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? 

 

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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.

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. 

The Musicians of Orchestra London and the sound of victory

One of the final articles I worked on in 2014 was a story about the imminent demise of Orchestra London Canada.  Published in The London Yodeller in mid-December, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can still read it here.

I capped off 2014 co-writing a story about Orchestra London Canada.

I capped off 2014 co-writing a story about Orchestra London Canada.

This was a unique assignment in many ways.

If you are one of the few people who pays attention to by-lines, you’ll notice that the story was co-authored by myself and friend and colleague Richard Young. In a decade of writing, this was my first collaboration. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, involving animated conversation, plenty of background research, and many interviews. In the end, we had too much material for our word-count, so Richard did the writing and I got out my ‘red pencil’ to cut things down to size.

(Writing Tip: Always stick to your assigned word-count. It’s better to do your own word cull than rely on an editor who may leave your beautifully-crafted copy in shreds.)

This story was also close to my heart. As a former oboist, I completed my journalism internship with Orchestra London’s marketing department, and was hired by the organization upon graduation from J-school in 2004.

I worked as part of the Orchestra London marketing team for several years.

I worked as part of the Orchestra London marketing team for several years.

I continued to write press releases and other marketing and development copy for the orchestra on a freelance basis until August 2009, when I decided it was time to move on from what had become a toxic work environment.

(Work/Life Tip: When a client causes sleepless nights on a regular basis, it’s time to fire them.)

But I’ve kept in touch with several former colleagues, including many of the musicians.

So I’m sad to see this orchestra on the verge of bankruptcy, and angry at the board for allowing the financial situation to get so out of hand. You can read more about the mess here and here.

That brings us to last night, and a concert given by the Musicians of Orchestra London as a thank-you to their audience and as a plea to the community to help them find a way to keep the music alive.

You can read a review by Brian Hay here.

The evening was a sell-out, and a veritable love-in for classical music in London.

It was a sold-out event. Photo credit: Bryan Nelson.

It was a sold-out event. Photo credit: Bryan Nelson.

Luckily our newly-elected Mayor and a few City Councillors were there to see and hear it. (Hopefully they also heard the clanking church pipes and realized that at some point London does need a purpose-built performance venue if it wants to be taken seriously as a ‘world class’ city.)

But after last night’s good vibes dissipate, the orchestra’s musicians are still left wondering: How am I going to pay my bills? Some have already moved on to new ventures, and many others must seriously be considering their future options.

The board has gone silent, and seems to be hoping that someone will magically appear to pay their debts – the most pressing ones owed to Revenue Canada.

Bankruptcy seems inevitable, and many are calling for a financial audit.

Going broke would allow the orchestra to walk away from almost $1 million in accumulated debt, and an untenable union contract with IATSE.

It would also disqualify the orchestra from receiving Federal or Provincial arts funding for up to seven years.

The City of London has already said it won’t step in with emergency funding – probably the right decision given the murky circumstances surrounding this financial crisis.

But it could continue to provide a new ensemble with the annual $500,000 grant previously given to Orchestra London Canada. Then, perhaps other community agencies like the London Community Foundation could kick in some financial support, along with local businesses who understand that culture is an important piece of London’s economic puzzle.

Culture is an important part of the economic puzzle.

Culture is an important part of the economic puzzle.

A true partnership could be built between a future orchestra and Western University’s Faculty of Music, ensuring that players are also employed to teach the next generation. (Orchestra London’s top salary was about $26,000 – so members have always had to find additional revenue sources)

A new orchestra would have to be lean and mean. It would need the flexibility to create concerts that make the orchestra an integral part of the community, and that make financial sense.

But as last night’s concert proved, the Musicians of Orchestra London can do a lot more than play. They organized a sold-out event on a shoestring budget. They understand their craft, and they know how to reach their audience.

Conductor Uri Mayer said he chose to close the evening with Beethoven’s 5th because the Roman numeral V was a ‘v’ for victory – the victory of music.

Conductor Uri Mayer said Beethoven's 5th Symphony represented the 'victory of music.'

Conductor Uri Mayer said Beethoven’s 5th Symphony represented the ‘victory of music.’

Last night, the Musicians of Orchestra London won the battle for the hearts of their core audience. Let’s hope London has the imagination to give them the financial and moral support needed to win the war.

Wanted: Canada’s London Culture Blogger

All eyes will be on London, Ontario for the World Figure Skating Championships this March, and Canada’s London is looking for bloggers to share our city with the world. Four themes are up for grabs: alive with innovation, alive with culture, alive with flavour, and alive with movement.

As the editor of London’s The Beat – Arts in London magazine, and a long-time London gal, I’ve got my share of opinions on the local cultural scene.

Covent Garden Market

Canada’s London has its own Covent Garden Market.

First, let’s state the obvious – Canada’s London doesn’t have anything approaching the international stature of Royal Albert Hall, the Tate Modern, or Drury Lane, and you’ll only find opera at our Covent Garden Market during Festa Italiana.

We’re best known for our good schools, good hospitals, good parks, and short commutes. But Londoners willing to look beyond their comfortable suburban existence will tell you that this is also a town teeming with creativity, almost in spite of its official self.

Here’s the truth as I see it: London’s culture is hiding in plain sight, too often overlooked by visitors and under-appreciated by locals.

Stained Glass

London’s culture is often overlooked.

Our ‘creative class’ is scattered throughout the city’s neighbourhoods, its members more preoccupied with the work of art than with the art of self-promotion.

Shining some light on our local talent is one of the main reasons I jumped at the opportunity to become part of The Beat back in 2009. And we’re in no danger of running out of stories to tell!

Good Hands

“Good Hands” commemorates The Tolpuddle Martyrs – English labour activists who settled in London.

Whoever is chosen as London’s official culture blogger will run into the inevitable challenge of presenting a balanced vision of what makes the London art scene tick. With only 18 posts, some difficult decisions will have to be made.

My advice would be to focus on the people – past and present – behind the exciting and innovative visual art, theatre, music, dance and words percolating just below London’s respectable veneer.

Rhino

What’s the story behind Museum London’s Rhino?

What people, places or projects would be on your must-cover cultural list?

www.spilledink.ca