2015, Clients, Entrepreneur, RedBrick Rooster

Crazy Little Thing Called Clients

Note: This blog piece was written July 20 2015 but has been migrated onto a new site.

Let’s crack open the elephant egg in the room – clients. You may want to buckle up, because we are going to talk about this via my favourite source of inspiration – online dating.

Why, you ask? Two words: personal branding. Online dating was a moment of confidence and clarity in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. So when I was faced with doubt and anxiety at finding clients I turned to that experience for help.

Spoiler alert! Despite my best efforts to avoid being a poster child for anything conventional (convention, yuck!), I am a poster child for online dating. I joined on a Tuesday and on that Friday I went on my first date with the man I would end up marrying 2 years later. And ladies, this is not some Cosmo bull$h*t on how finding a husband is like climbing the corporate ladder. This is instead about a trend we should take note of in terms of how we connect to people online and offline.

Personal Branding

Your typical online dating site works using a three-pronged system; photos, match %, and a descriptive profile. While I could easily draw conclusions about the use of photos and personality-based metrics, for the sake of space I will only focus on the third-prong: the personal description.

Lets start off by filling out a profile on OkCupid and along the way I will show you how in meeting my husband, I learned an incredibly important lesson in branding and client hunting.

Fill in below and find love instantly…

Below I have copied the sections from OkCupid that they ask you to fill in. As an aside, this was no random choice. I am not just a fan of this site for delivering me my husband (express): I am a fan because they really understand what connects people. The questions below may look fairly standard but in them is a goldmine of critical information. You just have to know how to read it and then write it.

* If you are interested in doing this personal branding exercise – scroll to the end of the post and print out the detailed list. I encourage you to try and fill it in before reading the rest of this post and then again at the end of reading this post. Please feel free to share some of your insights in the comments section.*

  1. My self-summary
  2. What am I doing with my life
  3. I’m really good at
  4. The first things people usually notice about me
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food
  6. The six things I could never do without
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about
  8. On a typical Friday night I am
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit
  10. I’m looking for
  11. You should message me if

Step 1: Who am I?

Imagine for a minute that you are doing this exercise for the purpose of dating. You may see self-summary and think, “I will list all my relevant experience to prove how valuable I am”. You begin with a list of your schooling, dating experience, relationship skills, and end with an account of all the high-fives you’ve received in your climb to being an excellent partner. We do this when we look for work so why don’t we do this in dating? Because we know that this is not how real connections are made. Entrepreneurship relies on the relationships you build with customers and clients. So why do we forget that when we enter a professional situation?

There is evidence all around us of the things we are good at. That evidence doesn’t just take the forms of certifications, awards, recognitions, and degrees. Open your mind and think about all the things that you do well: all the moments in your day/week where you feel particularly strong. Here are mine:

When I first did this exercise (as in, when I decided to go off on my own) this was my list:

  • Video production
  • Project management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Team work

The list goes on but I think you get the idea.

Now I will show you my list after I decided to open my mind and take away those pesky boundaries that are reinforced in resume writing:

  • Meeting new people
  • Connecting friend groups
  • Hosting parties
  • Public speaking
  • Caring for pets
  • Communicating my boundaries
  • Getting people excited about something new

I look at that last list and see a few themes pop out at me. One of those themes is nurturing. So how does that translate into my work? It is important for me to feel like I contribute to the quality of life of the people (and animals) around me. So maybe instead of presenting myself as a digital media service, I should talk about how I love to: nurture projects, understand each clients needs, and help clients develop a work environment that strengthens the type of work they do.
Boom! I am good at that! It is my authentic self. “Nurturing Toni” is going to attract much better suited clients than “video production Toni”. Why? Because not only is it authentically imbedded in my sense of self, there are way more access points for a conversation about my skills as a nurturer than my skills in video production.

Step 2: What are my tastes?

Ira Glass says it best when he says:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”

Your taste is important because it foreshadows your professional thinking. Even in online dating, this section can be the most revealing if you know how to read it. Some people will list EVERYTHING they like. The “cover my bases” thinking is counter-productive. If you want someone to taste a new wine, you don’t drown them in it, you give them a small glass of something you’ve carefully selected based on their palette. Under ‘what books I like’, you might only put those you read as part of your high school curriculum. This could mean you aren’t a big reader, or perhaps you fear admitting you don’t like to read (or, even worse, that you secretly only like to read trashy crime novels). But imagine going on a date with someone who is super into literature and was attracted to your profile because you like the modern classics. Well by lying you’ve not only become unappealing but also untrustworthy. If you’re not comfortable with your own taste (or you’ve misrepresented it), how is a client expected to trust the choices you’re going to make for them?

Step 3: Are you my taste?

Clarifying your tastes will also help reveal the type of client you want. Filtering out the incompatible types is often a self-reflective exercise in business. It is about understanding your authentic self to attract the right fit. I am in no way suggesting that you are responsible for attracting shifty clients or dates; even the best of us can encounter people who misrepresent themselves. This is certainly not some sideways argument on short skirt means open invitation.

“I’m looking for” and “You should message me if…” exists for good reason. If you can define yourself, you can define your ideal client. If you can define your ideal client, you will have a point of reference to begin your search.

So here’s the deal – there is no way to get clients without doing the modern day door-to-door; talk to everyone you know about what you’re doing; cold call companies you’d like to work with; look for other small companies where you might compliment their services. However, if you have the tools to describe exactly what you do, how you’d like to do, and with who you’d ideally like to do it with you are sure to hit the target more often.

The Exercise

Now look at the questions below, fill those suckers in, and tell me what you discover!

  1. My self-summary – I encourage you to fill this in last. Treat it as the section on your website or Facebook page where you would describe who you are and what you do. You’ll need more info before diving into the belly of the beast. So come back to it!
  2. What am I doing with my life – What you are doing with your life in a combination of what you are currently doing (for real) and what you are working towards.
  3. I’m really good at – Take a look at Step 1: Who am I?
  4. The first things people usually notice about me – These are usually aesthetic. Start thinking about how your personal style reflects your business personality.
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food – Taste! Check out this video for more of Ira Glass’ supreme wisdom. Don’t just think about your favourite things – think about your favourite apps, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers etc… and figure out what it is you like about their work so much.

  6. The six things I could never do without – If you are finding that what you need to do relies too heavily on resources you cannot yet acquire, think about shifting your offered services to reflect more accurately what you could immediately do. This will save you a lot of grief and self-doubt.
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about – Your aspirations, fears, academic obsessions, etc… Knowing what you want and what you are afraid of can put you ahead of the obstacles you are going to face.
  8. On a typical Friday night I am –translate to – how do I imagine a typical/ideal work day?
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit – “Willing” being the key word. This doesn’t mean share beyond your comfort zone.
  10. I’m looking for – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?
  11. You should message me if – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?

Until next time!

2015, Entrepreneur, RedBrick Rooster

Four Endings & A Beginning

Note: This blog piece was written June 1 2015 but has been migrated onto a new site.
I am my own boss. I am my own boss. I am my own boss. No, I still cannot believe it. Not because I am so in awe of myself. Quite the opposite. December 2014 – I found myself in a bind. Not the good kinky kind either. After submerging myself into the corporate marketing world for almost a year in what appeared to be the perfect job for the perfect future – life threw me yet another, all-too-predictable curve-ball. “You think you like stability, security, a nice clean suit with a nice clean salary? Think again”.
I had it all – a wonderful job with a great team, visions of future leadership, and husband to spoil with my very first adult-sized salary. Then. Boom. A small group of contract workers including myself were told that no contracts would be renewed for 2015. As I’m sure many of you know, especially if you are under 30, job security is a dusty top shelf dream. Most of us don’t even have the luxury to think about things like retirement, pension, mortgage payments. My coping mechanism for this lifestyle of being in and out of jobs, was to worry less about my longevity at a company and to instead focus on the impact I was making while I was there. I wanted to let my various experiences shape my career. But this time was different. I believed this one had taken. So when the door closed on yet another path to job happiness, I was defeated. Anxiety and depression for the last two years left me exhausted. Worst of all – I felt like nothing could recharge my once self-charging batteries.
Essentially, I had spent so much energy investing in what I believed would bring me happiness that I accidentally unlearned how to be happy myself. So I slept. A lot. I let the defeat saturate my whole. Then, one cold and dull day, I went to my church. I should explain that this is not an actual church but it is my spiritual getaway; the place where I seem to flock when I need to understand something. A tattoo shop where I spent one summer working as a receptionist. I was in need of money and the owner, a big-hearted animal-loving lady, to my great surprise and despite my inklessness hired me. So one dreary afternoon I wondered over there to visit one of the artists who is now a dear friend. I told her the news. I had lost my job. Her reaction was unexpected – at best. “Toni this is the best news. Now you can just do your own thing”. Then the choir chimed in. It wasn’t just her. Other people reacted the same way. When I went back to my tattooed spiritual guide and told her about this she gave me one heck of a talking to. She believed wholeheartedly that it was time for me to build something of my own. I felt it. That urge to detach my ambitions from the bureaucracy that seemed to control it for the past 10 years of my life.
So one Saturday afternoon I sat in this chair (my comfy office chair at home) and came up with a business name – RedBrick Rooster Creative. So now, this is what I am building. This time without worrying that it has to be this impenetrable fortress designed to create future happiness and kick out all anxiety and depression.  To be honest, it isn’t much of anything yet. I wake up every morning (never at exactly the same time) and think – today I will build and play. I am less scared about taking things apart and rebuilding them because it’s just for me. My happiness. I have learned that my happiness relies on my personal and professional life being a big blurry grey line. One does not help defeat the evils in the other. They work together. I thought I knew this already. So as you can imagine I was quite shocked when I found out that I did not.
2015, Entrepreneur, RedBrick Rooster, Uncategorized

An Office of One’s Own…and One Own’s Dog

Note: This blog piece was written June 16 2015 but has been migrated onto a new site

Boris (my Great Dane) and I spent most mornings the same way these days. My husband gets up to start his job in carpentry bright and early. Boris and I make lazy attempts at getting rubs and cuddles from him, but soon enough Boris plops onto the warm space where my husband was sleeping and the two of us drift off for another hour.

Once Boris has been for his morning walk and I’ve made my cup of coffee tea (I’m trying) I go back upstairs, where on the other side of the bedroom I have set-up a cozy little workspace. I will usually start building my weekly schedule on Monday mornings. Now don’t get me wrong, Mondays are not my favourite part of the week, but I love this part of it because I do exactly what I did in all my years at a Montessori elementary/middle school.
Let me first tell you a little about my time there.
We used to get all our work for the week assigned on a Monday and then it was up to us how we wished to complete it. During the week we’d have lectures, art classes, music classes, and other once-off activities as well. We were many grades in one class so we all had the benefit of listening to the same “lectures” – we just had different projects to complete at the end of it.  We were even allowed to try an older grades project if we wanted a challenge. But before I gush my way to a novel-sized memoir of my Montessori days, let’s get back to scheduling.
As boring as it sounds (it’s not!), this entire post is will probably end up being about scheduling.

“I am my own boss” means I make my own week.  On Mondays I sit with about 15 little sticky notes on my fingers and rearrange them on the side of my bookcase under titles that indicate the day of the week. Stickies include: research and development for workshops; video editing; bookkeeping; current clients; new clients; and my favourite – blogging. Now, as good as Montessori was at teaching me how to schedule, I found these lessons quickly evaporating in a conventional work environment. When I started my own business I found myself wanting to adhere to those conventional rules and frankly it was a completely demotivating exercise.  For a while I didn’t understand that I was doing this. I actually thought I was living by my own rules. Then I stumbled upon Braid Creative.

A creativity consulting and design company, they wield strong weapons against falling into traps of being anything except yourself. So naturally when I saw that they offered an e-course in “Personal Branding” I jumped – hard. One of the exercises I completed was to map out all the traditional rules or norms associated with being a professional. I thought back to my jobs in corporate marketing and started to uncover the expectations – what they refer to as “the optics” – of what a professional is. These were things like: work hours; when to take lunch; how to dress; how not to dress; what language to use; when to take personal leave; what an appropriate stress level. Ironically, if your answer to elevator small talk didn’t at least reference being stressed or “over-capacity”, the general assumption was that you weren’t serious enough about your job. It took writing out these “rules” to realize just how this had impacted my perception of a ‘professional’.
As I was taking stock of my workweek, I started rewriting these rules. In doing so, my definition of a professional began to shift.

I love Fridays. I’m energized and stimulated from the week and full of restless energy. I love the energy of the 9-5ers downtown as they ramp up for the weekend by taking a slightly longer lunch to grab a beer with a pal, or walk in the denims they only get to wear on Fridays. It feels like everyone is giggling at the same joke on the inside. So a little while ago I decided – no work on Fridays. By Sunday I’ve usually had my fill of domestic chores and family BBQs so I like jumping into some of the more free-flowing creative work on a Sunday afternoon. This means that when I wake up on Mondays I’ve already started, though I still hate Mondays.
But now, I love Sundays.
They are not that bitter reminder of a Monday.
They are their own special day where work blends with BBQ and white wine. Fridays are my very own day. Most of the time I’m out and about in one of my favourite Ottawa hoods – Hintonburg. When I’m there you’re likely to find me perusing the sales items at St. Vincent De Paul, then going next door to Flock to longingly stare at each and every beautiful creation in there. Then I walk to The Hintonburg Public House where I treat myself to a glass of wine and something to eat. Dessert is ALWAYS Suzy Q donuts and I ALWAYS buy half a dozen. They make a lovely snack later when husband and I are watching Netflix.

Now before you think  – well of course YOU can do that, YOU work from home. Let me just say that you are completely right. I chose to build my life in a way where my personal life and work life, my personal self and work self all blend together. In order to help people tell stories, I have to have stories of my own. In order to help local businesses brand and create unique content, I have to understand the Ottawa appeal. It is my job to love my work as much as it is to do my work. And – if I have to be honest – I think we all need to change our thinking to be a little more in line with that. You will be better at your job if you love it – even if what you love about it is that it gives you time or money for something great in your personal life. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Work to live. Don’t live to work.

Any other “dad style” advice-sayings you can all throw at me?

I’m lovin’ it. So should you.