Blog Archives

Feeling Reflective

Hi there.

January has come to an end. That means that we are already one month into the New Year. And yet, for me, I feel like the New Year is just starting. A few weeks ago New Years resolutions dominated the story of the day. But my head wasn’t in it.

I’ve never been good with resolutions. They always seemed to be like signing up for something that might not be attainable. So many times I have put resolutions out there and felt like a failure because I didn’t achieve them. Maybe they weren’t realistic enough. Or I was aiming too high. Do you ever feel that way?

I have been thinking about goals and resolutions a lot in terms of my business and where it is going.

I came across a great post by Seth Godin that he wrote at the end of last year. He talks about remembering where you stood a year ago. He suggests that “New Year’s resolutions rarely work, because good intentions don’t often survive a collision with reality. But an inventory is a helpful tool, a way to keep track of what you’re building. Drip by drip.”.

So where does that leave me? Well, if I look back to a year ago I have moved forward by leaps and bounds. I’ve worked on kitchen renovations, apartment lobby renovations and teamed up to draft out plans for an elevator installation. I’ve designed custom furniture, decorated basements and turned a former restaurant into usable office space. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. Drip by drip … it’s moving forward. I’ve worked harder this past month than I ever have. Which leaves me excited and energized for the rest of the year.

So, am I setting goals for this year? I probably should. But I think, for the next few months at least, I’ll take the reflective approach. Instinctively I know I’m moving in the right direction.

What about you? Do you set goals and resolutions? Or, do you reflect back on where you’ve been?

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Client Office Space Complete with a Piece of History

One of my clients moved into a brand new office building at the end of last year. It is a fantastic space – on the ground floor with lots of light complete with ample parking making it very accessible for an older client base.

Can you guess what type of business he is in?

He wanted a fairly traditional space. A space that reflected the seriousness of his business but one that wasn’t intimidating to clients. We went for a neutral colour on the walls with a warm toned carpet to compliment the dark stained doors. The reception area floor was tiled in a grey slate-looking porcelain and has a massive feature wall anchored by the company signage.

History played an important role in the finishing details. A gallery wall was created using framed images from old postcards and photographs that had been collected by his clients. Imagine pictures of the Main Street of Newmarket from 1891 or a High School in Aurora from 1908. I was so lucky to share a special piece of history as we selected the pictures to be installed around the office.

They have installed a painted white board wall in their kitchen area and use it to write inspirational quotes, things to be thankful for and office announcements. I quite like the sentiment I saw this week:

The grand opening of his office is this Friday and the weather looks just perfect. I will be there with my entire family!

If you need help decorating your office space give me a call!

Reflections on Blog Podium

This past Saturday, I attended the 2nd Blog Podium event, “The Business of Blogging” on Saturday. Needless to say it was a fantastic event – well organized and a stunning location at the Arcadian Loft (although I had flashbacks of high school formals as I stepped off the elevator!).

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I walked away from the January Blog Podium event hyper and excited and this time I would describe my mood as reflective. Not in a bad way but more that it’s given me pause to think about the why and how behind my blog. I like it when events make me think like this … the end results when I am sifting through ideas and giving pause are generally very positive.

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Nicole Balch from Making It Lovely was the keynote speaker and walked us through how she got to a place where her blog is now her business. I learned about different types of ads, when to start advertising, how to determine your rates and all about ad networks and sponsored posts. I took copious notes and really enjoyed her humour throughout. It was very interesting to hear from a US based blogger. Check out this great recap from The A & B Stories for the details of everything Nicole covered.

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The panel discussion included Lindsay from Little House Blog, Christine from Bijou and Boheme, Cheryl from Gluckstein Home and Laura from Tribal DDB provided a uniquely Canadian perspective from bloggers, a brand and a media agency. Lindsay and Christine were so honest and candid about what they have done I truly appreciated the insight into their experiences and what they have learned. One of the biggest takeaways I had from this group is that design blogs are a relatively new community in Canada and there is so much we can all learn from each other. Everyone is figuring things out as they go – bloggers and brands alike! Here is a fantastic recap from My Daily Randomness.

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Afterwards there was a opportunity to mix with the brands attending the event and socialize with other bloggers. I had an amazing time catching up with friends old and new and meeting some fantastic brands in the design industry.

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I’m a goal oriented type of person and always like to set objectives before I attend an event and then work through what my next steps will be afterwards. Given that my blog is a way for me to explore different design ideas I will definitely continue to do that with aspirational and dreamy imagery. I will also be incorporating more posts that might help you with projects around your own home.

I would like to see my readership increase as I believe more people would like to hear and see what I am sharing. If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to subscribe to my blog (just under the archives section on the right) and share it with others too.

How this ties in with working with brands I need to think it through more but one thing is for sure that anything I bring to you is something I deem to be a value add.

Many thanks to Jen and Lindsay for putting together such a fantastic event. Even though I’m still working through how I want to action everything I learned on Saturday I am definitely motivated to continue doing what I’m doing and do it better, too!

BlogPodium: Why I’m Going

BlogPodium is this Saturday. I attended the inaugural event in January and it by far exceeded my expectations. For those of you who aren’t “in the know”, BlogPodium is a conference series dedicated to bringing design bloggers together. The only forum of it’s kind in Canada, BlogPodium is the brainchild of Jen from Rambling Renovators and Lindsay from Little House Blog. I am very lucky to living in the Toronto area and be able to attend an event like this.

Saturday’s topic is “The Business of Blogging” – specifically what opportunities are there to monetize your blog while staying authentic and true to why you write. Nicole Balch from “Making it Lovely” is the keynote speaker followed by a panel discussion and cocktail reception.

Why, you might ask, am I interested in attending an event where the focus is on “The Business of Blogging”?

#1 Blogging is Tied to the Future Growth of my Business

Yep, I said it out loud … my business. I have already generated referrals from my blog for my interior decorating business, Spruce Street Projects, even though I have not actively promoted or rarely mentioned that I have a job outside of blogging – right now. With this in mind, I want to know what other bloggers are doing, how they are doing it and what opportunities are there to collaborate and learn from like-minded people in the design community. Networking in this fashion only serves to generate better content to you, the reader, and by extension my clients.

#2 Meet the Brands that are Sponsors of BlogPodium

Jen and Lindsay have put together a fantastic line-up of brands that are keen to work with bloggers. I’m talking top tier brands in the design industry. These are companies that I’d like to work with both as an interior decorator and blogger. The panel discussion promises to provide insights on how to work with brands as a blogger followed by face to face conversations.

#3 Motivation & Inspiration

Every blogger event I have been to I have walked away inspired, connected and motivated to keep blogging and striving to the next level. Given some of the contests and conversations leading up to BlogPodium this weekend I have a feeling this might be the best event yet.

So there you have it. Three reasons why I’m going to BlogPodium. I will report back next week with a post-event wrap up.

Do you attend any conferences in your area of specialty that leave you energized and motivated?

Nobody said it would be easy

When I made the decision to leave the corporate world and made the foray into owning my own business I knew it wouldn’t be easy and that it probably wouldn’t always be fun.

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster ride and I came across this quote yesterday on Thoughtful Content that made me smile:

It reminded me of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Watson, who used to tell us to “buck up” if we weren’t happy with something … in other words – get over it and move on!

I must have been subconsciously looking for inspirational quotes yesterday because after I was reminded to “Keep My Chin Up” I came across this quote from Ira Glass (a US radio personality) that was posted on the Decorista’s blog:

It reminded me to be patient and keep plugging away even when it gets super-hard. Doing something you are passionate about and working for yourself isn’t always easy but it is so worth it in the end.

How’s that for Friday musings?

It’s a school holiday today for my kids so we are going bowling … maybe I will mentally put faces on some of the bowling pins before I throw the ball 🙂

images via here and here

summer holidays … 9 weeks of fun (and some work)

The kids have been out of school for almost two weeks now. They are happy to have the time off and the break so far has been good for all (yes, if you know my kids, I will likely eat those words by mid-August!).

However, the school break for holidays brings a whole new meaning to figuring out how to get work done while keeping things running on the home front.

It was easy when the kids were in daycare. The school calendar meant nothing – the only time daycare closed was on stat holidays.

Now that my older two kids are in school full-time dealing with school holidays (especially 9 weeks in the summer!) has become a bit more of a juggling act. And by juggling, some days, I mean throw all the balls up in the air and hope I catch some.

I thrive on structure. I love knowing when I have time set aside to do what I need to do. The school year is great for this because I can map out work time, school (for me) time, volunteer time, home stuff time etc. There is never enough time to get everything I want done but I generally subscribe to the theory that the important things always happen … somehow.

This Steven Covey matrix is a helpful way to prioritize.

Summer is a bit more of a scheduling challenge. July & August. 9 weeks. I need to figure out how to keep the kids occupied, get my own work done AND enjoy our all-too short summer.

Camps are expensive to put the kids in all summer. Grandparents are an option for some help. But what it really boils down to is a colourful cocktail with a little bit of this and a little bit of that (is it inappropriate to use a cocktail analogy when referring to your children?).

So, here’s what I’ve got figured out for this summer in an attempt to keep my own sanity and get it all done!

Week 1 we took a family holiday and did lots of this …

That’s swimming, 6 year old style, in case you weren’t sure what you were looking at.

The kids are signed up for a few camps, some time with their Grandparents and family time at the cottage.

Then I’ve got a laundry list of field trips like trips to the zoo, berry picking, the beach, the Toronto Islands and Niagara Falls.

All this means that while I’ve managed to eek out some time during regular business hours to work … I’ve shifted a portion of my workday to the evenings after the kids go to bed. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

All great plans, right?! Of course, my original plan to dial back my project work during the summer months might have been made when I was dreaming or something. Best laid plans …

I know it will all get done (mostly, somehow) … the key to making it all work will be to clearly set client expectations, be realistic about what I can and cannot do and make time for fun.

Will see how it all works out and let you know.

If you are a working parent, how do you manage the school break for summer holidays?

Images via here, here, here, moi & moi

I think I can, I think I can …

im·pos·tor (noun): one that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception

Can I do it? Do I know what I am doing? Can they see that I’m nervous? What if they find out that maybe I don’t know everything I should know!

Ever feel like that?

Being a new business owner I’ve experienced that feeling more than once. It’s a feeling of overwhelm, a feeling that maybe I don’t really know what I am doing.

I had an experience several months ago where I had pitched some business and when they called and actually hired me (gasp!) all of a sudden I wasn’t so sure. I was telling a good friend of mine how I was feeling and she barked at me (‘cause she talks in “bark” sometimes): “Hepburn, you know your sh**, you’ve done this before … you’re just gonna have to fake it ‘til you make it.”

For me, it was so powerful having someone else say that I could do it because at that moment I knew exactly what I needed to do and went out and rocked it.

Ever heard of “Impostor Syndrome”? Valerie Young, a public speaker with a doctorate in education, is a specialist in helping individuals overcome their feelings of professional inadequacy, has defined Impostor Syndrome as follows:

Despite evidence of your accomplishments, you continually discount your success, thinking instead that you must be fooling everyone and thus in constant danger of being unmasked

She has put together a quiz that looks at how you handle mistakes, or your approach to challenges and your perception of those around you (clients, colleagues, competitors). At a certain point, a lack of confidence in yourself will hold you back and Young coaches people of how to manage those feelings.

In exploring the idea of “Impostor Syndrome” I decided to talk to other business owners and see if they had ever experienced the feelings of doubt that I periodically did (or if I was just really a complete headcase – shh don’t tell my clients!).

I started with my dear husband, Brad. He’s a Chartered Accountant and partner in a local accounting firm, and far more reasonable than me at times. He said that one of the things that he has learned over the years is that he can’t possibly know everything off the top of his head – particularly as it relates to the ins and outs of tax etc. He’s learned to be upfront with clients in these cases and get back to them with the answer.

My friend Jane, who owns her own consulting company, The Reeves Group, pointed out that the whole idea of “Impostor Syndrome” or “Faking it ‘Til you Make it” is really just the stories you tell yourself in your head – it’s all made up. She also pointed out that the minute you don’t feel nervous about a new client meeting or a project you probably aren’t caring enough about your work.

So … with all this in mind, how do I overcome perceived feelings of inadequacy and boost my own confidence?

Prepare, prepare, prepare

This includes knowing the client, knowing the scope of work and making sure I have a buttoned up list of exploratory questions if I am meeting someone for the first time

Follow up and follow through

Always immediately follow up after a meeting and always follow through on what you said you’d do – setting client expectations gives me confidence to do my job because I know that we are all on the same page and are working towards the same goal

Dress the part

Pull the outfit together ahead of time, walk with confidence, hold that head high and for gosh darn sakes clean your shoes and ladies, apply the lipstick

So, now that you all know I am not always the ballsy confident woman you might have thought I was … how do you boost your confidence when you know your stuff but just need a little help convincing yourself?

All images via here

Networking Used to Make Me Nervous

One of the early activities that I mastered in starting my own business was the art of networking. Seems easy and intuitive, right?

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, at about the time I went back to school to study Interior Decorating I started to do ad hoc project work.

The work I was doing was right up my alley. A mix of design, managing trades and logistics. I love making order out of chaos and this project was no exception. As the project wrapped up I started thinking about what my next move was. I had learned a ton, had a solid lessons learned list and was keen to keep going.

My instincts were telling me that there was a real need for small and medium sized business owners to have someone help them with their space needs leaving them to focus on running their company. The question was … how do I take my idea, figure out if it is viable, then turn it into reality?

I had a bunch of questions ranging from is the niche I am looking at too narrow? How much should I charge and how (hourly/fee)? How do I set up a business name, website, banking, tax info? How can I learn more about the industry?

I needed to ground my business idea by talking to people already in the interior design/decorating, construction, project management fields and other small business owners. That meant “networking”. Ick. Really? It sounded so pushy, so gauche. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk with the best of them but for whatever reason the idea of reaching out to people I didn’t know and ask for information gave me hives.

To get a better handle on this networking thing, I reached out to my fabulous neighbour Jill Donahue who, through her own consulting company, Excellerate, teaches people how to (ethically) influence. She is the networking queen and I sat down with her to pick her brain a little about this whole networking thing. She had three key suggestions:

1. Set up Informational Interviews

I wasn’t looking for a job, merely information but I was a little stuck on my approach with people I didn’t know. Jill suggested some helpful language to frame what I was looking for: “I’m trying to … “, “I have this idea and wanted to bounce some ideas off you … “or ” Tell me about your experience … “.

2. Ask for an Introduction

At the conclusion of your informational interview ask if you can be introduced to other people that might help you. Think of it as you complete one interview and walk away with information and three new people to talk to.

3. Leverage Linkedin for Networking

Jill suggested to adopt and leverage Linkedin as a way to network with like-minded professionals. Admittedly, I’ve been more successful with my Twitter networking but since attending a seminar on Linkedin have made progress on my profile.

Armed with the gameplan I developed with Jill, I set out to talk to people and ground my business idea. I found that once I started my information interview process it got easier and I was pleasantly surprised by how willing people were to talk to me. I’ve since expanded my business to include residential interior decorating and have applied the same approach to learn more in that space.

Now, networking isn’t such a big thing but rather just a conversation and act of information sharing. I’ve found by asking people about themselves and their business it often leads to asking me what I do – and a few referrals have come my way because of it!

Did networking ever make you nervous? What is your approach?

Making Linkedin Work For Your Business

Social media tools are a fantastic way to network and market your business. I am, admittedly, still figuring out what the best way is to leverage the online world and turn it into real, live connections. Facebook and Twitter are another blog post entirely – today I am going to explore things I’ve learned about Linkedin.

A few months ago I attended a seminar hosted by the Professional Independent Communicators (PIC) – part of IABC-Toronto on “Getting the Most Out of Linkedin”. The keynote speaker was Jaime Almond, a Toronto-based social media strategist. Her presentation was packed with strategies and useful tools to implement a successful Linkedin marketing and networking strategy. She taught us how to leverage Linkedin as more than an online resume. Linkedin, she said, is a tool that leads our target market right to us.

So, how do you get your target market to come to you? Jaime broke it down into three key step: build Interest, build Trust & build Credibility.

Build Interest:

Your profile is the key component to building interest particularly in the keywords that you use. Jaime highlighted three key areas:

  • Your Headline – did you know that you can use up to 160 characters in your Linkedin headline? You know, the space next to your photo that defaults to your job title. Jaime suggests that you use this space to highlight, in addition to your title, to your target audience, what is their main problem and what you deliver. This is a tall order for 160 characters but very effective.
  • Your Photo: Forget cropped bar shots or stunned computer pics – spend some money and have a professional headshot photo taken.
  • Your Recommendations: Increasing the number of times you are recommended increases the chances you will appear in Linkedin searches? Jaime has developed a “Recommendation Strategy” where she has a friend interview her clients and then write recommendations for them to approve and post to Linkedin. This produces recommendations that are specific and results focused. A win for all as you get an effective recommendation & it saves your client time. Jaime’s blog has a list of suggested questions.

Build Trust:

Think about Linkedin as you would a networking event. Personalize every interaction. Delete the default invitation that says “I’d like to add you to my professional network …” and write a personal note. Ask new connections about themselves – don’t dive into a sales pitch about what you do. Invariably a new connection will finish their overview about themselves with something like “What is it that you do?”. This is a perfect opening for you to talk about yourself and your business.

Build Credibility:

You’ve connected with someone, you are building a two-way dialogue so how do you establish your credibility and turn that prospect into an actual client. Jaime had two suggestions to achieve this: A Video and A Free Gift. Sounds cheesy right? That’s what I thought. Until I listened further.

She introduced us to the idea of a video call to action using Slideshare. This appears just above your Summary area in Linkedin. A video gives you the opportunity to personally introduce yourself, give a brief overview of what you do, invite people to connect and share a free gift with them.

So what’s with the free gift? Admittedly I heard the words free gift and thought branded pen, notepad or ballcap. No so. Jaime suggested offering something you aren’t offering anywhere else to get people onto your prospect list and give them something relevant and useful. Examples include a white paper, a resource list, a webinar or a how-to tip sheet.

Building Interest, Trust and Credibility are cornerstones of any successful marketing strategy. Jaime taught us how to utilize Linkedin as an effective networking and marketing tool – going beyond an online resume and making it work for our businesses.

I left the seminar with three action items for my Linkedin profile: build a better headline, get recommendations and brainstorm a free gift. If you get a chance to hear Jaime speak go for it. You’ll walk away with learnings you can immediately put into action.

How are you going to make Linkedin work for your business?