twitter because I jumped in on a conversation about a Black Keys concert that I had just attended.”

Sharing your passions attracts more customers than talking about your business and what you do.

Turn haters into customers by having a conversation

When it comes to receiving negative comments online, Borkowski and Savel have both turned haters into fans by continuing the dialogue.

“It’s just like dealing with an argument in real life,” says Savel. “If you approach it with an open-mind and have a conversation, rather than barking back at them, it’s amazing what opportunities you can uncover.”

Likewise, Borkowski once addressed a naysayer’s comments on his video blog (or vlog) CondoChris.ca by sending a personal letter to discuss their remarks further.

By taking the time to write a letter, build a bridge with that person and turn an enemy into a fan.

“It’s better to kill them with kindness, rather than calling them out.”

Keep it real by being true to yourself

Everyone uses different tools and approaches to social media marketing. But both Borkowski and Savel agree that you should be true to yourself when sharing your views and personality with followers.

Borkowski prefers to speak directly to the real estate industry and potential customers on his vlog. “I don’t like to sit and write and I like to show a lighter side of myself – that’s why I prefer video as a platform,” he says. “I keep my videos informative and (mostly) unscripted. I do have some points and stats on-hand to call-out but I like to be real and share my views on what’s going on in the industry. That’s how I build trust with other realtors and customers.”

Here’s a video of Borkowski sharing his insights on an up-and-coming neighbourhood in Toronto – The Junction:

Savel, on the other hand, likes to write commentary about current real estate news articles and conversations happening on Twitter on his blog SavelandtheCity.com. “I track keywords on Twitter to see what people are talking about. I then use the platform to attract readers to my blog and have conversations around the news stories that I write,” says Savel.

Catch people’s attention with off-beat titles and stories. It’s wrong to only talk about your accomplishments and your business.

Experiment and don’t be boring

Both real estate agents insist that you must experiment and see what works for you. Savel says that whatever you do, “Don’t be boring. Successful online marketers are usually successful offline ones too. Just because your profession is real estate doesn’t mean you need to talk about it 24/7.”

Likewise, Borkowski believes “it’s important to keep your blog posts and Tweets positive – especially when you’re starting out and trying to build relationships with new followers.”

If you’re a real estate agent or developer, we want to hear about your successful social media marketing strategies. Please share your tips and tricks in the comments section below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in September 2012 and has been republished with permission.
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A Leap of Faith has Raised the Bar for Content Marketing Success

Felix Baumgartner’s space jump got a lot of press this week because of his heroism and his contribution to science. But it also received a lot of coverage from traditional media and on social media channels because of Red Bull’s genius sponsorship of the jump and their content marketing strategy before and after the leap occurred.

I’ve written a lot about content marketing on my blog in the past two years. And I continue to observe what stands out in a sea of social media content creation and sharing – both for client strategies and for stories about good content marketing. But few stories ever receive the praise from marketers that this stunt achieved.

So, it seems that Red Bull’s leap of faith in sponsoring Baumgartner’s jump certainly paid off and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, it has raised the bar as far as what it takes to catch people’s attention both online and offline.

If you don’t have millions of dollars to sponsor such an event, here are some great summaries of how any business can learn from Red Bull’s strategy:

I’m always looking for inspirational stories about content marketing. If your business has done something daring in the name of great content, please share your story in the comments section below.

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Using Social Media to Manage Relationships Through the Sales Funnel

Are you trying to win new clients and keep them coming back for more? Social media provides new channels to attract, influence, engage and convert prospects into loyal customers through the sales funnel.

There are many different ways to do this. Let’s take a look at a few commonly used tools and tactics for selling enterprise software direct to clients.

Attracting customers and generating leads

The first step is to generate awareness of your business to peak a customer’s interest – so they’ll ask for more information about your product or service. But don’t be too forward here.

A “soft sell” approach is better with social media because the customer can find your business through online channels while seeking out insights and advice.

A great way to influence a customer to provide their contact information (through a form or e-mail) is by creating compelling content on your website via blogs, downloadable whitepapers, e-books and more.

To promote enterprise software, you can produce content focused on emerging technology trends or new research in your industry, host video chats with thought leaders who write and speak about technology and more.

It’s helpful to use social media analytics tools (or even search.twitter.com) to see what conversations are happening in your industry and to inspire your spreadable story ideas which you can then share on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

For more information on the pros and cons of using digital storytelling to generate sales leads, read this post from July.

Qualifying leads and engaging with customers

Now, it’s time to follow-up on new leads from your website. You can begin to follow your customers and engage in online conversations with them about technology through social media channels.

At this point, your sales team should be gathering as much information about your customer’s software needs as possible – get to know what makes them tick!

You don’t want to be doing a “hard sell” here either. Social media can be used to share information and ideas with your customers. Once you’ve made contact, you can send links to relevant articles and studies about enterprise software, host Twitter chats and webinars about technology best practices and more.

You can also listen to customer conversations, answer questions and overcome objections about your product to influence their purchase decision.

The pitch and closing the sale

By the time you’re ready to pitch to the customer, your sales people will have done all of the information gathering they can (via social media and other sales channels) to understand your customer’s needs and how your enterprise software can best serve them.

To take your information gathering efforts for the pitch to the next level, grow your customer relationships offline.

As I mentioned in this post about the importance of building in-person social media relationships, ask lots of questions like their short and long-term needs (for software customizations), their budget (for offering tiered services) and more.

Meeting face-to-face will help with closing the sale as you’ll build greater trust with your customer.

Post-sale customer relationship management (CRM)

Finally, we’ve reached the customer retention stage which can start the sales funnel process all over again. At this point, your team will be:

  • Continuing to build customer relationships (in-person and online),
  • Listening to customer feedback about your products and service,
  • Acting on feedback (both pro-actively and re-actively) to ensure a positive outcome, and
  • Rewarding customers for their loyalty.

Again, you’ll need a social media monitoring platform to identify and engage in key customer conversations. Also, make sure to participate on the social networks which your customers prefer to have contact with your business.

This way, you can keep them informed of key industry trends and software updates, and promote exclusive deals for future sales opportunities.

These are a few social CRM strategies I have picked-up from my own experience working in sales and B2B marketing.

What tools and tactics work well for your business? Please share your thoughts below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in September 2012 and has been republished with permission.
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You Know Tech Startups are Hot When…

Earlier this year, I wrote a story for TORO Magazine entitled “Are Tech Devs the New Rock Stars?hard disk on fire Well, it seems my hypothesis in that story has not only come true but it has now reached “X Factor” status. According to this story from BetaBeat, even Simon Cowell and Will.I.Am are jumping on the tech startup bandwagon.

I know that Will.I.Am is a big supporter of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for youth. But will an “X Factor” type of show really send the right message?

Likewise, as the BetaBeat article suggests, how can one really test the skills and success-potential of a tech entrepreneur in that type of an environment? And who will judge this talent competition?

The details aren’t out yet. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I’d be interested to find out what type of companies try out for the show and how it will fare compared to a Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den format. I’m also curious to see what else transpires as the popularity of tech startups continues to explode.

As always, your comments are welcome below.

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Bold and Unapologetic: The Rise of Self-Employed Canadians

Canadians have often been stereotypically described as apologetic and passive. But according seedlings growingto a recent CIBC study, reported yesterday in the Globe and Mail, that perception may be in need of an overhaul.

According to the article, “more than half a million Canadians said they had begun their own business over the past two years.” This is apparently a “record number” that is expected to increase in the next ten years. Likewise, the Globe and Mail article suggests that “80 per cent of those who started their own business, did it willingly – not because they couldn’t find a job.”

So, what does this say about Canadian stereotypes?

It takes a lot of will power, stamina and determination to start a new business. Plus, it requires that you be bold and unapologetic for trying to succeed on your own. I like to think that the recent increase in risk-taking by Canadians reflects the desire to no longer passively let someone else decide the fate of their careers. Instead, they are taking their future in their own hands – in turn, creating new jobs and opportunities for others.

Now, that’s a stereotype I can stand behind.

Do you agree? Please share your comments below.

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Random Thought: How Much More ‘About You’ can Twitter get?

Have you read about the new Twitter profile changes that were announced yesterday? According toimage of person standing out in a crowd Mashable.com, the new re-design puts your profile photo front and center – pushing your Tweets downwards – to make room a bigger background image that looks a lot Facebook’s timeline feature. While I like the idea that Twitter is all about promoting yourself (especially if you run your own business), sharing your thoughts and ideas and connecting with other businesses and colleagues in an immediate fashion, I’m not so sure I need my photos to be bigger and more prominent in order to do so – especially my profile image.

I suspect that this change has much more to do with competing with Facebook’s timeline features, rather than it being about “adding more personality” to a profile page. Isn’t that up to me to add personality through my tweets (the content that I want to share) – which have now been pushed further down the page? Don’t get me wrong, I do love Twitter. It’s one of my favourite social media platforms. However, I’m just not sure that the changes will really reflect more of me than it already does.

I guess I’m now one of those people who’s complaining about changes to a free service that I willingly opt-in to using. I just liked Twitter for what it already was – is that so wrong?

Do you agree? Please share your thoughts below.

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Five Ways that Moving is Just Like Starting a Business

A few weeks ago, my husband and I moved for the second time in two years. We needed more living space and it was time to experience a different part of the city.

While preparing and unpacking from a move is hard work, I’ve come to realize that it’s a lot like starting a new business. It’s not that long ago that I launched The Running Start. So, here are five ways that I’ve found that moving and starting up are similar:

  • Put together a plan but be prepared for the unexpected. When I first started my business, I drafted a rough business plan. While I didn’t end up doing all of the tasks on my list (some of my priorities changed along the way), I did stick to my key goals and adapted the plan whenever necessary. The same can happen when moving – put together your list of things to do but be prepared to switch gears when things change (i.e. the landlord wants to show your old place while you’re in the midst of packing, etc.).
  • Weed out unnecessary tasks (less is more). A key lesson that I’ve learned in running my own business is that there are only so many hours in the day. So, it’s important to focus on the “must haves” and let everything else fall into place when you have time. It’s the same challenge when moving. You know that it’s important to pack-up all of your boxes before moving day or you’ll run out of time. If you focus on being prepared for the move, you can deal with changing your address with Canada Post and other tasks the day after.
  • Take it one box (or day) at a time. It can be pretty overwhelming to move into a new place (or start a new business) and look at all of the boxes (or tasks) that you need to unpack/tackle. If you just take it one box (or project) at a time, you’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed and will be amazed by how much you can accomplish in just one week.
  • Collaboration is key – accept that you need help from others. My husband and I decided to hire movers this time, as we had accumulated a lot more stuff (i.e. wedding presents, new furniture, etc.) over the past two years. It was such a wise decision as the move went a lot faster. Over the past year and a half of running my business, I have also learned that you need to work with others (either outsourcing or being the person outsourced to other freelancers) to complete projects that have a tight deadline. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and build that into your project budget.
  • Adapt and move around obstacles. If there is one guarantee in business, it’s that you’re going to face some obstacles. Whether you’re moving or starting a new business, be flexible and ready to change paths on the fly. For example, we didn’t expect to have to remove the door in our new place to fit our couch through but poop happens. Luckily, our movers were very skilled and they got everything in without making a scratch. Be prepared to move around perceived barriers (there’s always a solution) in your business and you’ll be just fine.
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Explaining What You Do While Captivating Your Audience – That’s Edutainment!

In July, I posted a story on the Jugnoo blog about the pros and cons of using digital storytelling to man using tablet on subwaygenerate sales leads.

One of our readers, Elliot Dwennen, made a very good point in his comment on that blog.

Elliot’s point?

Story is more compelling and brings an emotional attribute that content marketing cannot live and breathe by itself.

Elliot is absolutely right and of course, a good story needs elements like a setting, plot and characters to make it come alive.

But I want to focus on two ways that one can apply those elements to work for content marketing in this week’s post: education and entertainment (or “edutainment” as we clever folks in the media world like to call it).

A Brand is a Living Thing

Terry O’Reilly, host of the CBC Radio One show The Age of Persuasion, recently explained in a June 2012 podcast that “a brand is a living thing. It’s an idea or a promise residing in your imagination. But it needs help getting there.

It has to grab your attention…and to win a place in the consumer’s imagination, you must also offer a reason why.”

In essence, the “why” is done by educating the customer about the features and benefits of your product or service and how it helps to solve a problem. How the “why” is communicated to the customer is where story and emotion (via entertainment) come into play.

The Power of Explainer Videos to Educate and Entertain

In a digital age, there are many tools available for marketers to use to educate and entertain customers, while answering the question “why.”

Consider the recent popularity of online explainer (or demo) videos that have been used both by large companies and SMEs to do everything from introducing a new product to the marketplace, to describing how a technology startup’s complicated software works.

Online video is a great medium to both entertain and inform your customers in less than two minutes.

According to a study by Forrester Research that was referenced in a recent blog by Canadian video animation company Switch Video, “a single minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.” This means that you can capture a lot of information and ideas in a short period of time.

Plus, you can use the power of sight, sound and motion to tell a very compelling story that “can increase conversion rates by 20 per cent, providing a high return on investment (ROI),” says Tony Marik, Sr. Account Manager at Switch Video.

There’s An App For That

Last week, Swedish furniture retailer IKEA launched a new augmented reality mobile app for its catalogue.

The app will enable IKEA catalogue readers to view films, photos and other interactive features to get ideas for home decorating without having to visit a retail store – all by simply scanning your phone or tablet over pages that are marked with a special app icon.

I love this video because it combines education (by explaining how the customer can use the augmented reality feature on their smartphone or tablet) with an entertaining story about the history of the IKEA catalogue. The video also inspires emotion through a nostalgic account of how the company has evolved over time.

There are many other ways to educate customers through content marketing while also entertaining them. Some examples include: tie-ins between social media and live events, interactive games, podcasts and webinars with engaging guest speakers (who tell great stories about your industry) and much more.

Do you have an edutainment strategy that works for your business? If so, please share in the comments section below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in July 2012 and has been republished with permission.
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How a Digital Advertising Sales Consultant Became a Content Marketer

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a personal story on my blog and I feel the need to explain who I once was and how I became a content marketer and freelancer writer. The funny thing is that I didn’t set out to be a writer when I first launched my business.

In the summer of 2010, I quit a cushy job in digital advertising sales. Although it was an extreme decision, I listened to my gut which was telling me to get out of a job that was making me miserable – immediately! It was a really tough thing to do and I second-guessed myself incessantly at the time. But today, I know for certain that it was the right decision.

After I quit, I was feeling very lost. So, I turned to friends and colleagues for advice. I even went to see a career coach to try and gain some perspective on how to find the right job for my expertise and talents.

The best thing that happened to me was that a friend of mine, who had just started-up her own online business, asked me to help her with her digital advertising sales “go to market” and B2B marketing strategy. I loved working with her because I felt like I was really making a difference to her business and enjoyed watching a fledgling company grow.

So, I decided that I was going to start my own business, consulting with emerging digital media and technology companies to help them “get a running start” with their online advertising sales and B2B marketing efforts. I did make some money doing this for a while but along the way, I discovered a hidden career that was better to suited to what I enjoy doing the most – writing and talking about digital media trends, entrepreneurship and emerging technologies.

You see, to promote my ad sales and marketing consulting business, I started a blog and experimented with social media platforms to reach out to potential customers. With a strong background in B2B marketing for digital media businesses like AOL and Google in Canada, I knew I needed to write about trends and insights that prospective clients would find intriguing enough to want to learn more about who I am and what I do. Once I started t0 gain traction by writing stories about the digital media and marketing industry, people began to ask me to write for their websites and blogs. That’s when I discovered how much I love the writing process and coming up with creative ways to help businesses attract new customers and partners through compelling online content.

So, I eventually pivoted my business away from digital advertising sales to focus more on B2B content marketing. It’s been a very exciting journey and I continue to learn new skills and strategies to perfect my craft. Most importantly, I’ve seen first-hand how taking a leap of faith in myself and in my career can pay off.

I would encourage anyone who knows in their gut that they are in the wrong place to take a chance and change paths – knowing that the right support system will make itself available to you if and when you need truly need it and ask for it.

I love hearing personal career stories and would enjoy yours if you’re willing to share. Please  post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The Pros and Cons of Using Digital Storytelling to Generate Sales Leads

Digital storytelling, also known as content marketing, has become the foundation of a strong social Pros and Consmedia strategy.

It helps businesses attract more followers,  people to link back to your blog and website, and generates word of mouth and sales leads.

A blog, for example, is a great way to have a continuous dialogue with new, potential and existing customers, while positioning your business as a trusted resource in your industry.

For instance, let’s say your company sells automotive parts. Rather than just writing posts about the products you sell, you can share do-it-yourself (DIY) stories about automotive maintenance, provide your readers with tips on finding a good car mechanic, and much more.

The key is to position your business as an authority on all subjects related to your product/service, and to provide interesting and engaging stories that educate your customers and keep them coming back for more.

The New Thought Leadership

Before social media existed, this type of educational content was often referred to as thought leadership marketing. Webinars, in-person customer events, and e-newsletters have traditionally been part of the thought leadership marketing mix. Now, with the added bonus that social media provides to spread stories through word of mouth, the concept has evolved.

It’s important to be aware of the pros and cons to developing a successful digital storytelling strategy. Here are a few things to consider if you’re just getting started:


  • Great stories build trust and loyalty with your customers
    Through digital storytelling, you are not seen as trying to selfishly push your products. Instead, you’re supporting and empowering your customers to become more informed consumers or users of your product(s). You can also have an open conversation with your customers about their concerns or needs for future product enhancements, which will help you become a leader in your industry .
  • Content marketing improves your search engine rankings
    Search engine optimization (SEO) is reliant on providing relevant keywords in your content and having many links back to your website from valuable sources. Digital storytelling therefore helps to boost your efforts in this area by enabling your stories to be shared through social media platforms.
  • Your stories have legs
    Why tell a good story just once when you can cross-promote your content in your newsletter, via e-books, webinars, events and more. And as your story spreads, so will the word of mouth about your product.


  • It takes time to build an audience and search engine rankings
    The impact of digital storytelling does not happen overnight. At first, you’ll feel like you’re speaking to a very small audience (maybe just your friends and colleagues). But if you’re patient, the rewards will be tremendous as you’ll start to generate more and more sales leads and have the opportunity to truly connect with customers across the country or globe.
  • Good content is not free
    Just because you can start a blog, Facebook page or YouTube channel relatively cheaply does not mean that you will instantaneously drive people to those platforms. Whether you are developing the content for those channels in-house, or outsourcing to another person or business, there are costs (i.e. time, money and resources) involved to produce great content that builds an audience.

Do you have a content strategy that works well for your business? If so, please share any tips or insights about good digital storytelling strategies in the comments section below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in July 2012 and has been republished with permission.
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Can a Behemoth Company Reclaim its Underdog Status?

Everyone loves a good underdog story. In the tech world, we adore small startups that take on big David versus Goliath - chess imagecompanies and win. But what happens when a startup grows and starts to look a lot like its Goliath-like competitors? At some point, our perception of that company changes and we sometimes lose the love that we once felt for them.

When a big company starts to fall, the media and investors/industry analysts begin to examine what went wrong and criticize their leadership – as is the case with companies like RIM and AOL. In both instances, those businesses lost their entrepreneurial edge and didn’t innovate as quickly as their competitors – resulting in the loss of millions of customers to the competition. And down with those customers went AOL and RIM’s stock and media praise.

But sometimes those companies make a comeback and, in the case of AOL, they start to regain the media, analysts’ and investors’ love for them.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about whether AOL was making a comeback. Well, it seems that my assumptions might be right – and I’m not the only one to think so. Just last week, Mitch Joel commented on a recent Business Insider story which confirms that AOL’s stock and media love is on the upswing.

After years of changing strategies and trying on different CEOs for size (finding a fit with former Google Executive Tim Armstrong), AOL finally got its groove back. So, it seems that with time and the right vision, a behemoth company can reclaim its underdog status. I, like Mitch Joel and many others, am rooting for an AOL victory.

I also hope that in time RIM will make its way back onto the right track. But its future is still a little cloudy right now. Like AOL did in the past, RIM will likely shrink in employee size and re-think its direction in the years to come before growing again. So, let’s not lose all hope in the Canadian company just yet.

What do you think? Can former underdog companies be re-born? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Image source: iStockPhoto.com

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Lessons in Personal Branding from Canada’s @CocktailDeeva

We all know the story of Gary Vaynerchuck (@GaryVee on Twitter), and how he grew his parents’ wine business by sharing his dynamic personality with the world through social media and his WineLibrary TV video website.

(And if you don’t, check out the Social Mix 2012 conference web site for more information).

But Gary is not the only person to use the power of social media and our generation’s love of booze to grow an incredible personal brand.

Canada’s very own Dee Brun (@CocktailDeeva on Twitter) is an award-winning author, TV personality, celebrity event planner, Cocktail’ista, food & drink stylist, home entertaining maven, writer, humorist, wife, mother of 4, TV junkie, shoe-aholic, borderline George Clooney stalker and so much more.

She’s also a sucker for a good Mojito cocktail.

How do we know all of this about Dee? Because she lives those personal brand characteristics on her social media profiles, blog and TV appearances, every day.

We caught up with Dee to get the scoop on how she built her personal brand and what advice she has for others who are trying to craft a persona for themselves online.

Q – Why did you decide to become a Cocktail Deeva?

A – Before becoming the Cocktail Deeva, I was working in sales and marketing in the consumer packaged goods space for companies like Coke and Mars.

When I fell in love with my husband, he convinced me to go after my dreams. So, I quit my job in 2005 to write my first book, Libations of Life – a Girl’s Guide to Cocktails.

It was actually on my book tour in 2006 that a Breakfast Television host in Calgary gave me the idea for my personal brand name. I was breastfeeding my six-week-old child at the time and wanted to look good for the camera. So, I got all glammed up for the interview – wearing diva’d up bold earrings and makeup.

The host said “wow, look at you. You’re a cocktail diva.” The name stuck. I went home that day and bought the URL and signed up for all of the social media profiles with that name that I could get.

Q- Can you describe the process of how you built your brand?

A- Changing the name of “diva” to “deeva” was a really big part of personalizing my brand – because it represents my name.

A lot of business people actually told me not to change the spelling because it would make it hard for people to find me. But I ignored their advice because I believe that as long as your name says what you do, you can make it work.

I also really wanted to live the brand that I’d created for myself within my book.

In 2005, the Sex and the City TV show was really popular and I was inspired by how Carrie Bradshaw had built her brand as a writer.

I really saw myself in her. I built my persona around three things that I love: booze, shoes (just like Carrie) and George Clooney. People know that’s what I like because I talk about it all the time.

It’s amazing how people now want to share links to stories on my Facebook page about those topics. So, I’ve learned that it’s really important that people know everything about you in one to two clicks. Society has no attention span.

Q – What social media tools and platforms do you use to share your brand story and attract new followers/fans?

A- There are so many new tools coming out. But I don’t think you need to be on everything. I say, pick your three favourites and give 100 per cent to what you choose to use.

Twitter is huge for me because I can say what I want and be myself.

Whatever products that I Tweet about are 100 per cent what I use. It’s important to be honest in social media, and I don’t work with anyone except great brands that I love. I’m also a big fan of Facebook and YouTube for sharing my videos and videos from others.

Pinterest is also a great tool for sharing home entertainment tips and ideas.

Q – What are some simple steps or best practices for anyone who is just getting started in building a personal brand?

A- You get one shot to make a first impression and you need to stand tall on your stilettos from the start.

I recommend putting together a uniform package (i.e. your logo, your website and your social media profiles and bios) and launch everything all at once. Get everything uniform and always speak with the same voice.

Also, don’t pay someone to write your bio/social media profiles because it has to come from you and sound like you to give it the full effect. In addition, make sure that the URL that you’re linking to from your Twitter or Facebook page is your website.

I want to know what you do and what you’re all about. Send me there directly. Don’t waste the clicks.

Q- What lessons or mistakes have you learned from along the way?

A – Ha! I often say that the reason I wear fabulous shoes is because I always have my foot in my mouth. So, I’ve learned a lot of lessons.

I guess my biggest challenge when I got started was that I didn’t reach out for resources or ask other people about building my brand. I just didn’t know who the right people to ask were at the time. Now, I use social media resources and connections every day.

I say that if you really like what someone is doing, ask them how they did it. Get as many tips as you can. Again, don’t pay someone to write or Tweet for you. Just get feedback from the people in your social network to help you refine your story.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blog in June 2012 and has been republished with permission..
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Re-Charging My Batteries

Yep! It’s actually gonna happen. Over the next week, I’m going to do what once seemed unthinkable as someone starting her own small business. I’m going to (gulp) take a vacation. It’s been long overdue and I’m so excited that I just had to share it with you.

I’ve been told by many of my colleagues that taking a break is an essential part of running your own business. Without stepping away for a while, it’s sometimes hard to envision what you need to do next. So, I’m taking their advice and unplugging (as much as I can) from the digital world. Although, I can’t imagine not having my mobile phone with me. But we’ll see how it goes😉

So, I will admit to you all that next week’s post might be a bit late. But I promise to continue to share weekly posts with you as soon as I return. I hope that everyone has a fantastic August long weekend and I look forward to connecting when I return!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a hilarious video (compliments of a story from The Atlantic) about actors performing dramatic readings of Yelp reviews. I do hope that they make more of these.

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Do’s and Don’ts for Expressing Your True Personality Online

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”image of person standing out in a crowd

― Oscar Wilde

When it comes to sharing your thoughts and feelings with the world online and through social media, it’s important to just be yourself.

Not only will this set you apart from everyone else (because no one else is just like you), but the more your Facebook fans, Twitter followers and blog readers get to know you, the more likely they will be to support, follow and interact with you.

But you should proceed with some caution. There are cases where showing too many of your true colours can get you into trouble.

Below are some simple do’s and don’ts for sharing your individuality with the world.

Do be sensitive about current news stories and media events.

Making jokes about serious situations can get you into trouble.

In March 2011, comedian Gilbert Gottfried received media and public scrutiny and lost his sponsorship contract with insurance company Aflac (as the voice of their duck mascot in their TV commercials), when he made a series of unwise cracks online after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan:

“Japan called me. They said, ‘Maybe those jokes are a hit in the U.S., but over here they’re all sinking,’” tweeted Gottfried. His jokes were way too soon and way too crude for most people’s tastes.

Do apologize if you make a mistake.

In 2011, Kenneth Cole sent the Twitterverse into an angry frenzy when he tweeted this statement during the revolution in Egypt:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard that our new spring collection is now available online.”

After social media watchdogs pounced on his comment with an assault of outraged blogs, Facebook and Twitter remarks, Cole quickly deleted his Tweet and issued a sincere apology on his Facebook profile. The public eventually accepted his remorse and left him alone.

Don’t be like Debbie Downer.

If you’ve ever seen the mid-2000’s Saturday Night Live Debbie Downer skits, you’ll recall that she was always sharing bad news about herself and the world around her. Each time she made a negative comment, sad music would play.

The same reaction can happen in the real world if you’re only sharing negative stories with your social media friends and followers. You won’t hear sad music, but you might hear the sound of crickets from a lack of anyone wanting to join you in the conversation.

Aim to be more positive and people will be more interested in hearing and commenting on what you have to say.

Don’t over share. Or, at least be aware of where you are sharing.

While you may want to share every idea and thought that comes to mind, remember that everyone has their limits of how much they want to hear from you.

Some social media platforms, like Twitter, are more accepting of frequent sharing. However, you may want to limit how many pictures and comments you share daily on other websites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

These are just a few ideas to consider when expressing your personal brand online. Do you have suggestions on how to communicate your individuality through social media?

If so, please share them in the comments section below.

A version of this post was originally published on the Jugnoo blogin June 2012 and has been republished with permission.
Image source: iStockPhoto.com.
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The Globe and Mail Experiments with eBooks and I Like it

In May, I wrote a post about whether or not The Globe and Mail should adopt an eMarketer style Image of an eBook reader - iStockPhotocontent marketing strategy. In that blog, I suggested that the popular Canadian news publication should sell short, downloadable eBooks – especially for its business and technology readers. This could potentially help to attract new readers and supplement revenue shortfalls from paper subscriptions and advertising.

Well, it looks like The Globe and Mail is, indeed, experimenting with that format and is testing it out with its Report on Business (ROB) publication. I just downloaded “The Lunch” for $2.99 CAD which is now being sold as an “eBook featuring lunchtime interviews with the world’s top business minds” and is a collection of the most popular interviews from the Globe’s Report on Business column.

I have to say that I love this concept because gives legs to stories from The Globe and Mail’s ROB archives which readers may not have previously seen. I really hope that this format takes off as it will provide a new revenue stream for the news publication. In addition, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, I hope that The Globe and Mail continues to experiment and tries offering deeper analysis reports for its popular technology, finance and politics sections for use by business and political analysts.

What do you think? Could custom eBooks and reports help to save the newspaper industry? Please share you perspective in the comments section below.