Your attitude can define you. Your attitude can be the deciding factor in whether a friend goes out of their way to say hello to you, or whether a customer chooses to spend their money with you. Continue reading
Every now and then I’m guilty of letting myself get so busy I not only don’t see the forest for the trees, I usually wind up walking face-first into one of those trees.
It’s easy enough to do, and for a chunk of the time that it happens, I’m usually happy about it. It goes like this: I realize I am Very Busy and immediately make a list of things that Must Be Done Right Bloody Now Or Else, prioritize and get to them. Of course, as I am furiously working away, emails arrive or someone stops at my desk with something they need help on and then there’s that to think of and this Project We Forgot About that was needed yesterday and that other thing for the meeting tomorrow and….
..and suddenly it’s not even the end of the week, it’s the Monday of the following week and my head is still spinning and I’m going 300 miles an hour in every direction possible.
Confession: I love being busy. As a business owner, busy equals making money. Back when I was an employee, busy meant I was necessary. Busy meant I was doing my job well and was being given more trust and responsibilities.
When I was given my first big break, I took on every challenge and opportunity I could get because I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that I deserved it. I ended up working ridiculous hours, often putting in 12-16+ hour days to try and handle everything. As you can imagine, this isn’t the best idea when your job is to be creative. One day, in the middle of a management meeting we were all brainstorming for ideas. I was running on zero sleep and was making my list of things I needed to catch up on when one of the managers came up with a great idea. The company president looked at me and said “I thought you were supposed to be the creative one? Why is he coming up with the good ideas?”
It was barely a half-serious comment and we all carried on exploring the idea, but it had cut me to the quick. I had wanted to say “Because I was the only one here until after midnight 3 nights this week while you all were sleeping!” – but knew there was nothing to be gained by that. The person who had made me stay that late was me. I realized that working such long hours had become a vicious circle: I wasn’t at full capacity and so I needed to keep going longer to get the work done. I was a race car running with one cylinder down, not taking the time to hit the pits for repairs and instead being slower and slower on every lap.
I shut down at 5 o’clock that night alongside everyone else. Went home and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t work that weekend. I returned to the office on Monday and before I opened my emails or answered the blinking voicemail light waiting for me, I took a moment to breathe. To focus on what I wanted to accomplish. To think forward through my current projects and also think big picture for a moment. I made some notes and then waded into the task lists waiting for me.
Several years later, I still remember that moment clear as day. While I am always grateful to be busy, I do my best to take some time every day for myself. I schedule my workouts in the middle of the day as a time to step away and free my mind. This means I work later in the day, but it’s a conscious choice and one that works for me. It’s important for all of us to remember to be able to take a step back every now and then.
I’d be interested to hear from everyone – how do you deal with being too busy? What is your recharging mechanism, and do you allow yourself time to do it?
It’s only in the last few moments of the video that you realize it’s a commercial for Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle has gone on record stating that they serve only responsibly raised livestock, and this video is a wonderful way of getting their message out. Without naming names, they shame all of the large “factory” fast food companies with heartbreaking images of poor little digitally rendered cows and chickens, stuck in crates and boxes.
To further promote their brand in this understated but deliberate way, they’ve also released a free iOS game called “The Scarecrow”. We’ve downloaded it, but it still being office hours, we haven’t given it a shot just yet. It currently has 3.5 stars in the reviews.
What do you think? Does seeing this video, or playing the game, make you want to visit Chipotle any time soon? Will it make you try them over a fast food regular choice? Think of the sad cow!
How much for a website?
If we had a dollar for every time we were asked that, we’d probably all be retired. We’ve come up with a pretty solid reply to that, these days: “How much does a car cost?”
That always puts the person in a tizzy: Well, that depends, there’s so many different cars – from Porsche to Kia, from Bugatti to the used 1987 Honda Civic rusting at the corner dealership. The same holds true for websites. They range from a single one-pager with your most basic of info to cloud-based reservation or e-commerce solutions.
The question we ask (once we’re finished being wise guys) is “What do you want from your website?” Planning is key. Almost everyone thinks they should have a full e-commerce site with full-screen video and an awesome song playing as soon as the site loads (yes, really – some people still think they should have that) and complete interactivity with a little 3D cartoon character that walks you through where you want to go and… Well. Sure. We can do all that, but is that what you need? Do you know the costs associated with all of this?
Another problem that comes about with a lack of planning is trying to go from simple to more complex. The scale, contents and design of a site are agreed upon, which then leads to considerable time spent coding the site. Everything is almost ready, when suddenly it’s decided to add another “key” feature that wasn’t necessary a few weeks ago. To go back to the car analogy, it’s like building a Toyota Prius and then deciding you needed a v10 engine and the ability to haul plywood. The project is now out of the original scale, and the costs will increase. The design will need to be altered and no small amount of time is going to be needed to change the code of your site.
We try and avoid all of this right from the start. Taking a little extra time with our clients to meet up and discuss, brainstorm or even sketch out a few storyboard ideas of what they’re really trying to achieve makes all the difference in the world. It’s your website – of course you want it to be perfect, and we understand that.
How much for a website? Let’s talk.
I was recently reading an article questioning if conferences were still effective. It went into great detail about the cost of hosting and attending, man hours, conversion rates.. all very important figures to consider in business, but the one factor it didn’t consider was an organization’s willingness to accept change or embrace new ideas.
Some time ago while working for a different company, I attended a conference on Social Media. Prior to the conference, the boss of this company had seemed very excited about it and my desire to attend. His children were on Facebook, he explained, and he knew it was a Big Thing. He reviewed my itinerary a few dozen times prior to the conference, gave me a list of industry people also attending that I must meet, and reminded me to write summary reports of my every action.
I attended the conference, its various workshops and speaking engagements, learned a lot, taught a bit, made many great connections (both during business hours and after), and returned with an energy that was busting at the seams to implement what I’d experienced. I wrote multiple reports on the various social media platforms, success stories, business opportunities, and a suggested action plan.
I made sure that my report was on the boss’s desk bright and early upon my return. I was pumped. Beyond ready to really kick things into gear. A few coworkers asked how the conference went, and I was more than happy to speak about what had happened and my ideas going forward. They too, began getting excited and seeing the opportunities.
A week passed. The boss had not found the time to go over my report, and had only a few minutes to speak about it when I tracked him down to talk. Yes, it was all very exciting and it was great that I’d arranged possible business partnership opportunities with some of those people he had suggested I meet.. but he would need to take some time to read it all when he had a minute. Very busy. Very, very busy. Busy time of year. Everyone needed him. Couldn’t take time away from others to discuss this “internet thing”.
Do you see where this is going? Stop reading ahead.
Another week or so passed. My enthusiasm for implementing the ideas with the company I was with began to wane. I stopped bringing it up whenever I would see the boss, knowing it wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, late one afternoon, he had time to speak with me about it. It was all very interesting, he said, all very new and exciting.. but maybe not for us right now. We could perhaps do a few bare bones things, but our, and specifically my energies would be better spent on other things.
I was gutted. Frustrated. What had been the point of attending this conference in the first place if we weren’t doing anything about it? It took me a while to realize, but it had been about keeping up appearances. If our competition was going to be there, so should we. We weren’t apparently doing anything about it – but people knew we were in the conversation.
This is only one specific example – and maybe it’s not so much about conferences, as it is about businesses themselves. For a conference to be successful to a company attending, the ideas learned from this experience must be embraced throughout the organization. Change, no matter where it comes from or why, must be embraced on every level – and welcomed, if it’s realized to be for the greater good.
Anyone who’s been in business will have stories of company retreats or shareholder meetings where Great Things were discussed and Things Were Going To Change Right Away, only to have it be business as usual come Monday morning. Whether it be a lack of communication or a fear of the unknown, things don’t always move forward. In my example above, the boss of the company had not felt ready to make the changes, while his competition went ahead with the ideas learned from that conference to do some really wonderful things.
Let’s go back to the original question: Are conferences still effective? The answer applies to this question and everything else in life: You get from them what you’re willing to put into them.
Founder, Ambition Branding Inc.
I wrote this wonderful, lengthy blog a little while ago about sales, and how I’m not a salesman. I recounted the various stages of my career and how work has always seemed to find me. I admitted to not having the slightest clue about how to sell, but felt fortunate that I’d always had work. However, during a coffee meeting with one of our crew, I realized what I already knew: We could and should be a lot busier. It really bothered me. To try and fix this, I proudly told the story of how I went to one of the better sales people I know and asked for tips and help; only to have him tell me that I don’t need to sell, I only need to speak about my passions and more work would come. I’m fairly certain that I almost dislocated my shoulder reaching around to pat myself on the back for having such great passion and loving what we do here; neatly concluding that I don’t need to work on sales to grow this business.
I took a deep breath, re-read the blog to myself, and nearly broke my leg trying to kick myself in the behind. What a load of self-righteous malarky.
Yes, I have been incredibly fortunate that almost all of the opportunities I and we have received have been either from people liking our work and tracking us down, or from referrals. It’s very flattering. That being said, it’s also not enough. I had a good laugh as I thought about all of the various marketing campaigns and annual budgets I’ve created for other people’s companies and other people’s dreams. Thought of the thousands of print ads I’ve created for other people, the radio ads, social media campaigns and websites and search engine optimizations… to build other people’s goals. All while my own business grew at a pace completely unsatisfactory for my dreams.
I know – poor me. Poor me who always had people find me and want me to work with them. Poor me who had clients waiting the second we turned on the lights on Ye Olde Ambition Website. The thing is, it’s enough to get by, not to get ahead. While I love my cars with the intensity of a hundred suns, I’m no closer to adding that elusive Ferrari 458 to my fleet than I was three years ago. We don’t have the Ambition logo up in lights on the side of the beautiful building I’ve dreamt about for years. Heck – we don’t even have a sales person, because that’s not in the budget yet.
I took a few moments with my unhappy thoughts and realized, I could either embrace the definition of insanity and keep doing the same thing over and over again, and in 20 years still be wondering when my goals were going to come knocking on my door, or I could give myself (another) hard kick to the nether regions and step outside of my comfort zone. Do I know any more about sales than I did yesterday? No. Do I know a heck of a lot about marketing and promotions? Yes, I do. It’s time for me to apply everything that I’ve learned and done for other people to my own dreams, a thousand times more than I ever have. I have my skills, and I have some amazing people working alongside me. I’m not waiting for opportunity to come knocking – I’m getting behind the wheel and chasing it down as fast as I can.
Maybe I don’t know about sales. What I do know is my goals and dreams, and what we’re great at here. If it’s up to me to get that word out for now, then I’ll step out of my comfort zone and get it done. Ambition. Time to embrace it.
– Jason Toma
Founder, Ambition Branding Inc.
Possibly a few years ago, I was fresh out of University and in the midst of my freelance empire building in the sprawling metropolis of Kamloops. Life was pretty good – I had a number of clients, was living with my girlfriend at the time, and the world was waiting for me. Next stop: The Legendary Vancouver.
Vancouver, to me, had always been the mythical, far away city of Wonderful Things. Growing up in small-town BC, Vancouver was the place where culture, art, fine espresso and beautiful people were to be found at any time of day or night.
As with most things, my freelancing hit a period of slow business, and I began to worry. I applied for a position in Vancouver with a major down manufacturer looking for someone to help with nearly all aspects of their branding, from package design to brochures, trade show materials, website design and more – they were looking for me.
The company called me for an interview, and I brought my portfolio of Jason’s Awesomeness along with me. I met with the president and vice-president in a bright, spacious boardroom and pitched my young heart out on why I was the best thing since the invention of fire. I showed them the logos I’d created, the sites I’d done, I told them about my creative “je ne c’est quoi” that could not be matched. I wanted this job – I needed it. This, this was going to be my stepping stone to Wonderland.
Yet, in the back of my head, a little voice whispered words of caution that I would of course disregard like hour-old coffee.
Suitably awed by my brilliance, the president and VP showed me around the offices, and took me next door to a beautiful new building with floor to ceiling windows and skylights. In here, they said, would be my new office, equipped with a shiny brand new Mac, a huge desk, and a large area for me to be creative in. Other than that pesky little voice, I was pretty much sold.
The president of the company said that he loved my work and what I had to offer. They immediately offered me a trial contract, to see if I was able to match my style to their industry. They gave me three different products, aimed at different markets, and asked me to create new packaging designs for them. I could do this working from home for an hourly wage, and if they liked what I created for them, the full-time gig was mine.
I immediately sped at exactly the legal limit back to Kamloops, bursting with ideas that would revolutionize down bedding forever. New York ad agencies would open offices in Vancouver just to get me on board. I researched their competitors and scoffed at their bland approaches. I created custom illustrations. Held a photo shoot. Created through the midnight hours until finally everything was perfect. I sent the files for review and even as I hit send, I knew the job was mine.
Time passed. I not-so-patiently waited by my phone, until I got the call. They loved it. Of course they did! They wanted me to start in a week, at which time they would finalize all of the particulars of my employment. I wasn’t worried. What I’d been making even on the trial contract period was decent for the time, so of course it could only be better than that, right?
Sadly, that little voice in the back of my head ruined my last week in Kamloops. It kept telling me not to get excited, that something was wrong with this. Ordinarily I would be beyond excited even just to visit Vancouver – to be moving there for a full time position? I should have been doing backflips while juggling flaming chainsaws.. but I wasn’t.
A good friend of mine was kind enough to let me stay with him for a while as I started with my job and found a place to live. With that feeling bothering me as much as it did, I didn’t leave until the night before my new job started, never telling anyone about it. I didn’t want to go to Vancouver. That’s almost like me saying I don’t want to own a Porsche. Unbelievable.
When the day came, I rolled up to my new company about 20 minutes early. The vice president was outside, waiting for me. Before I could even step out of my car he was telling me it was time to go and get started, and explaining that it was completely unacceptable to ever blame Vancouver traffic for being late, and so I should plan accordingly. The warning bells started swinging, not yet hitting the sides.
We went into his office where he explained that any and all creative ideas I had while in the company’s employ would belong to them, and that I could not do any freelance work at all. I politely reminded him that I had mentioned my freelancing in our original meeting, explained how I maintained a list of current clients, and the company had been fine with it. No longer, he said. The bell crashed loudly, and I should have left right then. I was told that personal calls, on personal cell phones, even during breaks, were not permitted. Yes, really. I didn’t ask why or how they could even think that fair; I was already shocked, and mildly alarmed by the bells ringing in my head. Still, I thought – If I need to make a call I’ll just close the door to my office, no one will know! Besides, I’m the Creative Genius – they need me! Surely I can get away with making a phone call on a coffee break. And really – wasn’t it all about the money? I needed it, they were paying it. Let’s go. We started to talk about wages.. and to start, they were going to offer me.. less than what they paid me during the trial contract. Sorry, what? The VP softly explained that since I would now be full time, I would in essence be making more than I had on the part time contract.. but we could review it in six months. I’d love to say that I stood up, threw a burning match on his desk and left, but I really did feel like I was between a rock and a dead place at that moment and needed almost any work I could get. I bit my tongue and acquiesced. I could do this. I had to. I would work at this place and to heck with their rule, I would freelance like a monster on the side. I’d work 20 hour days.. again. I’d make it work. Just let me get to my nice, big office, look out the windows onto the beautiful city, my beautiful city of Vancouver, turn on some music, and create. All would be okay.
Except, there was a change of plans. The beautiful new building wasn’t finished yet, and when it was they were going to try using it for something else for a while and so my office space was unavailable. Instead, they took me to a heavy steel door just off the production factory floor. Opening it up, I saw a closet – no, it was a room, about 4 feet wide and 20 feet long. There were no windows. No skylight. Just the hum and clanging of the factory.. and a tired, sad looking man sitting on the far end of the room. This would be my office, for the next six months, or perhaps longer, while they figured out what they wanted to do with my beautiful office space. Get creative, they said. No phone calls, and.. try not to get online too much. The dialup cuts out our company’s main line. Dialup. WHAT? Oh.. and one more thing? No listening to music while at work.
The heavy steel door slammed shut like a prison cell. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. How could anyone be creative in a closet like this? How could they promise me so much and give me THIS? I spent the day completely out of it. I opened up photoshop on a ten year old Mac and pushed a couple pixels around. I had no vision. Nothing. The day passed. Nobody came to check on my cellmate and I, and when the factory bell chimed the end of the day, we left. I was a mess. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t ask my girlfriend to leave her life to move to Vancouver to be a part of this with me – I knew I’d be a miserable wreck within one month. I couldn’t go back to Kamloops, either – not with my freelancing in the downturn it was in. I couldn’t do anything. I had nowhere to go. The city itself felt angry. The city I’d dreamt of living in almost my entire life didn’t want me there. Not like this.
I didn’t go back to my friend’s house. I parked my car by the beach and stood in the ocean. FInally, I called my dad. My mill-working, meat eating, animal hunting dad, and told him my situation. I fully expected him to tell me to stop being such a cry baby, pick up my bootstraps and go to work for the down company. I almost wanted him to tell me that so I could resign myself to it. Instead, he told me I couldn’t work in a place like that. Told me to try again at building my own empire. Told me to be brave and believe in myself.. and most importantly, that if things really did get too bad and didn’t work out, I’d always have a place to stay with him. At the time, I didn’t know that. Ever since that moment, I’ve always known it.
We ended our conversation and I called the president of the company at home to tell him I quit. He actually sounded surprised when he asked me why. I explained how they hadn’t delivered on any of what they promised, how the pay was unacceptable, and how being locked in a closet wasn’t exactly conducive to creativity. The man actually had the nerve to say he didn’t see why windows were important for an office, and then had no response when I asked why he had a corner office with floor to ceiling windows. He tried for a moment to dissuade me, but I somewhat politely thanked him for the opportunity and told him I could and would do better before hanging up. The instant I did, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. The city behind me no longer felt angry. I knew I’d made the right choice.
That night, I packed up my car and headed back to Kamloops. Life would be hard for a while, but I persevered. I got new clients and some of my old clients started returning for more work. My work started getting sought out from all over the city. Eventually I would land a dream job working in the music industry, creating ads, posters and radio commercials to represent bands and artists I’d grown up listening and daydreaming to in my small BC hometown a lifetime ago. I’d face a few more challenges after that, and I’ll face more still, if I’m lucky – but it all goes back to that one “unopportunity” for me. From day one, my inner voice told me it was wrong, but in my fear and desperation, I was willing to accept it. It was only when I was brave and accepted the risk that I would realize my dreams. It was only when I embraced my Ambition that I would found it.
– Jason Toma
It’s stuck in your head.
“The Girl from Ipanema”, or at least the theme is. Rattling around on your cranium for the rest of the day, or longer. Even if you don’t know that particular song, there are a schwack of songs, themes, or even lyrics that have the ability to stick. Why does this happen? I could rattle off some scientific mumbo-jumbo that would sound cool, and impressive. Fact is. It’s simple. No really…”simple”. For the most part the mind does not like complicated, especially in advertising, especially now. Consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages, both traditional and online. Creatives must focus even more on who the consumer is, and convince them to act with witty, clever creative, that stands out from the rest of the “spam-vertising”.
(ok, I just spilled soya sauce on my napkin, the one I am using to write this. See the picture below. I am kicking it old school. No tablet or laptop, not even a pad of paper. I am scrawling my thoughts down, with a borrowed pen, on a napkin in a sushi restaurant. Hey, sometimes I can’t control the creative, when this baby is ready to come out, stand back!)
That is why it is important for Creatives to focus on the audience, and of course that starts with the client. Pulling out pertinent info, drilling down to the specific details about the audience. It can almost be a therapeutic exercise for the client to answer the hard questions about his brand, and his true audience.
Simple works. And it works even better when you have all the elements needed to execute great creative. Follow the K-I-S-S Philosophy (keep it simple stupid)
One year and three days ago, I lost my last job.
I wasn’t fired – I was told that everyone at the company loved my work; nobody had a bad thing to say about me – but they couldn’t afford to keep me. I remember the day well – a cold, dreary November Wednesday. A casual “Can we talk for a minute”? leading to “We have to let you go”. Cleaning out my desk and walking out, shocked. Angry. Worried and sad.
I drove home and sat on my couch for the next two days. Half the time I don’t even think my TV was on. I stared at the blank screen and worried. What had I done wrong? What would I do next? What could I do? How would I pay rent? I’d gone from completely reinventing the look for a multimillion dollar company, establishing their social media presence and bringing in tens of thousands of dollars in partnership deals to being told they didn’t need me anymore. I’d never been in this situation before. For days, I didn’t tell anyone. After I finally left my couch, I began scouring job listings, looking for anything, anywhere. I needed money, I needed a job, now. I looked and applied for dozens of positions, but didn’t feel excited about any of them, other than the money they might bring in. I thought of reaching out for a few more freelance projects as I’d been able to do for years, but could I really live off of that? I’d done it for a few years when I was just starting out, but could I do that now? I doubted it, I doubted myself, and applied for some more jobs.
It took a conversation with my dad to finally kick me into gear. I told him what had happened, and how low I was feeling. I half-heartedly mentioned how I was considering finally starting my own business, as I’d wanted to do for over ten long years. How it had always been a goal, but I’d never focused or worked on it as I was always busy working for someone else. I don’t know what I was expecting, but my dad did what every great dad should do, and he told me to chase my dream. To go for it. Stand up, stand proud and go after what I want. Would it be hard? Of course. Would I regret it if I didn’t? Absolutely. My dad told me to chase my dream and know that my family was behind me, supporting me however they could. It was time to make the best of my situation, to seize the time I was given and put my brand in the stone.
I stopped looking for job listings that day and started building my company instead. I went back to school, taking a crash course on starting and running a business. Taxes, legal process, marketing and more – I drank it up. There is so much I didn’t know about what owning my own company was about – it was overwhelming at times. As time progressed, I began getting a few new clients. I told my close friends about what I was doing, and was grateful for their support and excitement.
I worked hard. I struggled. I had sleepless nights and weeks wondering where my next pay cheque was coming from. I sent out emails and had meetings and got silence in return. I worked on my own product more. I defined my company and I built what I want its brand to represent. I reached out to some of the most talented people I know and got their support in building the company even further. With their help, the company website was launched. Then social media platforms, business cards and even company t-shirts. Through it all, fear was always sitting on my shoulder, waiting for me. What if I can’t do this? What if people and businesses don’t want what I have to offer? What if… what if?
What if I didn’t try? What if I didn’t do this now – would I regret it 20 years from now? Would I regret it tomorrow? Yes.
There will always be a What If waiting for us all. I chose to ignore the fear, ignore the doubts, and ask What If this works out, and my dream does come true?
One year and three days later, I’m still working harder than ever, and still struggling. I haven’t made my first million yet – far from it – but I’m working toward it. This is my dream, and if I don’t work for it, I know I’ll only be working for someone else.
It took a long time and it took some bad times, but my dream is building. One year and three days ago, it all officially started. I hope you’ll all join me on this journey.
Founder, Ambition Branding Inc.
I love to cook.
It’s another way to feed my creative side. (pun fully intended)
I have made a point of sharing my passion for cooking with my children, Gina and Ian. We are all obsessed with the Food Channel, and go into a blue funk if we miss an episode of America’s Test Kitchen.
When I create an especially tasty dish, perfected every step, and have the timing down to a science, I usually name it. Once again my creative writing seeps into my everyday life.
The one breakfast dish I love to make is called “The Bird’s Nest”. The procedure is a closely guarded secret that, even my kids don’t know, although they have seen me make it so often I am sure they have the steps down.
“The Bird’s Nest” contains shredded hash browns, ham, bacon, green onions (not scallions, I am not that pompous) and two poached eggs. When it is complete, it resembles a bird’s nest.
One morning, I had just finished creating “The Bird’s Nest” and was just about to dig in when my son said, “Is that the Bird’s Nest?”
“Yes it is.” I responded.
“Why do you call it The Bird’s Nest”?”, my 6 year old man cub asked.
“Isn’t it obvious” I replied. “The shredded hash browns look like twigs from a nest and the two eggs are from a bird.”
“What about the ham and bacon, and green onions?” he said. “You don’t find those in a bird’s nest.”
He had me there. I was stuck for an answer, so I resorted to my extensive parent’s manual and said, “It doesn’t matter, eat your oatmeal.” Damn I hate it when my 6 year old is right.
Then he had the stones to continue, “If it was me, I would call it The Barn. The hash browns look like hay, the bacon and ham are from a pig that lives around a barn, and the eggs are found in a barn.”
Wow, he really thought this out. Then, my old experienced brain showed itself.
“What about the green onions?” I had him…superior intellect and knowledge prevails!
“Oh”, he said. “That is the grass you find around the barn.”
We’re making breakfast tomorrow morning together. I am going to show my son exactly how to make, “The Barn”.