Stop me if this sounds familiar:

You graduated a year (or two or five years) ago with high honours and the greatest hopes for your bourgeoning career in the arts.

Maybe you were going to be a brilliant poet, or painter, or sculptor, or DJ, or performance artist or writer – but whatever it was – you were going to be living a creative, independent lifestyle, making your voice and unique perspective on life, the universe and everything known to the community at large.

The fact that you had to take a shitty customer service or tele-surveying job is just what new artists have to do before the world sits up and takes note of your brilliance.

Am I ringing any bells?

You still make art and you’re still involved in the creative communities that mean so much to you – but it’s not exactly paying the bills.

Worse – you’re still working your shitty service job because at the end of the day, bills need to be paid and food put on your table.

You may get the occasional gig, and that vernissage you put on last year was just lovely, I promise – but it’s not enough. It’s not what you’d planned for yourself, and it’s not how you see the rest of your life shaping up.

What’s a creative type to do?


Why You’re Not Making a Living as an Artist

Before we get into how you can turn some of your art into cold, hard cash, let’s look at why so many artists fail to make it happen – and it’s not some kind of high-minded refusal to sell out. That’s just what you tell your parents.

It’s simply that most artists, writers, designers and musicians are great at what they do – really spectacular! But they know shit-all about business. Starting one, running one, growing one – no one went over any of that stuff in college because of the beautiful but false myth that talent will rise to the top and be recognized.

It won’t. Being amazing at what you do isn’t enough. Not nearly.

It doesn’t matter how epic your short stories are, how sublime your oil paintings, how incendiary your beats – if no one knows what you’re doing – no one cares.

Making art isn’t enough to make a living through art – you need to dive into business and get your hands dirty, meet the right people, find the right market and charge the right price.

It’s hard, mostly thankless work, the potential for failure is high, and screwing up will feel like a decisive kick in the groin.

In short – creating a business is very much like creating art.

You take a set of tools that are more or less common across the board, and manipulate them to reflect your vision.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

What is a business, really?

Quite simply, you can have a business if you have something to sell, a person to sell it to and a way to collect payment.

That’s it. That’s all.

I’ve got a little exercise for you:

  1. Get a blank sheet of paper, and draw a line down the center of it. On one side write: “Things I can do.”  On the other side write: “Who cares?”
  2. Fill in the “Things I can do” side with all of the skills, relating to your craft, that you poses. This can mean anything from the ability to draw a recognizable portrait, to play an instrument, to wedge clay, to speak eloquently, to dress with style, to mix colors, to keep a workplace clean to recognize obscure musical references. Go as far afield as you can and list every single thing that contributes to you being able to conceive of and produce art.
  3. Fill in the “Who Cares” side with every type of person who might possible be able to use (and be willing to pay for) that skill. If you can’t think of anyone who might care about knowing someone who has a particular skill – cross out that skill.
  4. Cross out the ones that make you sad to look at and think about.
  5. Re-copy the rest into a fresh list. It might look like this:
  • Write eloquently – People who need about pages.
  • Edit and Proofread – Students and bloggers.
  • Play an instrument – College guys wanting to impress their girlfriends.

Do you see where this is going?

thinking_boxThe trick here is to start thinking outside of your artistic box a little bit.

Do you sketch beautiful pictures? What a wonderful mother’s day gift someone could give!

Do you play music and like people? So many folks want to learn how!

Do you have a gift for witty prose? How many best men are aching to get out of writing a speech themselves?

You don’t have to be doing it the traditional way to be making money from your talent – you just need something that will act as a bridge while you’re getting out there.

Hammering all of this out is one thing, of course – getting someone to pay attention – and then pay you money, is another.

But it’s not really all that hard.

Craigslist and Kijiji are amazing starting places, a well-placed flyer can work wonders, and even a professional looking website can be knocked together without too much effort,

And dollars to donuts you’re already on Facebook and Twitter.

Stop pussy-footing around and TRY. The worst that will happen is you’ll be out a few hours and know that you’ve eliminated a possibility from your list.

Figure out what you can do. Figure out who might care. Make the offer.

Further Resources

This has been a very, very brief run-down of how to start an artistic side project – turning it into a real business is another kettle of fish.

But if I know anything, I know this: it’s possible. There are as many ways to bring joy and inspiration and insight to the world as there are artists and there is always someone who wants to know what you have to say – they just might not be aware of it yet.

If this interests you at all – if this is getting the motors in your head going a little bit – I’d like to point you at a few resources that I’m a real believer in:

Be a Freelance Blogger  – Make money by freelancing. Do it today.

The BootStrapper Guild – Micro-business building and growing

The Art of NonConformity – Creating an interesting life – and financing it.

Firepole Marketing  – Get more real people to pay you more money, more often.

Fine Art Tips – Blog, business and social media tips especially for fine artists.

None of these are affiliate links-  just honest recommendations for blogs and companies doing work I think you can get a lot of value out of (Full Disclosure – Firepole Marketing is my day job).

And of course – I would be remiss if I gave you this tip of the iceberg without offering more.

If you’re looking at this process and saying to yourself “it will never work for me!” Get in touch! Leave a comment, send me an email – reach out and let’s talk about it!

It’s not a matter of IF you can make a living doing what you love – it’s just a matter of when and how.

(If you like this, and would like to see more about starting businesses, side projects and making money from artsy-skills – please leave a comment to that effect!)

Megan Dougherty  (@Megan_Rae_D)is serious about wanting to talk about your ideas – she really is interested! 

I look fantastic.

Even though it’s 11:30 at night, I’ve been wearing a hat and won’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had time for a proper shower. My haircut is that good.

On the lookout for a new stylist, I’d been asking friends with excellent coiffure where they get it done. One woman directed me to Bikurious on Amherst. “A bike shop?” I asked. “Lesbian Haircuts for Anyone,” she replied.


Lesbian Haircuts for Anyone, owned and operated by the charming JJ Levine, is the type of business I hope to run into every time I leave my house. It shares space with a bike shop, is host to a store cat named Store Cat, isn’t gender-normative, has great music, provides fantastic service, and – as if that weren’t enough – the non-traditional business model (pay-what-you-can) proves that you don’t have to sell out or fit the mold to make a living.

I had my appointment about three weeks ago, a little hung over from the election night drink/sob fest, and feeling the slight case of nerves one always has when venturing into new hair territory. Still, I was fairly confident because the friend who referred me is noted for her excellent coiffure.

When I arrived, JJ was just finishing up with another client, so after poking around the bike shop portion of the store and considering a new pink helmet, I took a seat in the admittedly snug hair-cutting nook. I eyed my seatmate with some trepidation, but was quickly won over by the purring, squirming, suck-up of a Store Cat. “Won’t be long,” JJ told me.

It wasn’t. Soon, my predecessor was standing up, dusting off and looking fabulous. I took my seat, removed my glasses and put myself into the hands of a consummate professional.

“So what would you like today?” s/he asked me. This is always my least favourite part of a haircut. I never know what to say.

I gave my standard “you’re the pro, please don’t ask me to make decisions this far outside my realm or it will end badly” reply, and we got started. I don’t have a photo of myself to show you, but rest assured the results were very pleasing, and have worn incredibly well to date.

As mentioned before, this is the type of small business that renews faith in small business, so I asked JJ if s/he would give us a brief interview to shed some more light on the concepts involved. S/he kindly agreed, so read on, then book your appointment!

How long have you been cutting hair? Did you ever study it?

I’ve been cutting my own hair and my friends’ hair since I was 14 but started cutting professionally about 5 years ago. I’ve studied different hair dressing techniques over the years with other stylists, but never in a formal beauty school setting.

What exactly is a ‘lesbian haircut’, as opposed to any other type of haircut? Good for both boys and girls, or more of a girls thing?

A lesbian haircut is anything you want it to be. The name came out of a joke unrelated to any actual hairstyle. That’s not to say that people don’t come to me for something specific though; I’ve developed a reputation for specializing in asymmetrical, edgy haircuts “for anyone.” The cuts I give (asymmetrical or conventional) are intended to work with people’s preferred gender presentations, which often amounts to a “women’s cut” or “men’s cut,” but is certainly not limited to either of those categories. I have an extremely diverse clientèle that spans four generations, and a multitude of gender identities and sexualities.

Why pay-what-you-can? How does that work for you? Do you think it would work for other types of businesses?

It is very important for me to be accessible. A good haircut is something that makes people feel good about their appearance. Not everyone has 50-100 dollars to spend on a haircut, but everyone deserves to feel good about the way they look. It works for me because most of my customers understand the “pay-what-you-can” concept. Some pay me the same amount that they would pay if they went to another salon with fixed prices because they can afford it or they recognize that my work is on par, and others can pay me the 15 dollars they’ve been saving up. It really does balance out for me in the end. I think a sliding-scale model can and should be applied to other business endeavours.

Can you describe your ideal customer? The type that annoys you?

My ideal customer is nice and respectful. An annoying thing that happens sometimes is that because of the name of my salon (Lesbian Haircuts for Anyone), people make assumptions about my gender and assume I identify as a lesbian.

How did you get into a bike shop?

The bike shop and the hair salon came into being around the same time. My ex, Danielle Flowers, started Revolution in 2006, and I started cutting hair there casually which pretty quickly turned into the salon space that exists today. When the bike store was sold to Marissa Plamondon-Lu and Mackenzie Ogilvie, in 2008, and the name changed to Bikurious, it was agreed upon that I would stay. The new owners were also interested in preserving the community-based, queer feel of the shop that Danielle and I had been cultivating for years.

Do you have any plans for the next few years? Opening your own shop? Staying with Bikurious?

I plan on staying at Bikurious as long as the shop is around!

Favourite Books/Music/Movies?

My favourites are constantly changing, but I recently enjoyed the novel Holding Still as Long as Possible by Zoe Whittall, I’ve been listening to Big Fredia from New Orleans and Rae Spoon’s new album, Love is a Hunter, and I loved the Denis Villeneuve film, Incendies, from Montreal.

Any comments or thoughts for Forget The Box readers? Something interesting I didn’t touch on?

Although I am passionate about cutting hair, my true love is photography. My separate and simultaneous career as an artist is constantly growing and shifting.   Until my art practice pays for itself, I will always cut hair to make a living and to be able to afford to create new artwork. My portfolio is currently featured in a renowned and widely available Canadian art magazine called Ciel Variable, issue CV88. (Author’s Note: Do yourself the monumental favor of also checking out JJ’s art website)

If you’re planning on getting a new ‘do anytime in the near future, give Lesbian Haircuts for Anyone a try. Not only will you get a great haircut, you’ll be supporting exactly the kind of small business that makes our city so extraordinary.

Call JJ Levine at 514-625-4247 to book. Pay what you can $15-$50.

As many of you know, Forget the Box got a wee bit hacked last week.   Unfortunately, these things happen to the best of us.   No cloud being without its smidgen of silver lining, however, our website troubles soon led us into an acquaintance with Terry Cutler, the co-founder of Digital Locksmiths.

Digital Locksmiths is a Montreal-based data defence services company that helps organizations defend themselves against hackers and other malicious online activity. In addition to this, Terry is a Certified Ethical Hacker, speaker and lecturer on internet safety for kids and parents, and a regular contributor to

I was able to get in touch with Terry to get some more details about hacking, ethical hacking and being smart on the internet. You’ll find some of the highlights of our conversation below.


1. Ethical hacking what is it exactly? How does one become an Ethical Hacker?
Ethical hacking is, essentially, learning how the bad guys do what they do, so that you can prevent it and fix it. I got into it because I was inspired by watching shows like CSI and 24 and wondered how Cloe O’Brian was breaking into all those systems so fast. I did some research and found an organization called The EC-Council that created a course called the Certified Ethical Hacker and in 2005 I got certified through them.

2. Who hacks? (And I mean hacks for malicious intent, not ethically). Is there a profile of a hacker? What are they trying to do?
Hackers come in all shapes and sizes they can be anyone from disgruntled employees, to bored teenagers, to organized criminals. If you remember the Sony Hacker story from earlier this year, you can start to get an idea of how this type of hacking can come from within an organization as well as from without. People hack for fun or revenge or profit it’s often hard to tell what the motivation could be. There are also those hackers that fall under the title of Hacktivists. Remember WikiLeaks? This can range from what seems like espionage to whistleblowing. It’s for, in the minds of the hacktivists at least, in the public interest.

3. What can a blog like ours, or a small business owner operating online, do to protect themselves from hacking and other cyber threats? (Short of hiring Digital Locksmiths!)
Always stay current on your website updates. If you get a few updates behind you can really be opening yourself up to attack. There can also be issues with one hosting provider over another, so do your research and be willing to change if you experience problems.

4. Most of our readers have grown up using the internet for everything – it’s about as natural as breathing. Are there stupid mistakes you find people often make on the internet without giving it a second thought?
A lot of this comes down to social media these days. Most people open emails from what appears to come from someone they know and are easily fooled into clicking on links. What they don’t know is that those links can pull down malware and viruses to your PC. Have you ever gotten an invite on Facebook or LinkedIn in your email inbox and accepted it without going through to the website? This is how a lot of information gets stolen. If you’re dealing with a social media site, always manage your interactions on the site itself and not through the Hotmail inbox.

5. What do you imagine the coming years will hold for internet security? Will we all have retina scanners on our monitors?
Biometrics are a possibility, but what is really happening is increased mobility, especially smartphones. More and more is being done on cell phones pretty soon they could even replace your computer and equally open you up to malicious hacking. When that occurs, you’ll be pretty much back to square one. It’s something that we’re thinking about now, but it can be difficult to predict exactly what will happen.


Talking with Terry was incredibly interesting. It’s fantastic to meet someone so knowledgeable in his field and active in the community especially one so willing to share what he knows with the rest of us! Thanks Terry, from all the staff at Forget the Box!

You can find more information about Terry Cutler on his website: and about Digital Locksmiths at I’d also like to recommend you check out one of Terry’s presentations on internet safety for kids and parents. A refresher never hurts for those of us who use the internet every day!

Title photo courtesy of, body photo of Terry Cutler from

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: