Monthly Archives: March 2013

Branding Yourself

It’s time for some “end of month number two” reflection about this experiment and I have to say it’s going better than I thought. I have been keeping up with the posts, don’t think I’ve been too repetitive, and people have been giving some positive feedback. All-in-all there isn’t much more I can hope for.

Now that I have my feet under me, so to speak, I’ve been thinking exactly what effect blogging is having on my life, if any. Obviously it’s something that takes up some time. Not too much, mind you, as it’s not like there is a profound amount of research that goes into any particular post. Another thing is that I have been thinking through a lot more ideas, which I think is a by-product of writing things down. Rather than having a fleeting thought and then it’s gone, I jot down ideas and revisit them, fleshing them out.

The biggest impact this blog has made, is that I have a bit more control over my personal brand. We all have a personal brand, like it or not, and in the age of the internet the “electronic footprint” we leave from our involvement on different websites are part of that brand. The difficult thing is that since there is so much on those sites you can’t control, you are not the master of your personal brand. Compromising photos and posts from friends on your wall can reflect negatively on you. Ironically just as I write this a friend is posting such a post.

While I think that a good portion of the population knows that things on these websites don’t account for 100% of your actions, there is still the risk that something you have done which has made it on Facebook without your approval could hurt you in the future. This blog is my feeble attempt at counteracting that a bit.

By showing that I am not just the person who dresses up in silly costumes for parties and has fun on weekends, I am in a bit more control of my brand. If there is a good way of doing this on Facebook, I haven’t found it yet.

With this realization, a new goal with this blog is to always have it represent an image that I am ok being public about. Too many blogs are a little too personal for my comfort and I think that could end up hurting the author in the future.

Even being careful, there is always the risk that someone is going to disagree with you. I would be shocked and surprised if there was anyone in the world who 100% agrees with everything on this website. If there is, I probably don’t want to even meet them, because there wouldn’t be anything interesting for us to talk about.

Something that I have been thinking about more lately is my goal of having a large network of guests posters to this website. I don’t want to serve as a censor, because if nothing else I believe that people are entitled to their opinions, but at the same time their posts could be associated with me. I think in this case, a major mistake of mine was to start this blog on a website bearing my personal name. At some point it may be a good idea to move to something more generic, but I won’t worry about that right now.

As it stands I’m very happy I’ve been doing this and I hope that you all keep reading! Thanks for the support while I stumble through this.

Event Marketing

I love helping out with events. I have been fortunate enough over the past few years to be able to be part of a few big ones. It’s been an amazing experience and I honestly believe on of the best “crash courses” in running a small business that someone can take. Knowing everything from logistics, to budgeting, to marketing are all vital, along with a number of other areas.

The most exciting / terrifying things about event planning is that most of the time all your resources are committed to one or a few days, all before you know how much revenue you will make. This terrifying “all or nothing” approach is stressful to everyone, especially marketers. Without the right strategy, things can go south fast!

While every event is different, and I know I’m far from knowing everything about executing one, there are a few things I have observed which are important in promoting them.

  1. If you have a legacy, use it! This may not even apply to the event itself. If the venue, act or even planners are on enough people’s good side, it goes a long way in converting to ticket sales.
  2. Communicate your theme well. Regardless of whether there is an officially defined “theme” or not, there is something that is differentiating for people. So even if you don’t have something overt and easily defined like “Masquerade” there is something that sticks out to people about the event, and you want to make sure you are in control of that.
  3. Communicate the 10% that is different. No one wants to hear this, but I would say 90% (if not more) of the individual components of any event is not unique. You have drinks there? So does everyone else. You have a live band? I’ve been to that before. You’re putting on a basketball tournament? So does every high school. All those taken on their own are not uncommon. Find that thing that makes you different and pump it up.
    • A side note to the above point, what “makes you different” could be the way that you combine multiple, less exciting activities. You take learning about French culture, drinking bad wine, being out in the cold and non-mainstream music on their own and they call kind of suck. Combine them and you have Festival du Voyageur. AWESOME!
  4. Know your audience. This is a key message for any marketing, but especially important for events, because it’s a one-time shot. Know who would be interested in your trade show and communicate to them. Don’t worry about anyone else.
  5. Have fun! This sounds silly, but unless your planning a very solemn affair you should really try to have some fun with it. Believe me when I say this will translate into good work and a great image. People want to go to the event that the event planners are psyched about before it’s even happening.

There are a thousand other things to consider in promoting an event, but with these fundamentals I think that a good foundation can be established. Good luck to any event planners out there and if you ever want to bounce an idea off someone let me know!

If you have any other suggestions or disagree, the comment section is always open.

Woe of the First Mover

It’s tough introducing a new product to a market. I’ve been part of it in a few different ways, as well as can see that happen every day from my office, as we share a floor with Peg City Car Co-op. No matter how you slice it, it is hard.

What may be even harder is when you are finally successful, seeing the people who come in as followers. Those who can waltz in and make slight changes to improve your product. Maybe they even don’t improve it. It could be an exact copy, but odds are you don’t have 100% market penetration at the time and they took advantage.

As a bit of an aside, recently I have found out that some of my competition has decided that looking through the events I have done and calling them to undercut me is a good idea. I have my own thoughts on price being your USP,but as much as I don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy, it is unfortunately effective in the near term. Good thing for me that my clients decided to stay with the winner!

Underhanded tactics like that are really what make me cringe. Not only are these people relying on you introducing the concept to the market, but they then move from figuratively following you moves, to literally trying to work with your clients. As much as I’m a “the pie is big enough to share” type of guy, things that like just get me angry.

Rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself, though, there are some things that you can do to keep your status as first mover and use it to your advantage. I have a few thoughts and are sure there are more:

  1. Serve your clients. Not only will this secure you as their provider, it will likely lead to some referrals. Especially in a business like mine, almost every event I do leads to another one.
  2. Improve your product past what they have done. Since you have already worked out the kinks in your process, you can start looking ahead. Rather than trying to compete head-to-head with the new company, get better and leave them in your dust.
  3. Don’t bash your competition. This one may be hard to do, but there is usually nothing worse than hearing one competitor bash another. The world is too small and things get back to people. Besides, do you really want to talk about them if you don’t have to?
  4. Plan your exit strategy while the getting’s good. If it’s looking like the competition is really heating up and you don’t want to put in the effort to beat them, then get out. Since the market is getting hot, hopefully you can cash out at the peak and watch all the other suckers rip one another apart.

Like I said, there are many other strategies, but those would be my go-to. The major take-away is that no company operates in a vacuum, so competition is inevitable. It is how we deal with that competition that makes us truly strong business owners.

Specialization is Overrated

As you may be able to tell, I have a lot of interests. A lot. As I get older I feel social pressures, as well as some that I put on myself, to start narrowing my field of interest and focusing on becoming specialized in a few things. While I guess specialization is important in some cases (doctors come to mind), I don’t think that someone with the goals and aspirations I do should be in too much of a rush to choose the path they want and ignore all others.

In my opinion, the world needs people who are interested in a whole pile of things and want to learn about them all. Sure, I will probably never be the #1 person in a specific field, but I’ve made peace with that. I would rather know a passable amount about a number of things, rather than a lot about few things. The world is too big to stop exploring!

“Who cares,” some of you may be thinking. I remember a specific conversation with someone a few years ago who told me that, ” People don’t get along in life just knowing a bunch of random things.” While I laughed at the time, I think that shows a common misconception that people have about generalists. First, even if our thought process seems random, we can usually understand it. Second, that randomness is how innovation is achieved.

The best example from my own life that I can think of is with me and my business partners. Two engineers by trade, they are able to do things that I could never hope to. I do, however, manage to ask enough stupid questions that they can take lots of what I say and make it into something that is actually workable and a good solution. Or they tell me to shut it, which is fine too. All part of the process!

The point here is that I have an interest in what they do. I’m never going to have the same skill set as them, which is fine, but the more I learn the more we can get into details with one another. They know to dumb it down every once in a while, but I’m sure appreciate my attempts to bring my speak up, too.

You always hear about how it’s our differences that make us interesting and solve problems. Well, I want to be the one who closes the communication gap between those differences. That’s why at any given time I’m reading about marketing, psychology, space travel or economics. There is too much going on to close your eyes to, and the more you learn about everything, the more astounding it all becomes! Therefore I don’t discourage anyone from becoming specialized, but next time you talk to someone who doesn’t know as much as you do, rather than think less of them for that, find out what else they know about.

The Snap It Memories Story

This is a departure from my usual format, in the sense that it is not some thinly-veiled story about something that happened in my life, rather it is an overt story. The other major difference is that this story is not being written because I’m mad or frustrated. Instead it is because it’s something that’s sort of neat that has happened in my life and I’m proud of it.

Snap It Memories is a company that I currently own and operate, along with Paulo Fernandes and James Eichele. After some prodding from Paulo (who is a huge fan of this blog, by the way), here is the story of how that came to be.

In the spring of 2010 I was graduating from Asper and didn’t quite know what I was going to do after school. My majors, which I have a real interest in, were marketing and entrepreneurship, which to an accounting major may as well be Unemployment Studies. None-the-less, not only was entrepreneurship one of my majors, but I also had (and have) a strong desire to own my own business.

As a sometimes planner and frequent attendee of large social events, I was always on the lookout for unique elements to add to an event. Enter the photo booth. While in Ontario for a conference I saw the set up that inspired Snap It and thought, “I can do that better.”

The only problem is that while I was in love with the idea, I don’t have the technical skills to pull it off. After exploring a few options, I was starting to get discouraged, because the booths available on the market were pretty expensive and I didn’t know if it was worth purchasing. Enter Paulo.

I had met Paulo, a graduate of computer engineering and current web / graphic designer, through a mutual friend a few months earlier. When talking to this friend about my idea he suggested that I contact Paulo and see if he had any interest in joining forces. After an initial meeting, Paulo was in and suggested that James (another computer engineer, who specializes in programming) join the conversation. From there the team was born.

Once word got out about us starting this business, we actually booked our first gig almost immediately! Definitely before we even knew exactly how we were going to pull-off the building of the booth. With a 2 week deadline (and me still in exams) we got to work on spec’ing out the booth, registering a company, programming software, building a brand and basically flying off the seat of our pants. Somehow we were able to pull it off (along with me graduating) and we set off to our first booking: My own university graduation.

After a few first time setup pains, we were ready to rock and released it to the masses. The result is that the booth was used more than 150 times over 4 hours (which, believe me, is a good stat) and was a huge success! We now had a business.

From there we have made some improvements, had some pains, and grown along the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been fun. Here are some quick “napkin stats”:

  • We have done over 80 events.
  • A conservative estimate would put that at around 360 hours of running time.
  • Over 45,000 photos have been taken in the booth.
  • About 1/3 of our business is repeat customers, in an industry that is not built for repeat customers (this is my favourite stat).
  • Well over half of new bookings have either seen the booth in action or were referred by a friend.

Since starting, we have continued to grow in the face of the concept losing some novelty and a growing competition base. Now we’re looking forward to implementing our future plans! We’re not done growing yet and I couldn’t ask for two better partners to do this with. Their skill, along with my luck, gives me an energy and optimism that there are more good things to come in the future.

Special Thanks:

There are some people who helped out during that start-up phase. They are…
Scott M – For introducing me and Paulo.
Matt F – For letting us use his basement / house / tools for the build and testing.
Mike G – For helping me with transport when I had no other options.

Government Like a Business

I haven’t been around for too long, but have been interested in politics from a young age. Not that I ever want to be a politician, but the entire concept and system fascinate me. The fact that “we the people” make our decision once every few years about the few who will make decisions for the many, based on promises that are rarely kept and really only account for about 5 or maybe 10% of what a politician does while in office is amazing. I may be a bit jaded.

Something that has been brought more often than not in elections that i have followed is the “business experience” of particular candidates. That is to say what he or she did before politics, and how that would relate to governing a population.

While I don’t doubt that there could be some important skills learned from running a business that are transferable to politics (leadership, strategic planning, consensus building, etc.) I do think there are some major flaws in running government like a business. In no particular order they are:

  • Growth and revenue building are the goals of businesses, but should not be the goals of government.
  • Business strategically leverage, but governments should not engage in this.
  • The market is able to constantly react to a business’s actions, in a sense “voting” day in and day out whether they are doing the right thing. Governments essentially get a carte blanche for the time they are in office.

I have more issues with politics and politicians than those, but I wanted to keep this brief. Let me explain a few of my thoughts.

In the first point I’m really referring to how, when boiled down, there is a fundamental difference in the goals of a government and a business. Governments only have two ways of growing revenues; raising taxes or growing the tax base (though immigration or having business grow). While immigration and businesses growth are great, neither can be relied on for huge growth in the tax base in a particular year. As for raising taxes,I think we all have the same opinion on that one.

Point two talks about leverage. While it can be a very good call for a business to take out debt to invest in a capital project that may pay dividends in the future, I am of the firm belief that government absolutely never should. Nothing frustrates me more to know that the government is constantly running at a deficit and seems to have no plans to change this ever. I could go on about this for days, but am going to spare you the pain.

The last point has to deal with how frustrating it is that we don’t have a lot of say in what happens in government outside of the once every four years election. I obviously can’t speak for anyone else, but I have agreed with every political party over one issue or another. I have a party that I agree with more often than the others, but i don’t 100% support everything they do. There needs to be some more involvement in the decisions our politicians make, because it is our money and future they are playing with.

All of these points, especially the last one, have me pretty worried for our future as a country. In always trying to be the optimist, I think that there are ways of making things better all the time. Having political discussions, one citizen to another, is a good start. There needs to be more, though.

I’m going to throw out an idea that I have had for a while, but don’t have the ability to make a reality. I think there needs to be a website which tracks every vote in the various levels of government and how each representative voted. Citizens can easily view this, and even cast their own vote on the issue. Come the next election they have hard evidence as to which party they agree with the most and can make a voting decision based on some hard evidence. Who knows, maybe if it gets big enough the politicians will take notice and start involving the people.

If you have an interest in the above project, please let me know. I would love to get this going, but haven’t thought of a good way of monetizing it yet, therefore haven’t pulled the trigger. If we can get a team going, though, I’m sure we can make democracy about the people again!

Common Sense for Common Law

Deciding to move in with a significant other is a huge step in a relationship and any couple who gets to that point should be commended. There are many different people with many different opinions on the relationship / emotional side of moving in with someone. I’m actually a little glad my mom doesn’t read this, because I don’t want to launch into a hypothetical conversation about ethics.

What I want to pay some attention to is something that seems to be overlooked by people I know who have moved in together. I just want to point out that this isn’t a judgement in any way, only things that I have seen happen that I maybe would have done differently. That being said, I have never been in the situation and I can definitely see how all the positive emotions will cause the couple to gloss over some of the more practical issues, but as always I’m a firm believer that some practical thought when things are good make it much easier to handle when things are bad. Specifically, what does living together without having a formal marriage document mean for both of you financially, both when you’re together and if you split up?

In casual conversations I’ve had with people, the rules of common law seem very widely misunderstood. I will fully admit, before some research for this post, I had some incorrect assumptions about common law in Manitoba. I am happy to say that once I set the record straight, the laws aren’t as unreasonable as I once thought they were. Regardless, it is important to familiarize yourself with what you are and aren’t entitled to should you break up.

If you don’t agree with the letter of the law, based on how you and your partner are living, then it’s time for a difficult decision. I’m not a lawyer, but common sense would dictate that should you believe that you have a level of entitlement to certain possessions, but the law disagrees, a signed agreement needs to be created. If you decided to pursue this, then an even more difficult discussion needs to be had.

You need to sit down with your partner and agree to how the assets, monies and responsibilities will be split while you’re together, as well as if you break up. While I agree there is nothing less exciting than having this conversation, I’m a firm believer that it should be had during a happy time, when you still care about the person. You are thinking more clearly and don’t have all the messy, negative emotions you have when you’re doing through a breakup.

Once the agreement has been made and signed, then you have a basis to defend your rights on. This can be for anything from the owner of certain objects not having to split them, to not getting kicked out of your home too early. Another thing, is having a guideline to base all “who gets what” conversations on helps keep emotions out of it, as much as possible.

If this is the most unromantic thing you’ve ever read, I agree. One last thing I would say is to really think through combining finances. Even if you’re living together, it doesn’t mean you have to share every bank account. This is just another backstop against what could make a bad breakup, worse.

Self Promotion

Everyone knows one of those people. Someone who just can’t wait to tell you (unsolicited) how awesome they’re doing or how busy they are. Heck, I’m sure that most of us have BEEN that person once or twice (or in my case many, many times). That doesn’t make it something that anyone but you likes talking about.

I know this comes off as extremely ironic, but I’m actually not a fan of self-promotion. I know, I know, I’m the guy who is self-important enough to think that my thoughts on many topics should be shared far and wide across the internet. What is this, if not a shrine in which to promote Kevin? Well, I have already publicly stated my reasons for creating and updating this blog, and to “get my name out there” is not one of them. Considering the numbers that read this, I would be surprised if anyone outside of my personal network gives a crap, so believe me when I say, I’m not doing this to showcase how amazing I think I am.

Taking a step backward, I define self-promotion as broadcasting your accomplishments (real or exaggerated) for the express reason of letting the world know what you’ve done. Although this may be acceptable and welcome in some situations (job interviews come to mind), the majority of the time it comes off as obnoxious. I much prefer to DO things, rather than spend energy telling people what I have done or how busy I am.

In fairness, there really is a fine line with all of this. Many times I am genuinely interested in what projects my friend’s are working on and what they are doing at work. To talk about these, I think it’s important to focus on the ideas or what’s being done, rather than who (you) is involved.

My opinions on this can be traced back to two specific moments in time. The first I heard a quote from Socrates which is, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” Since hearing that I have truthfully tried to keep my discussions on ideas and events. Most certainly not about myself, which I consider the lowest form of talking about people.

The second quote is from a friend and is paraphrased a little. After he and I ran into someone who ended up talking our ear off about how busy they were, he said to me as we were walking away, “Everyone’s busy. Some people are just too selfish to realize that.” To put it another way, if you have enough time to talk to me about your crazy schedule for 15 minutes, you’re probably not that busy.

Ok, now that the rant is done, here’s the time to bring it around to something that is quasi-constructive.

If you realize that you are one of the people who doesn’t shut up about how busy they are, or about what awesome things they have done, or about how they’re God’s gift to the world, it’s ok. You’re definitely not alone and what’s more is that there is always time to change. I know I did.

As lame as this is, I would suggest thinking of a few genuine topics from your life (things that you are actually in to) and take yourself out of the equation. Chances are that most people you talk to will be interested in hearing about it. If you change the conversation from, “I’m so busy at work, here’s all the things I’m doing,” to “I’m working on this project, here’s some details,” you have taken that interaction to a new level. Now you’re talking about ideas and whoever you are with is able to contribute. You get to talk about your life and what’s on your mind, and your friend doesn’t want to tear their ears off.

The last thing I would say is that if you really can’t stop pumping yourself up in conversation, just try and limit it. Honestly, in conversations most people are just waiting for you to shut up so they can stop talking. If you want people to like you more, don’t worry about telling them why they should like you, just let them talk. If you just prod them along so they’re the ones doing the majority of the lifting, I am willing to bet that 9 times out of 10 they leave that conversation thinking to themselves, “That dude’s pretty cool.”

Everyone Should Be a Salesperson

A little while ago I was speaking with a friend of mine. She works in a small business and loves her job, she’s just worried that there is not enough work coming into keep the entire staff on for much longer. This is obviously an issue for everyone.

Speaking with my friend, I tried to learn more about her situation (is this a new issue, how much longer do you think you have, do you think you would be first to go, etc.), when I finally hit the nail on the head: Have you not been able to help out with new business?

When I asked this, I was met with a funny look. I repeated myself and got a simple response of, “I’m not a salesperson.” Bingo. While this may be true in title, if you work for a company and it’s in trouble, maybe it’s time for everyone to start thinking in more of a “sales” lens. After all, everyone’s in it together.

I can admit that my bias is coming into play, because I default to a salesy demeanour when i don’t know what else to do. It a bit of a natural state for me, and I can appreciate that’s not the same for everyone. To some extent, though, you have to get past that if you believe in your work and want to keep it going.

The frustrating thing in this situation is that my friend has all of the skills necessary! She’s personable, genuine, willing to approach people and networks like crazy. By the end of the conversation I was almost tearing my hair out in frustration. I think she noticed, because by the end of our talk she agreed that she could probably be trying a bit. Maybe it was just to shut me up.

Making sure your sales hat is always on is exponentially more important for entrepreneurs. History is littered with stories of superior products that didn’t get off the ground because there wasn’t a good sales push. Similarly, inferior men and women who happen to be good salespeople achieve levels of success far beyond what they “should” on paper.

To put it another way, if you own the company and aren’t pumping up the product, how can you expect someone else to? I try to remember this every time that I talk to someone about my day job or side business. If I can’t show my passion, why should they have any?

Mortgage Overview

A house is likely the largest purchase you will make in your life. It is a significant decision, not only because it will likely be for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also because it is a high-emotion decision. You will be living there for many years; therefore it is important to love it.

Likely you will not be buying your home in cash, therefore a mortgage is a vital part of the purchase process. It is also likely that you don’t know much about mortgages and the explanations you are getting aren’t being too helpful. At the very least, you should really know why you can “afford” what the bank tells you you can.

The bank determines what you can afford based on your income and debt payment obligations (including the new mortgage), calculated as your Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR). The lower the TDSR, the greater the mortgage amount a borrower will be approved for.

TDSR is calculated as {[loan payments] + [available credit maximum payment] + [new mortgage payment]} / [monthly income]. This sounds complicated, but an example will help explain.

Let’s assume you may have the following finances:

Car loan ­payment – $350/month
Line of credit – $0 balance and $5,000 available
Credit card1 – $500 balance and $1,000 available
Income – $3,000/month (before tax)

Your monthly debt obligation will be calculated as the following:

$350 + ($5,000*0.03) + ($1,000*0.03) = $530

Now taking that amount and determining the TDSR:

$530 / $3,000 = 17%

This means that if you take advantage of all debt available, the minimum repayment amount would take up %17 of your pre-tax income.

You may be thinking “But that doesn’t even include my mortgage,” and you would be right. The above example is still important for the following reasons:

  1. You learn how TDSR is calculated.
  2. You learn what that means in terms of real dollar amount paid per month.

These two points go a long way to show how the banks aren’t looking out for your best interest when calculating a mortgage. Here’s why:

  • In calculating the TDSR we (and the banks) use the pre-tax income. That means we haven’t yet accounted for the 25%+ that the government will take off our pay that we never see (taxes, CPP, OAS, erc.).
  • Any credit that is available to you, usually in the form of credit cards, is calculated into the formula. The key take-away from this is not to blindly accept limit increases from your cards, because it could come back to haunt you. If you don’t need the room, don’t take it!
  • When looking at the TDSR in the example above (17%) it doesn’t sound like a lot, but the real dollar amount paid per month ($530) is fairly substantial.

I make the point about 17% still equating to a fairly large payment, because most mortgage issues will allow borrowers to have a TDSR of 35 – 40%, even up to 45%, including the new mortgage payment.

While those numbers are great news for those who are looking to buy a house, especially younger people with lower incomes; you really must consider what it means to your lifestyle. Paying $1000+ in loans, not factoring in other bills associated with a house (water, heat, cable, insurance) can eat into your income rather quickly. Although owning a house is great, but so is being able to have fun in your 20s, so choose wisely.

The final amount you get approved for has a few factors, but can be simplified to [TDSR] + [down payment]. While a higher down payment can allow you to afford a more expensive house, only to the amount that the down payment is increased. Conversely, reducing current debt payments or increasing income have a greater impact than putting more money down.

I suggest going to online and playing with RBC’s mortgage calculators. Spending some time on this will teach you more than I can ever hope to. Also, if you find any mistakes, let me know!