My stop-and-go summer

The summer months can be challenging when you’re a freelancer who works from a home office and the mom of a busy 10-year-old. Throw in home renovations, a steady stream of house guests and a dead laptop, and the regular summer juggling act gets thrown into high gear.

Me and skye

Our 120-lb “lap dog” is also part of the juggling act!

So I’m trying to forgive myself for being less productive than usual over the past two months.

That’s not to say that my keyboard has sat completely idle. Between overseeing new carpets, windows, and painting, chauffeuring my son to soccer and a few weeks of goalie camp, supervising various Pokémon Go outings, and showing visiting family and friends around our beautiful corner of the world, I somehow managed to string together a few words.

Website copy, blogs, a victim impact statement, and a handful of magazine articles have kept me busy. But they’ve all been written in short bursts, at some extremely odd hours of the day and night.

Eat Drink photo

I did manage to churn out a few stories this summer….including my regular music column for Eat Drink .

On the one hand, I recognize how lucky I am to have the freedom to work when I like. On the other, it can make for some extremely long days.

So I am eagerly anticipating the first day of school, when I hope to sit down at a clean desk, in my freshly-painted home office, and do a full day of uninterrupted work on my speedy new laptop.

I’m signed up for a September conference for women entrepreneurs, I’ll be participating in a sold-out evening of fashion in support of Make-A-Wish, and I have a list of story ideas ready to pitch, as well as a new Spilled Ink website – launching soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend as much time as I can savoring the last few weeks of summer. If you need me, I’ll be at the lake, refueling for a busy and productive fall.

Slice of paradise

No words needed….

How was your summer? And how are you getting ready for fall?

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

Emilio

Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing? 

 

On board with MainStreet London

I’ve been writing about downtown London for more than a decade. In fact, my very first cover story was about Kingsmill’s department store. Founded in 1865, this retail icon predated Confederation.

Store Exterior 001.JPG

    Kingsmill’s was founded in the heart of  London in 1865. (Kingsmill’s store for Francine Kopun.)

In 2004, when my story was published in Business London magazine, the family-owned retailer was an early adapter of online sales. In 2014, Kingsmill’s closed, marking the end of an era for anyone who grew up in London.

(Although I can’t seem to find a copy of my 2004 story, you can read more about the history of Kingsmill’s and its closing here and here.)

That cover story – penned as a J-school assignment – was the first of hundreds I have written that are in some way connected to the core of my home town.  So when some Londoners claimed that the closure of Kingsmill’s signaled the death of downtown retail, it got my blood boiling.

Luckily, I have a pen (or keyboard).  I pitched, and wrote, a second cover story on the new wave of independent retailers setting up shop in downtown London.

Declaration of Independance

I turned my anger into another cover story….

You can read the full story here.

Around the same time, I saw a Facebook posting about a board opening at MainStreet London – an organization tasked with supporting and strengthening all aspects of downtown.

I know that I am not the only Londoner frustrated by the snail’s pace of progress in the core. But being an optimist at heart I decided the time was right to join the fight for downtown at a more formal level. So I sent in my application – and was accepted to the board in January.

I am looking forward to seeing the revitalization process from another angle, and am hoping to learn more about the challenges of bringing meaningful – let alone transformational – change to the heart of my hometown.

A Five-Step Approach to Writing a Killer Press Release

There’s no doubt that social media has changed the marketing and PR landscape.

But when it comes to getting your story heard – whether you’re launching a business, introducing a new product, holding an event, or announcing a new hire – you still can’t beat a good news story (or two) to help spread the word.

But how can you make sure your news makes the news?

newspaper-1489009-640x480

An old-fashioned press release can help you make the news!

While a savvy online post or tweet can reach a targeted audience – including the media – when it comes to convincing news outlets that your story’s got legs, nothing beats the good old-fashioned press release.

Luckily, everything you need to know about writing an effective news release can be summed up in five steps:

Write a great headline
Your headline is the hook that will reel the media in and make them want to learn more. So it needs to be compelling and specific. It needs to answer the question: Why should I care?

If you’ve got something exciting to say, put it in your headline!

Summarize your news in the opening paragraph
Your press release should begin with the location and the date, followed by a one-sentence summary of your announcement. Try fleshing out your headline with a bit more detail!

Your opening paragraph should be brief, and should include all the key information you’d like to share about your announcement.

Ask yourself: If people only read this first paragraph, what do they need to know?

Elaborate in the body
After the opening paragraph comes the body – three or four paragraphs where you can elaborate on the who, what, when, where and why of your announcement. The most ‘news-worthy’ information should come first.

Don’t forget to include at least one quote from a company representative, industry expert, or satisfied client.  This gives your message a human voice (and makes it easier for print media to use your release as-is).

The boring boilerplate
The boilerplate is a short paragraph that helps bring journalists up-to-speed about your business or organization. A boilerplate can include your mission statement and any key facts you want to share, as well as a link to your website.

(To identify that it’s a boilerplate, simply write the name of your company in bold above the text).

Put your boilerplate after the body, but before the contact information.

Don’t forget the contact details
It might seem obvious, but don’t forget to include the name and contact information of the best person to handle any follow up questions. Make sure they are able, willing and available to speak with the media!

Phone - contact

Make sure your contact person is prepared to do an interview!

A few more tips:

Include visuals
A photo is worth a thousand words….so if you’ve got a great, high resolution image to help tell your story, include it with your release. Don’t forget the photo credit (if needed)! In today’s online world, a video link can be great, too.

Check your facts
Journalists work on tight deadlines. That means they may decide to pull information directly from your release to write their story, or simply ‘dump’ your release as-is…without doing a follow-up interview.

So before you send out your release, make sure your facts are correct, your sources are happy with their quotes, and that you are properly representing your brand.

Send it to the right people
You can always use an online distribution system like newswire.ca, but getting your release into the hands (or inbox) of the right journalist greatly improves your chances of making the news.

Pay attention to local bylines, and take some time to dig up personal (work) emails. Most media outlets have contact information somewhere on their websites. Or, try picking up the phone and ask.

Sound complicated?

If writing a press release sounds like a lot of work or you just aren’t sure you’ll get it right, consider hiring a PR professional or copywriter (like me!)

How do you get your story heard?

Musing on millenials and Eiskaffee

Having the opportunity to meet young people who are trying to change the world is one of the best things about being a freelance writer.

I recently had that chance when I interviewed the founders of Ezzy Lynn – a group of women who are using fashion for social and environmental good. Their weapon of choice? The scrunchie.

[For those who aren’t in the know, Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines a scrunchie as   “a piece of elastic covered in often brightly-coloured cloth that is used to hold long hair at the back of the head.”]

Sound crazy? That’s what I thought when the assignment dropped into my inbox.  Then I met Western University grads and Ezzy Lynn co-founders Samantha Laliberte, Sonja Fernandes and Bianca Lopes.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

This trio of 25-year-olds have their act together, and I wouldn’t bet against them. Intrigued? You can read my cover story here.

It made me think about what I was doing when I was 25…living in Geneva Switzerland, working as a freelance musician with no plans to change the world.  Without many plans beyond next week, actually.

Worrying about the bottom line and trying to build a business in a socially and environmentally responsible way was definitely not on my radar screen.  But eventually I gave up my bohemian ways, returned to Canada, and went back to school…

Fast forward 15 years and I have a new career and a family that includes a 9-year-old and two Newfoundland dogs.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

Last week, we made a quick trip to Geneva (minus the dogs)…

We visited some of my old haunts…

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

… drank real Eiskaffee…

Why can't I find this in London, Ontario?

Why can’t I find this in London, Ontario?

…and escaped the heat wave by jumping in the lake.

Yes, you can swim in Lake Geneva!

Yes, you can swim right downtown in Lake Geneva!

We also went on a day trip to Chamonix and took the gondolas up Mont Blanc – something I couldn’t afford to do as a twenty-something musician.

On top of the world....

On top of the world….a pricey day trip, but worth it!

It was wonderful to revisit a city that was once my home and that holds so many great memories. And so, while I am in awe of this generation of  driven, entrepreneurial millenials who are working so hard to change the world, I hope that they’ll also take some time to explore it. Responsibilities will wait.

5 tips from the mompreneur trenches

Like most women, I wear many hats. Wife, mother, small-business owner.  And like many women these days, I run my business from home.

I guess that makes me a mompreneur – and part of a growing trend.

In fact, almost 34 per cent of small businesses in Canada are now solely or partially owned by women, and chapters of MOMpreneur Canada are popping up from coast to coast, including right here in London, Ontario.

Balancing work and a family can be a juggling act - especially for a mompreneur!

Balancing work and a family can be a juggling act – especially for a mompreneur!

Juggling work and family is never an easy task. And when you’re a freelance writer, work is ruled by deadlines – deadlines that don’t care about sick children, muddy dogs, plugged sinks and all the other day-to-day distractions and responsibilities that come with family life.

My decision to become a solopreneur was quite deliberate. I took a ‘traditional’ office job (in marketing and communications) so that I could qualify for maternity benefits, going out on my own shortly before my son was born.

That was almost ten years ago, and after a decade in the mompreneur trenches here are my top five tips to staying sane and productive as a work at home mom:

Accept your limitations
Before children, plowing through a to-do list seems as easy as 1-2-3. But once that baby is born just getting out of the house can be a major undertaking.  If you are working from home because you want to be around your children instead of sending them off to daycare, set realistic expectations and cut yourself some slack.

Yes, you may be able to work during nap time. But you may also need to catch up on your own sleep.

And you may not give birth to a napper – my son was a bundle of boundless energy right from day one. While other kids slept four to six hours a day, I was lucky to get him down for 45 minutes. Luckily, he loved hanging out in a sling while I was at my computer as a newborn,  joined me in my office in his Jolly Jumper later on, and started a morning preschool program as soon as he was old enough to be registered!

At one point, an office Jolly Jumper was a must!

At one point, an office Jolly Jumper was a must!

To be honest, I don’t know how I got any work done during those first few years – and I certainly wasn’t earning anything like a real income. But I did keep my fingers in the game.

And mom was right:

IT GETS EASIER…

…and I got more efficient.

Today, I am able to work a regular 6 hour day while he’s off at school – and boy can I get a lot done in those 6 hours!

Get out of the office
This may seem counterproductive, but carving out time for networking and just getting together with friends for lunch is one of the best things you can do to stay refreshed and motivated. It’s also crucial if you want to grow your client base and support network.

Be honest with your clients
I am always upfront about the fact that I am a solopreneur who works from a home office. And it’s never cost me a job.

Some mompreneurs don’t mind working nights and weekends, but that is not for me. My son plays competitive hockey, so countless evenings are spent at the rink.

Win or lose, watching the kids is always fun!

Win or lose, watching the kids is always fun!

In theory I could bring my work with me, but in practice that rarely happens. Watching the kids on the ice is too much fun – and socializing with the other parents is my ‘water-cooler’ time.

If I am up against a pressing deadline, I prefer to wake up before dawn to get things done.  If there’s really no time to take on a new assignment, I ask if the deadline is flexible. You would be surprised at how often people really don’t ‘need’ their copy by tomorrow!

If I simply can’t make it work , I am happy to suggest other freelance writers in my professional network – colleagues and friends who will return the favour!

Be honest with your family
If you need an uninterrupted block of time to finish a project ask your better half or other family member to help out with the childcare duties.  Arrange a play date.  Hire a sitter. Sometimes you can’t be everything to everyone. Especially not at the same time.

Make some me-time
You have undoubtedly read this before, but it’s worth repeating:

Make time to do something for yourself – outside of work and being a mother.

Me-time is not selfish. It’s a sanity savor. Despite my limited available work hours, I give myself permission to do an exercise class at least one morning a week – preferably two. Does it always happen? No.  But it happens more often than not.

As for working mom’s guilt? Just forget about it!

How do you achieve the right work / family balance?

To learn more about my work life, visit me at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

Speaking as a writer….

Whether I’m writing freelance articles or crafting copy for a website, I essentially spend my professional life telling other people’s story.  Never my own. And that suits me just fine.

So you’d be forgiven for wondering why I spent one Friday this February at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day – which promises participants that they’ll “come away with a more powerful story and new tools to help you accelerate your success and performance in a multitude of ways…whether your focus is motivational speaking, keynoting, speak-to-sell, informational speaking and training – or changing the world.”

That's the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand,

That’s the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand.

While the event may not seem like an obvious fit for a non-fiction writer, I promised myself to make more time for professional development this year. I also recognize that as a solopreneur I am required to ‘tell and sell’ my own story each time I meet a prospective client – and that I sometimes sell myself short.

So off I went, intrigued to learn more about a speakers’ approach to storytelling and hoping to pick up a few new skills in the public speaking department.

Here’s what I learned.

According to momondays founder Michel Neray (who interestingly comes from an advertising copywriting background), any spoken presentation should contain at least one ‘signature story’ – something personal that will stick with your audience.

moMondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

momondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

He says an effective signature story must have:

Intention – Why are you telling this particular story? How does it link to your primary topic?
Structure – A cohesive beginning, middle and end that will take your audience on a journey and drive home your message.
Authentic Delivery – Do you have stage presence? Are your voice and movements natural and aligned with what you are saying? Can you ‘go with the flow’ and respond to audience reactions?

Intention. Structure. Delivery. Sounds like the ingredients to any well-written copy!

Then Neray asked everyone to complete a ‘Truth Map’ to identify the challenges we help clients solve.

My 'Truth Map' - a work in progress.

My ‘Truth Map’ – a work in progress.

We brainstormed outward – taking problems like “losing clients due to unprofessional or non-existent web presence” to their most far-reaching conclusion (possible bankruptcy, family upheaval, depression)…..wow…I never realised my words could make such a difference!

This was followed by Paula Morand’s presentation on story structure and timeless plots. You can read more about the seven basic plots here.

Regardless of the underlying structure, Morand said storytellers should ask themselves: What is the moral of this story? What issue is being solved? What is in it for my listener – and how can I make my story engaging?

All good points to keep in mind for a writer.

The day ended with a session on Stage Presence – and this is where I squirmed in my seat.

As an interviewer, I’m used to being (more or less) in control of the conversation, asking the questions, and doing the observing.

I’m not used to having other people scrutinize my body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues.  But I took a deep breath, participated in the group exercises, and came away with a new appreciation of how how I say what I say can affect how my message is received.

Something to keep in mind for my next client meeting!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Acknowledge your weaknesses and look for opportunities to improve.  Don’t be afraid to try something different. Change is uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to move forward.

stock-footage-closing-red-curtain-with-title-the-endWhat have you learned so far this year?