News of the Screws,  Screws of the World, you can call Rupert Murdoch’s former weekly tabloid newspaper whatever you like. News of the World was the biggest selling English language newspaper in the world up until it printed its final paper last week, amid a high profile phone hacking and corruption scandal. While the world seems shocked at the depths of the allegations, I for one am not surprised.

The 168 year old News of the World was bought by Mr. Murdoch and News International in 1969. At the time it was a regular weekly newspaper that covered actual news. Fifteen years later in 1984 it was altered into a tabloid newspaper to cover all the slimy stories on celebrities and the royal family. Knowing how dirty and sleazy the tabloids can be, should we be at all surprised at a scandal involving NotW and possibly Murdoch and News Corp (News International’s parent company)?  In my opinion, those that report on sleazy goings-on might have a tendency to practice a little sleaze themselves.

The scandal was initially thought to be restricted to celebrities, politicians and members of the  British Royal Family. Further revelations however exposed that victims of the phone hacking also included murdered schoolgirl  Milly Dowler, whose voicemail messages were hacked and deleted, relatives of deceased British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and victims of the  7/7 London bombings.

News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch

With multitudes of arrests and resignations in the U.K. following the closure of the tabloid, word of the News International phone  hacking scandal has since hit the ears of North Americans (and not through the mouths of Fox News).  There is no evidence as of yet that any of Murdoch’s American newspaper outlets, including the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, have tried to employ the same methods as the disgraced News of the World.

The FBI on the other hand has launched an investigation into News Corp. after a report that employees or associates of the News  Corporation may have tried to hack into the conversations and  voice-mail  of 9/11 victims. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, while meeting with his counterparts from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, has said that investigations are underway into Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

Rupert Murdoch has made billions after taking over his father’s Australian newspaper business in the 1950’s, and has done so principally by focusing on what people want to read and watch, rather than what people ought to read and watch. In other words, sex and celebrities equals more dollars than truth and important stories. I’d like to say he’s wrong in what he does, but from a business perspective he got it right and made a fortune doing so. It’s the fault of the masses for eating up his “infotainment” like so much fast food garbage.

Regardless of Murdoch’s political leanings he is first and foremost a businessman, he is there to make himself and his shareholders wealthy. Whether or not he does so by “any means necessary” remains to be seen. Most CEOs and business owners don’t tend to get involved directly in the day to day operations of their various business ventures, however Rupert Murdoch seems to be a little different in that respect as he seems to dictate which direction to spin the news. I’m not sure I can prejudge whether Rupert is directly involved in the phone hacking scandal, but I know it’ll take more than a newspaper closing to bring down his empire.

“You can’t build a strong corporation with a lot of committees and a board that has to be consulted every turn. You have to be able to make decisions on your own” – Rupert Murdoch

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This week, looks at three of the hottest tech startups in Montreal. The local tech community has been growing very quickly recently and is something Montrealers should pay more attention to. Our city is a fertile place for young, savvy entrepreneurs (like you didn’t know that). This week we will look at Wajam (read our feature on Wajam), Artfox and MConcierge.

Wajam Great Minds Think Alike

Wajam is a social search tool that allows users to search their social graph for pertinent and relevant information. Wajam indexes user’s Twitter, Facebook and Delicious accounts to aggregate search results from the people you trust.

The Latest Update from Wajam

Wajam’s latest update added two features to enhance the service. The first addition is the toolbar that is added to the website link you clicked. The toolbar shows your friends that have clicked/shared that link before and if they left any comments regarding the website you are visiting. You also have the opportunity of sharing that link with your social profile as well.

Another great feature that was added to Wajam is a full-fledged search engine of aggregated social content. This is unique because it completely removes established search engines result pages from the selection process. This means that Wajam is no longer enhancing Google, Bing and Yahoo but competing with them. Although this may seem like a daunting task, the big three have yet to execute social search well.

The Future of Wajam

Wajam has taken the first step in the right direction by adding more substance to its overall product offering despite there being a lot left to do. The ability of aggregating content is one thing, but serving up relevant data based on specific keywords that are being used by users is another thing. For example, if a users searcher the term “diamond necklace” chances are they are looking to purchase a diamond necklace. More specifically, if they search for that term in Wajam, chances are they are searching for a diamond necklace their friends have worn and would recommend to them. This is an important factor when developing a search engine. Work in the Arts and Entertainment

Artfox is an online platform for professional artists to expand their opportunities in the industry.

Its Value Proposition

The Artfox platform provides tools to help people find jobs, collaborators, manage job applications, get recommendations, showcase work experience and create a detailed account. In a nutshell, Artfox looks to be the LinkedIn for the arts.

Artfox is still at its early stages but has a portfolio of companies using their platform located primarily in Montreal while its user base is from around the world. These companies include the Montreal Jazz Festival, Cavalia, Sid Lee and EA.

Why It Will be Successful

It is still very early to tell if Artfox will be a success or not, but they surely are hitting on a niche that can desperately use the help. It is very difficult for artists to find work and promote themselves so providing them with a platform makes perfect sense. Although LinkedIn is ‘the’ professional social network, they’ve had issues with serving industries that require an emphasis on visual works or portfolios.

MConcierge Client Loyalty Beyond the Client Desk

MConcierge is a hotel concierge on your mobile device for select hotels located around the world. It has recently been funded by Real Ventures, a Montreal Venture Capital fund and is looking to make a splash in the hospitality industry.

What it Offers Customers

MConcierge offers users a quick and easy way to unlock a hotel’s amenities. The user has the ability to order room service, wake-up calls, transportation and any other hotel service directly. The application also provides links to local directories so users can access information about local restaurants right from their mobile device.

A lot will be riding on how many hotels MConcierge will be able to partner with. The more hotels that are on board, the more chances they have of users adopting the application.

What it Offers Hotels

MConcierge offers a new revenue-generating application for hotels because it provides visitors with a tool that easily bridges the gap between ordering services and receiving services. In addition to hotel staff, MConcierge offers clients an additional means of ordering services and acts as a platform for advertising the services available. Clients will have access to a list of amenities and prices that they will be able to order and charge to their room directly.

There are lots of exciting tech related companies and startups in Montreal right now. We would recommend checking these websites out and seeing what they can offer. They would truly appreciate the feedback and the support you can provide them. If you see another interesting company or something else tech related that you think we should know about, leave us a comment below.

Artistic images from homepage artists: Giorgio Fratini (top), Julie Larocque (middle)


Alex Galasso writes for various websites on the subjects of startups and video games. Alex’s latest venture is Groupideo, a social video application to watch videos with friends in real-time. For more information, please contact him at alex [at] groupideo [dot] com.

JazzyBlues Creations… this is not a band. Although artistically, its creations could very well compare to the random fun and deep characteristic feeling of Jazz and the cool smoothness of the Blues.

Founded by local Montreal artisan, Stephanie Lavoie Trottier, who has worked with many different mediums such as painting, collage, and recently, candle and soap making. Stephanie’s fun business-like, nature loving, hippie personality shines well through her artwork.

Using a handmade process from the comfort of her own kitchen, Stephanie creates works of art, sculpting different types of waxes and integrating strong refreshing and therapeutic scents into decorative candles ready to be set alight. She uses both paraffin wax and palm wax. Parrafin wax, her most common ingredient, is a byproduct of the oil refinement industry and has a clean burn which goes straight through the candle, leaving the edges intact and making much less of a mess. Meanwhile palm wax has a much more cleaner and faster burn. It will melt the wax in its entirety and is also completely biodegradable.

Among her vast assortment of styles are pyramid shaped single, double, and tri-color multi-scented designs. She also has cute cupcake-shaped, almost edible models, and classy café lattés and sheik martinis for those interested in the more “fancy” side of life. She’s even gone so far as to add sweet and creative designs using natural products and integrating her collage experience to form her “chunky” variations. Each candle, of course, has it’s own particular name, such as luscious lavender and green tea mint.

Her therapeutic bath salts come in many invigorating scents including camomile and sea salt which helps to freshen and soften the skin while giving off a delicacy of aromas for an enlightening experience. All of the salts are delicately placed in old fashioned glass containers which can be easily be kept afterwards.

Stephanie arranges her products in gift baskets and each one can be tailored to your specific designs, including color texture and scent.   She will be having her first presentation sale at Riverview Elementary on Saturday April 30th and will also be participating in the Verdun Wellington Sidewalk sale on July 4th as a member of the Circuits des Arts et de Culture de Verdun.   This would be a great chance for you to meet with the artisan herself get a good look at her products and perhaps have an opportunity to enlighten her with some ideas for her to fine tune some of her products to your distinct taste.

All photos courtesy of Jazzy Blues Creations

I’m sorry, I don’t have a business post for you today.

I have to be honest, after Monday’s nail-bitingly tense election I’m lucky I’ve been able to function the past few days.

Nail-bitingly tense of course, for those who voted. What a showing for the NDP! What a blow to the Liberals! And the bloc! I didn’t expect to see that in my lifetime.

It was only nail-bitingly tense, of course, for those who voted. A lot of people didn’t, so despite the historic, meteoric rise of a party fighting for the values of you and I, we’re left with a majority government bent on turning us into an American vassal that was selected by 24% of the population. 40% of the country didn’t bother voting at all. That’s a lot of people. You probably know one. So I’d like you to find one of them and say:

Thank you! Thank you for helping us to live in a world where prisons and fighter jets are more important than healthcare and education.   Where our parents and grandparents can fear for their financial security. Where women won’t have equality or a forum to talk about it. Where people can keep hoping that those tax breaks for the super rich and giant corporations will really `trickle down` instead of seeing first hand that, given the slightest opportunity, small businesses will create 4x more jobs! Where we can continue to pay high rates of interest and have the worst internet service in the developed world! Where the rest of us can take our rightful second (or third, or fourth) place behind straight, white, Christian males. Thank you for making sure that when we travel to other countries we can be ashamed to claim Canadian citizenship. Where the last gasps of a dying industry are given more importance than the very planet we live on. Where we can keep looking forward to more of the same because the party in power certainly isn’t going to get behind election reform.

I could accept all of this if it was what the majority of us decided. But we didn’t. From an insidious combination of voter apathy and our archaic electoral process we are left again and more thoroughly with a government that does not represent us.

A lot of people worked tirelessly so that this wouldn’t happen, and their work wasn’t for nothing. Maybe it will take four years of the `Harper` government to make everyone else realize that what we really need is a government of Canada. That represents all of Canada.

These are some organizations working to make this happen:

Check them out, spread the word, and tell every person who didn’t vote just exactly what they agreed to. Silence is assent.

You’ve heard of the two guys who got sponsored for their university education. You’ve heard of the woman who tattooed a brand name on her forehead. You’ve even heard of the Egyptian family who named their daughter Facebook as a token of how important that medium was to them.

But have you heard about the Spokesbaby?

Tim Scarne and his wife are about three weeks away from welcoming their first child into the world. At various points during their long journey to parenthood, a certain snack food product featured significantly.

It was a Snickers bar.

So, the expectant parents are sending a message to the Mars Corporation, offering to legally name their child Snickers. In exchange, they ask that the Mars Corporation finance the child’s health care and education.

This is a lot to take in all at once, and before I weigh in, I’d like you to see what the father himself has to say:

A message from Daddy-to-be Tim Scarne:

So this can be seen a few ways:

Giving children “brand” names is increasing in popularity, and I don’t see that as something inherently positive or negative it merely reflects what is important to people, although it smacks a little of Idiocracy. Also, there’s no shame in turning an honest penny, and raising a child is an expensive proposition, especially in the States. Snickers Scarne also has kind of a cool ring to it, in my mind.

On the other hand, I’m not totally comfortable with this decision being made for the child while he’s in utero who knows what the little one may think when he learns that Mommy and Daddy named him after candy bar, in exchange for money.

When I think about it some more though, it’s really not that different from baptizing them, or getting their ears pierced. It’s a decision being made with the best interest of little one at heart, though arguments could be made on either side. Kids can live down names, and if he really hates it, he can change it when he grows up.

So my feelings on what the family is doing are a tentative neutral, which seems to be the prevailing opinion. Mr. Scarne, Aka, DJ Timbo says:

I personally haven’t heard any negative reactions, but considering how cynical our culture is I’m sure they exist, and perhaps they will surface at some point. A radio personality on a popular LA station made fun of me on the air, but that didn’t bother me. I thought it was pretty funny.

My feelings about what the Mars Corporation should do, however, are very strong.

They have a lot of variables to consider over there at Mars right now: the press this will likely generate, the fear of being the company that publicly turned down the needs of a baby, or that the child could grow up to be a terrible spokesperson, just to name a few.

What I think the Mars Corporation has here is the PR opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t think they should pay the Scarne’s for naming their child Snickers. They should pay for any operation that the child may need when it’s born, maybe set up a trust for it’s education and then say:

“We appreciate the thought. We really do. But give the kid a real name.”

As of yet, the Mars Corporation has not responded to the Scarnes, but I’m very interested to find out what they do. Check out or look for #Spokesbaby on Twitter for more opinions and details. I’d really like to know what you all think about this. I know it caused quite a heated debate in my household. Should Mars buy the baby’s name? Should the parents withdraw the offer? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Images and video used with the permission of Tim Scarne

Last week I cancelled my Bell internet service. Believe it or not, doing so was some of the most fun I’d had in weeks. The retention rep who got my call really wanted me to stick with Bell. This man was well informed and passionate our conversation lasted a full half hour and ran the gamut from the morality of UBB (which he believed in and I did not) to basic economic principles. The most interesting thing he said to me was that this move by the big telecom companies was a completely natural, understandable and even admirable action of self-defence, and that if any of those wee little independent isp’s ever got to where Bell is, you’d better believe they’d do the same thing.

Well that got me thinking.

Would they? Something says to me: no, they wouldn’t. That’s my first instinct to trust small business over big business. Well why not? I’m an entrepreneur myself and we like to trust our own. Whenever possible, I like to do business with people I can actually talk to and who don’t have an army of ravening, soulless shareholders keeping tabs on excessive human decency, aided and abetted by the toadying corporate lickspittles we call a government.

I think I might be biased.

So in the interests of journalistic integrity, I decided to get some second and third opinions on this. I got in touch with Danny Iny and Peter Vogopoulous, the co-founders of Firepole Marketing. They kindly shared with me their feelings on big vs. little business, what marketing means, and the upcoming election.

Firepole Marketing is “the definitive training program for small business owners, entrepreneurs and non-marketers.” Based out of Montreal and only a few months past its official launch date, Firepole Marketing blogs, coaches and tweets about how a small business can have top notch marketing, and hopefully, through that, grow into a medium sized business.

Danny Iny is a business and marketing strategist, MBA, university guest speaker and author, while Peter Vogopoulus is a lecturer at the John Molson School of Business, Guerrilla Marketing strategist and business coach. It is safe, and I think fair to say that these gentlemen understand both sides of the coin.

Megan: Should a consumer choose an independent business over a corporate (read: Corporate Canada/America, not merely incorporated) one? Why? What if they have to pay a premium?

Peter: It’s a very loaded question as well as a very individual decision. Yes, small and medium businesses are the drivers of the economy (over 85% of businesses are by definition small or medium businesses) and they certainly deserve our support. But I’d loathe to suggest we should always work with small businesses for this reason alone, or because, for instance, we have an intense dislike for corporate Canada.

Generally, a consumer acting out their own self-interest will always choose the “best” solution for their needs. But what makes up a “best” solution varies from consumer to consumer. “Best” includes not just tangible aspects (e.g. a quality product and good customer service), but also intangibles (e.g. this company shares my values and I love being their customer). As a consumer, you will choose the best, erm, “best” for you. Some people will place a high importance on certain dimensions of value (e.g. customer service) and be willing to pay for them. Others will switch providers to save $5.

By virtue of their size and flexibility, small businesses have the edge in that they are better able to meet the specific needs of their consumers, which in turn could justify any premium it needs to apply to deliver this value. But be aware that while some consumers will pay for this value, others won’t — their needs might only be served by some other bundle of value (a fancy way of saying different strokes for different folks.) And that’s okay. A small business owner can’t, and shouldn’t, be all things to all customers. They should clear about who they serve and we as consumers should be clear about why we patronize one company over another.

Danny: Well, sort of. I definitely think that you should avoid businesses who don’t share your values, whatever those may be… so for example, if your values are very supportive of the environment, then you shouldn’t give your money to companies that are damaging the environment. I don’t think that applies to size of business, though – ultimately, you want the best configuration of value – sounds fancy, but just means best solution to your problem for the lowest price. I don’t think small or independent businesses should get a pass on lower quality just because they’re small. There are areas in which small players can’t compete, because they don’t have economies of scale, or the same access to resources. Rather than subsidize them to continue competing in that space (which is what we’d really be doing if we buy their stuff even though it’s not the best option for us), we’d just encourage them to produce stuff that isn’t as good but costs more – that isn’t a sustainable arrangement. The bright side is that there are areas where they can provide better value; small and independent businesses are often more in-touch with their markets, can adapt a lot faster, and can charge a lot less on some things, because their overheads are a lot less. These are the areas where we should avoid big corporations – because they don’t offer us as good a solution.

Megan: Many of our readers (*cough*editor-in-chief*cough*) hate big business, have problems with capitalism in general and consider marketing as next door to evil. How would you respond to this?

Peter: I think that the negative feelings about capitalism and marketing are misdirected. They are not the problem, nor are they evil. Its bad applications of capitalism and marketing that are the problem. In its purest form, I can think of no greater “give the power to the people” system than capitalism, believe it or not. As a business, you survive on your merits and merits alone and as a consumer you exercise your democratic right every day by voting with your wallet. Furthermore, I consider marketing to be nothing more than telling people who want what you’ve got and are willing to pay for it to come and get it. Furthermore, I consider marketing the great equalizer, allowing the smallest companies to compete with the big boys with the right mix of chutzpah and creativity.

So where does it go wrong?

With capitalism, it’s when we try to “correct” it with protectionism, intervention, quotas, tariffs, etc. These are opportunities for entities with sway and special interests to game the system in their favour. That’s what we get upset about, usually. With marketing, it’s when we feel we are being coerced into our decision (i.e. from tactics that come on strong, to those that persuade us “under the radar” using a deep understanding of consumer psychology). I’d argue that this isn’t always marketing, it’s manipulation.

Danny: Hmmm… Should I be afraid to respond here? I understand where your readers are coming from, but I don’t agree. I think that capitalism is ultimately democratic, but that people betray their true loyalties with their purchasing decisions. All of the people, who care about conserving the environment, but buy American cars with poor gas mileage (or who drive when they could use public transportation, for that matter – I’ve made a conscious choice not to own a vehicle) – their concern about the environment is all talk. The car companies will stop making environment-destroying products the second that people stop buying them. The real problem, then, isn’t the corporations who are making the products, but rather the consumers who are buying them. The efforts that need to be made to fix these situations aren’t to hate on corporations, but rather to educate and empower consumers. And how do you educate consumers? What skill-set will allow you to communicate ideas in a way that makes people want to take action? Hmmm… sounds like marketing! 😉

Megan: Which party, if any, is the most encouraging to small business owners? If small business was going to be an election issue, what would you see changed?

Peter: I’d love to see taxes scaled back to help small businesses become medium businesses. At this point in their stage of growth, small businesses need that shot in the arm. As for which party, none of them have an adequate program for this in my opinion, but by all means ask the MP in your riding how he or she personally stands on the issue and what they would do once in government. Pay close attention to what they say and then snap out of it and remember that it’ll probably never happen because no one is pushing that agenda strongly enough. Small businesses need a champion. And there is no one on the horizon.

Danny: I think the key issues for small business as being lowering taxes on lower income brackets, having special tax breaks for small businesses (really small businesses, as in $150,000 in annual revenues or less… not the government definition of small, which is under 100 employees, and can often mean several million dollars in annual revenues), as well as subsidies for starting a business that include money, and other resources (coaching, infrastructure, training, etc.). I think all parties should be campaigning on these issues, because small businesses are what really drive the economy. That being said, I’m not going to pass judgment on one party or the other – if readers are interested, they should call up party headquarters on all sides and ask them where they stand on these issues.

So there you have it. Second and third opinions. Unfortunately, space was too short for me to include answers to all of the questions I had for Danny and Peter, but I have a feeling their goodwill might just extend to having a discussion or two in the comments.

Check out their blog over at Firepole Marketing, they’ve got great articles, videos, resources and a really engaged community.

What are your thoughts? Do we have a potential champion for small business on the horizon? Anyone want to go to marketing school? Are you voting with your dollars, and if so, how?

First things first: I believe in paying a fair price for
things of value to me. Most good-hearted or even just habitual capitalists do. What I consider a fair price for value and what others consider a fair price for value may differ (for the purpose of simplicity let’s agree to
the assumption that “I” includes people who had the Internet in high school and various other early
adopters. “Others” includes people who had to learn
the internet when they were well into their professional lives). As someone who has had virtually unlimited access to a wealth of high quality, virtually free information since I got my first period I’m not willing to pay a heck of a lot for it. So the new York times offering subscription levels from $15-$30 a month strikes me as, well, a little off.

There has been some buzz on the internet lately about the New York Times new “revenue stream” otherwise known as paid subscriptions. Some people applaud the move. Some people are shocked. I find the whole thing rather silly and sad. I feel for the New York Times. I can imagine the shareholder panic, the long strategy meanings, learning whole new vocabularies and the knowledge that your industry is changing radically for the first time in over a hundred years. It’s scary and confusing. But none of that is any excuse for acting like an idiot.

In a note to subscribers NTY publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzburger, Jr says the following:

“It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform,”

So let me get this straight, Mr. Sulzburger; you want your readers, your consumers, the people for whom you produce your content to become uncompensated investors? And this when there are thousands of credible, easy to access, up-to-the-minute news sources out there completely free. Your subscribers should not only stay loyal but pay a price that is more than twice that of your competition for the privilege?

Chart courtesy of Chart of the Day

Fun Fact: Canada gets to try out this new pay-model first. Honestly, is there a content provider other than Netflix out there who doesn’t want us to bend over and grab our ankles?

Not everyone agrees with me here. That’s fair. Mr Lance Ulanoff over at PCMag predicted over two years ago that the free internet is taking its leave, suggesting that the free-expecting public were being unreasonable. He now lauds the New York Times’ decision, and does make the excellent point that the paywall is so poorly instituted as to render itself moot. However, I think Mr. Ulanoff is missing the point, then and now. The point is that the NYT is ignoring some really important market forces at work here. Obvious things. The same things the record industry can’t seem to wrap its head around: that what they’re creating just isn’t worth that much anymore.

This whole deal reminds me of an article I read a few years ago, by Wired’s Chris Anderson. It was called: Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business. This article has informed pretty much every business decision I’ve made since. He posits that:

“Once a marketing gimmick, free has emerged as a full-fledged economy. Offering free music proved successful for Radiohead, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and a swarm of other bands on MySpace that grasped the audience-building merits of zero. The fastest-growing parts of the gaming industry are ad-supported casual games online and free-to-try massively multiplayer online games. Virtually everything Google does is free to consumers, from Gmail to Picasa to GOOG-411.”

He’s right, and it’s even truer for written content. Any
writer will tell you that as a skill it’s not valued highly when it comes to dollars and cents, even though the argument can be made that it should be.

As consumers of content on the web, our place in the scheme of things has shifted. For many content
providers, we are the product that generates revenue.
This works because there are some things we still pay money for: personal services, physical goods, and even some information. When it comes to content words, video and music many of us are willing to pay something but the price had better be as close to free
as possible. Articles and news stories are no longer things we really buy they’re lures to get us onto a webspace so that we in turn can be sold to advertisers who have something that might really tempt our wallets.

The New York Times, being populated by a whole gaggle of smart, talented people, one has to assume that they’re just trying to shift people back into hard copy subscriptions which just reeks of desperation. It’s a gamble that consumers won’t forgo the New York Times all together in favour of a news source providing the real perceived value for price.
Is that so hard to understand?

Love it or hate it, you’ve got to have it. This is really a business column, but if any of the awesome small businesses or other worthy causes I’ll be directing you to are going to benefit from the attention at all you’ve got to have some scratch. This is easier said than done, because the cost of everything is going up, and making more than our age in salary is a distant, beautiful dream. Most of the advice out there is for people making substantially more money than I am, or anyone I know, so think of this as a basic primer in how not to irreparably fuck up your financial life before the age of thirty.

I’m fortunate to have left the uncertain world of serving for the super-lucrative career of online writing (ha!) but let’s just say that, as of yet, I’m not overburdened with worldly wealth. This means one thing. I’ve got to have a budget.

Don’t look at me like that. You need one too, if you don’t have one already. I put it off for as long as I could, but there comes a point where we all have to be financial grownups, and going without for weeks at a time while waiting for a paycheque just isn’t cutting it any more.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to “develop a budget system.” Some of them seem okay, some are needlessly complex. Based on some fairly extensive research (I’m a nerd for brightly coloured, friendly personal finance books) here is the best way to not spend (much) more money than you have.

There are three basic laws that if you keep in mind, even if you ignore everything else in this article, will leave you okay:

Law 1: Save something every week. Anything. Even if it’s $5.
Law 2: Credit Cards will eat your brains. They also strangle kittens, stomp on cookies and hate rainbows.
Law 3: Don’t spend so much money. Seriously. Spend less money.

Pretty simple, right? Of course not. Sometimes there isn’t money to save every week. (But there’s usually something even if it’s tiny or spare change) Credit cards have valid uses, like ordering things online or when things get really hairy. Carrying a balance is awful though when I think about the money I’ve spent on interest over the years I could cry. And spending less money just seems so dismal, or impractical, or irrational.

So here are some more details. I have done these steps myself and for the first time in my adult life could survive missing a few paycheques without having to shame myself by calling my parents for a bailout. It’s a really good feeling.

Step 1
Write down your monthly income. Make note of how often you are paid and how much. For example: Sally gets paid $1200 a month, $600 each on the 1st and 15th. Mike, on the other hand gets paid $1600 a month, $400 each Thursday. Get it? Good. Income includes wages, student loan disbursements any money that comes in every month.

Step 2
Write down your expenses. You want two columns. One is fixed expenses, which include your share of the rent, phone bill, internet bill, transportation things that you can’t really change month to month. Put all of your other expenses into another column these are the variables, and can include groceries, alcohol, clothes, meals out, smoking, cosmetics etc. You get the idea. Stuff you can control.

Step 3
Subtract the total of Step 2 from the total of Step 1.

Is the number above zero? Amazing! Make things even better by giving yourself a generous weekly or monthly allowance that will cover all of your variable expenses (Mine is $500/month, for example), take it out in cash from each paycheque and the rest goes to your fixed expenses, savings and debt repayment. You’re good to go. Just make sure it’s enough that you won’t cheat or feel deprived. That way lays failure.

If the number is below zero you need to fix something. Can you lower your fixed expenses? How will you lower your variable expenses? Do it now, because someday in the not-too-distant future you’re going to have to pay the piper.
Play this song – It’s inspiring.

I found that once I started squirreling money away, I wanted to squirrel more and more of it. It’s kind of a fun challenge to see how little money I can spend each month on food, or how long I can go between haircuts. It means that when I find a cool company like Papirmasse, I can subscribe to it, you know? It may make me a more boring person but it makes me a happier, less stressed-out one too. It doesn’t look like money is going to stop making the world go round anytime soon, and I want to make sure that I have some.

Something here not make sense? Think I’m full of BS? Drop me a line at, or tell me in the comments

You’ve signed the petitions. You’ve called your MP. You’ve filed a complaint with the Canadian Competition Bureau. You’ve voiced your displeasure to the CRTC itself. Good job. Your efforts have made a difference, but we’re not done yet.

The CRTC has gone back to the drawing board (and so has big telecom, we can assume) to find a new deal that will likely be leaving us a little better off than the last one. Until the CRTC is an organization that actually stands up for our rights, and until Bell and Co understand that we will not tolerate this gouging of the populace it’s important that we demonstrate where the market power lies.

1. Dump the Big Guys.
These big telecom companies are trying to force legislation that will irreparably damage the freedom of the internet, innovation and fair market competition. If you’re sending them money every month, you’re telling them: “That’s cool. I don’t mind. Go ahead.” Is that really what you feel?

There are other options out there, and even if they are forced to use Bell’s infrastructure, a new customer for them is a clear message that the service they are offering is valuable and needed. Even more fun is to explain in excruciating detail to the Bell customer Service Rep why you’re canceling. (But be nice! They’re just doing their job.) Here are some of the options we’ve got in Montreal:

Teksavvy gives me all around warm fuzzy feelings based on their support of The prices for high speed internet (unlimited, to date) are also good. You have to buy a modem, but they have a rent-to-own option. I got on the phone with Mr. George Burger, who provided me with this analogy: If two gas stations were across the street from one another and wanted to engage in price fixing they’d meet up and agree on a price through which they would each make a healthy margin. In this case of Bell etc. vs. The Internet, the first gas station attendant is setting the price, and the second is setting the same price, but handing the difference over to the first!

Virtually nowhere else in the industrialized world does this happen. Mr. Burger emphasized that if Bell was allowed to demand that difference in price from wholesalers like themselves, they would be unable to provide the type of service that is standard elsewhere in the world, and that Teksavvy prides itself on.

Colba is the local company that actually owns its own infrastructure and doesn’t have to buy from bell. They have a pretty wide range, and I’m impressed with the price. I had a chance to speak with company president Joseph Basili, and you couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic representative. When asked about the whole UBB debacle he told me it had been great for his business. Mercenary but I can’t blame him for that. There are some pretty nasty reviews concerning customer service on the internet, so ask how they’re working to fix the problem when you call. I imagine that improvements will be made quickly. Speed and service depend, as usual, on where you live.

Several of my friends have had fantastic experiences with Acanac for internet and VOIP services. You pay for your year upfront and it’s reputed to be a great deal with good, fast service. They also have a referral program where each person you send to them gets you a month of free internet, and sending in ten new clients gets you free internet for as long as you’re an Acanac customer. This is perfect for all you social net-workers out there. As of this writing, they haven’t had a chance to get back to me with a personal comment, but when they do, I’ll update you all.

2. Use Services That Give a Hoot.
There are companies offering services that require you, the customer, to have affordable access to high levels of bandwidth. Since UBB will directly affect their ability to sell to Canadians, they will add their voices to ours in the fight to stop this legislation as always, accompany your purchase with a note or a phone call explaining your choice, and how you hope they will be encouraged by your support to throw their weight into the ring.

I’m a big Netflix fan. For about $8/month they have about 90% of the movies and television I care to watch. You get to try it free for a month, so it’s a no-lose. They’re aware of the UBB issue in Canada and are keeping a close eye on the situation. We may be a small market, but not one they would choose to ignore or miss out on.

Apple TV
Along the same lines as Netflix, in fact, they work with Netflix. Apple provides television and movies at a price that approaches reasonable, after the one off price for the gadget. It’s not as inexpensive as I think it could be, but they have great usability and genuinely want you to be able to purchase and use their service. If you encourage Apple, they will make noise to the Canadian Government.

3. Take On-Line Classes (and make a fuss if you already do).
This one is particularly important to me. I currently attend school on-line, in a multi-media program. My classes are streamed, and take up several GB’s a week. If this legislation goes through students will be paying a premium to attend the classes they have already paid tuition for! School’s aren’t always quick to respond to (or acknowledge) student concerns, but when enrollment starts dropping they’ll prick up their ears.. If several hundred online students were to make a similar comment, however, they might begin to realize that their ever growing and super lucrative
pool of e-students is at risk. You don’t have to be a post-secondary student to do this – any online lecture or seminar delivered by video is going to be affected. Students are famous for mobilizing on
issues that concern us, and this should be no different.

Not every suggestion listed here is going to be appropriate for every internet user. My goal was to get you to think outside the box a little bit. Consider who stands to lose business from this UBB mess. Then contact them to find out how your support helps them fight it, and explain how your business is dependent on the outcome of this legislation. If none of the above is possible, or feasible for your lifestyle, see if you can’t throw a few dollars over to; they’ll take your money and use it to make the system better.

Any great ideas I missed? Who else stands to lose with unfair metered internet? Let me know in the comments.
Recently quit Bell? Who did you go to and why? Any great providers who also deserve a shout out? You know what to do.

Images courtesy of:

Yep, that’s where I spent a good part of my Sunday afternoon this past weekend; surrounded by artists, designers, bakers and musicians at this year’s 10th anniversary special “extra” craft fair.

I actually found out about this weekend’s fair by accident having Sunday morning tea and cupcakes with some friends, they mentioned they’d be going along to Puces Pop directly afterward. I was surprised not to have known about it in advance did anyone else feel a little left out in the cold, or is it just that my head has been too buried in work lately? In any case, happily, I found out about it in time to show up and squeal with girlish glee over hamburger dresses, friendship-bracelets-made-modern jewelery, and home-made jams and jellies.

Since I now have the pleasure of writing biz-talk for FTB, I thought I’d stroll around and see, generally, how business was going and who could knock my socks off in terms of business strategy, marketing and display. I was not disappointed.

Know Your Market + Winning Website
I chatted with Norwegian Wood owner Angie about the differences between craft fair and online sales, she made the excellent point that the market’s are totally different. At an on-site craft fair, as a vendor you want to have more small ticket items that someone can easily and inexpensively decide to buy. These small items, like some earrings or small accessories don’t work so well online because, while ten dollars may be an excellent deal, it’s less so when you have to tack half of that on again for shipping. After the fair, I checked out her website at and hot damn, it’s fantastic. Smooth design, good ratio of pictures to text, and a frequently updated and commented on tumblr blog is seamlessly integrated. The best part? There is no slapped-together shopping cart. Angie has made the excellent decision to (until such time as it’s ready to be done right) sell through established user-friendly online retailers. Better still there’s an explanation of this right above the links. Cheers. (By the way she makes really beautiful clothing, jewelery and accessories worth a look.)

Smart Line Extension
Moving on, at a nearby table I spied a veritable mountain of robot-monster pillows. (see video) Now, my long-suffering boyfriend can tell you that I have an irrational passion for pillows; it would be fair to say that if it’s stuffed, I’ll buy it, but these pillows were some of the most interesting I’d seen. They weren’t painted, they weren’t appliquéd how did these little cool dudes get on these multi-sized pillows?

Tyson Bodnarchuk is an artist specializing in monsters, robots, villains and other characters. While he has previously worked predominantly in acrylic, this new foray into textile art has been paying off. Allowing for the fact that he started selling them right before Christmas, when sales are very high, they’ve been doing very well. My question wasn’t yet answered if not hand painted or sewn on how do these characters make it onto pillows? . Spoonflower is a print on demand design your own fabric service, and will probably be the topic of a post later on, but for now just know that they’re user friendly, eco-friendly and organic. Sold. Tyson had his art digitally printed onto custom fabric and used it to fashion delightful quirky decor. This is how line extension should be done! Too many artists (and not just artists and crafts people almost everyone does this) try to do and be everything to everyone, when the key to developing a following and steady income is to have a specialty and execute it beautifully. This type of branching out capitalizes on his skill and new technology. Kudos, Tyson, keep up the good work.

Killer Concept
PapirMasse has a mission. Art should be available to everyone, and not exclusively to those rich enough to afford hundreds or thousands of dollars for a piece. So for $60.00 a year you can get an art print delivered to your door every month. This concept is so simple; it’s easy to overlook its brilliance. Artists want to be exposed to a wide variety of potential customers, and people want art that is original, beautiful and affordable. Putting these needs together serves the greater community, in a way you don’t see very often.

The lesson we can take from this is that just because something has always been done a certain way (art sales through galleries, etc) doesn’t mean that you can’t make it available on your own terms. Thinking outside the box, making smart partnerships and believing in what you do will take you everywhere. The belief that art should be available to everyone, and the connecting of artists with potential fans and clients makes this business model one I wish to high heaven I’d thought of first. I’ll have to content myself with becoming a loyal customer. I can’t wait to start my subscription, and I encourage you to take one out too!

So as usual, Puces Pop was an inspiring and somewhat humbling experience. I can’t begin to describe the respect I have for an artist who takes the plunge into supporting themselves with their art. All entrepreneurs rely on their own skills and abilities to get them through the day, but only the hand-made based entrepreneur is relying on such a visual display of their passion and creativity. Although I have no aspirations to artistic fame myself, from what I hear, creating a piece can be a grueling task, and a genuine investment of soul. To put the end result up for sale in a room full of people or on the net, takes more confidence in self and product than many entrepreneurs hell, many companies could muster if they tried.

Video by:

My name is Megan Dougherty, and I’m for sale.

It’s true; I can be bought and frequently am.

“What?” you sputter (I can hear you from here), “on Forget the Box, a girl who can be bought part and parcel? Nay, I say! Nay.” But I can be. I think you can be too.

Don’t misunderstand me when I say ‘bought’ I don’t mean that I offer ownership of my person to the highest bidder, I mean that I am and have access to resources that businesses, governments, churches and even other people consider valuable. My brain is real estate and my money is a desirable product. My labour has a price, and so does my creativity. It’s all in how you look at things.

From a very early age I looked at the world through the lens of business. My first business was a lemonade stand at neighbourhood yard sales when I was seven, and from the first clank of a coin in my tin cup, I was hooked. The lessons continued when I was in high school and looking for my first after school job. I realized that my CV was a piece of marketing material, and I was trying to sell myself to a company! I got a job at a fast food restaurant, and realized that in recognizing and patronizing our brand, customers had sold us a little part of their minds. They allowed our company to set up shop in their brains and stay there until hunger struck them. After that I saw business everywhere and in everything.

It wasn’t always an easy journey, learning to see myself as a product; I had my predictable anti-capitalist phase. It passed when I realized that as a desirable product, I had power. My vote may not count for a lot (first past the post, my ample fanny) but my dollars mattered. I can choose to work for and buy from a gargantuan corporation, or I can support local independent business owners. I can work for a company, or I can reclaim ownership of my internal resources and create my own.

That’s a key word: Create. It’s a concept that I mean to address a good deal in this blog: the creativity and artistry that is in business, particularly small business. I think we can all agree that big business, if not inherently evil (a point I could argue), lacks the personality and charm of an independent entrepreneur.
A small business owner has to be as creative as a painter, as disciplined as a dancer, as motivated as a politician and as driven as an athlete. I want to examine here the art of entrepreneurship, our status as products, living during a consumerist era and the people of our city who do it best. Montreal is a city of artists, activists, entrepreneurs and idealists, all of whom are trying to make their way in and their mark on the world and all of whom deserve a chance to be heard.

So that’s why a girl for sale is writing at Forget the Box. I may never convince you to view yourself as a resource, but I may be able to introduce you to some wonderfully creative and interesting people making their livings through sweat and application. I may be able to entice you to discuss with me the ups and downs of our buyable culture. And lastly, hopefully, I may be able to get you to look at the world, once in awhile, as a marketplace of ideas in which we play a vital role.