The Secret to Writing Well

They say music alters moods and talks to you. Well, Eminem did. The reason I bring up Sing For the Moment, other than the fact of it being a great song which samples a
great song, is that the overall message of the song is that music, and art more generally, can be very influential in people’s lives. Art demands us to feel and to think; sometimes we experience exactly what the artist intended and sometimes we end up with unrelated, unintended thoughts and feelings of our own.

In the song, Em talks about how music can influence the way people talk and dress, it can inspire them to pursue certain careers and it can lead them to find or embrace different aspects of their personality. Acclaimed American author and journalist, Ernest Hemmingway, said that not only did pieces of artwork inspire him but they also helped improve his writing.

In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, Hemmingway recalls when he was doing an apprenticeship in Paris during the 1920s and how he’d study Paul Cézanne’s painting every day at the museum. “I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne
that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides, it was a secret,” he recalled.

There’s a whole genre of poetry dedicated to responding to pieces of art, especially paintings, called ekphrastic poems. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or work of art. Some ekphrastic poems reflect on or narrate the “action” taking place in a painting, scene or sculpture, while others describe its physical qualities. Through an ekphrastic poem, the poet can amplify and expand on the meaning of the artwork.

ernesthemingway

Ernest Hemmingway (1939).

According to Hemmingway, a writer’s job is to tell the truth. By definition, a true sentence is not a sentence that’s grammatically or structurally accurate but rather a factually true sentence. Hemmingway believed that true sentences were the key to writing well. “‘All you have to do is write one true sentence’ … I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

To write about something using only true sentences would result in descriptive writing that’s full of objective details. Objective details are helpful in writing because they allow other people to understand something without the interference of opinion or experience, meaning, writing objectively tends to produce clearer, more accurate writing. To write true sentences, one must rely on the facts and relaying them accurately to their audience for them to make sense of the text. Making sure that what you’re writing makes sense helps keep the audience engaged. If the audience has to stop to think “wait, what?” or “I’m confused” you’ve lost their attention and taken them out the world your writing exists in, which is never a good thing.

Writing true sentences is important even when you’re writing about something that isn’t true, like non-fiction. In non-fiction, a true sentence is one that’s based on the facts and rules established which govern the world the story exists in. The famous American writer Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please,” and that’s the approach one should take when writing true sentences about untrue things.

Hemmingway said that he wanted to write as Cezanne painted. In a deleted section of his short story Big Two-Hearted River, Hemmingway wrote about his alter-ego protagonist, Nick Adams, and his literary future. “He broke the whole thing down and built the real thing. It was hell to do … He, Nick, wanted to write about country so it would be there like Cezanne had done it in painting. You had to do it from inside yourself. There wasn’t any trick. Nobody had ever written about country like that.”

It makes sense that this passage was taken from a deleted section of Hemmingway’s work and that he claimed to be “not articulate enough” to explain what he learned. It was a secret.

the_2_hearted_river_26_lake_superior

The Two Hearted River in Michigan.

The key takeaway from the passage is “to write about country so it would be there like Cezanne painted it.” It goes back to the point about true sentences and descriptions. When it comes to visual art, like painting, aspects like colour, depth and focal point give them detail, specificity and make them visually interesting. As a writer, one’s job would be to accurately describe the things that make the painting interesting. So, if describing a painting of a forest it would insufficient to say there were numerous trees, even if the statement is accurate. Good writing would describe the different hues used, the positions of the trees in relation to everything else, a comment on the different styles and techniques employed, among other details to make the description of the painting as close to the objective reality as possible.

Talking about how Hemingway’s trick for writing using paintings reminded me of another technique writers can use to improve their writing through studying art. Many people have argued that listening to classical music can teach writers about narrative structure. In short, the hypothesis states that the rise and fall of classical music teaches writers about building tension, character development and creating narratives.

Back in second year, I wrote an essay for my Listening to Music course comparing the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 to the battles of a war. In the essay, I argued that changes in the music like the dynamics or speed in certain sections or which instruments were used reminded me of different battles within a war. The different battles were represented by different instruments, varying dynamics
and changes in pace.

I argued that the main phrase of the movement, the famous dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuun,
dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuun, was a sergeant in the war who fought many battles, with varying results. The phrase is repeated several times throughout the piece but is arranged differently each time. By changing the rhythm, the dynamics, or the syncopation in different sections of the song, Beethoven was able to make the music feel as if it were moving through time. I noted how the changes in the music occurred gradually, things flowed into each other without being abrupt. Balancing the main theme with loud dynamic sections met by periods of softer slower music, evoked feelings from anxiety to loss.

A good story will follow a similar floor plan. Introduce your main character early and feature them regularly throughout the piece. The audience learns about the main character through their actions and their interactions with others throughout the story. There are high-energy scenes, like a battle, sandwiched between more intense, intimate moments like two soldiers having a conversation. Most importantly, in the story, something happens. If the main phrase were to be repeated over and over and over, the music wouldn’t be a story it’d just be a repetition, a loop.

I got a 96 on the essay, and I’m not bringing that up to flex my academic muscle. In truth, I think I got a 96 on the essay because I identified and explained the connection between music and writing, specifically storytelling. Classical music has long been used to accompany plays, ballets and movies for just this reason; music tells a story by the way it opens, unfolds and finally closes. For example, music from the classical era (1750s-1820s) was usually divided into four sections: an Allegro in sonata form, a slow movement, a scherzo or minuet in a triple metre and a closing allegro. So in theory, if you know this formula all you need to do is fill in sections with the instruments you need for the story you’re telling.

But sadly, it’s not that simple. Experts and greats have a tendency to make complicated things seem effortless. They also tend to downplay the difficulty of said thing when they talk about it to non-experts. While people may say “oh, it’s nothing, anybody could do it,” that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do or understand. Like flying a plane, knowing how to write well takes more than knowing the function of the buttons at your disposal. Yes, it’s helpful and possibly important to know about true sentences and the narrative flow of classical music when it comes to writing but it is not enough to make one’s writing great. It’s up to you, the writer, to craft a piece with the right formula of structure and details. Let art inform and inspire you so you can create for your own.

The Value of Truth in the Fake News Era

We have all heard the phrase “fake news” bandied about over the last couple of years, most notably by and in the context of Donald Trump. Though the US President uses the term to attack the press, NCM wanted to get to the real root of the phrase. We especially wanted to contextualize it for news and politics.

This past weekend, the first of three “Fake vs Fact” workshops organized in collaboration with New Canadian Media, ByBlacks.com and the National Newsmedia Council, took place in Toronto at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss fake news. The workshop looked at how to spot fake news, how to stop it and how to define it. To discuss fake news’ consequences was a major factor for the gathering of news professionals and community members.

Members of the audience learning about “fake news” at New Canadian Media’s “Fake vs Fact” workshop held in Toronto. Photography by Marcus Medford.

What is fake news, really?

“Fake news” has been said so often that it has become a catch-all term that has lost meaning. When people discuss fake news, two other words that often come up are misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is information that is not accurate. For example, if I were to say “the current prime minister of Canada is Pierre Trudeau,” that would be misinformation. Think of misinformation as “mistaken information.”

Disinformation is information that is false and spread with the explicit intention of deceiving. If, for example, I said “I am the current prime minister of Canada,” that would be disinformation. Think of disinformation as “dishonest information.” Disinformation is meant to fuel insecurities, stoke fears and create division. It has a motive or an agenda to push, whether personal, financial or political. When people say something is “fake news” they are likely accusing the information of being disinformation.

The term “fake news” is also inaccurate because usually, the false information circulating is not spread by a legitimate news organization or an accredited member of the media. Fake news is typically shared via social media, which is problematic because it allows little accountability. It is difficult to verify information but easy to share on social media. On these platforms, content that gets a lot of engagement gets ranked higher. It will hence show up earlier in search results and on newsfeeds/timelines, increasing the likelihood that it will be seen.

Responsible journalism: consumption

Sharing is a huge problem when it comes to disinformation. That saying “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on,” is particularly true when it comes to disinformation online. It can take hours to fact-check a story, which not everyone knows how to do. Also, it is rare to be punished for spreading disinformation online.

Journalist Susana Mas explains to the audience some of the tools available for combating fake news, such as how to do a reverse image search. Photography by Marcus Medford.

One of the speakers at the workshop, award-winning journalist Susana Mas, recommended that people create a checklist of questions they must answer before deciding to share a post. She said that we should ask ourselves questions like, who’s sharing this information, do you trust them and what’s the original source? It is important to consider the source of the information itself and not just the person who has presented that information to you because while you might trust the person sharing the post, you might not trust their sources.

Mas stressed the importance of viewing media like pictures and videos with a critical lens, even seemingly-innocent things like memes. It is important not to react too emotionally or too quickly when it comes to headlines and tweets, Mas remarked.

“Words matter. And we all have a role to play” as both producers and consumers of news, she added.

Responsible journalism: production

Responsible journalism is of the utmost importance given the prevalence of disinformation and misinformation ahead about the federal election. Performing journalism responsibly means being transparent with your information: revealing what you know, what you don’t know and how you came to know what you do, including providing links and sources.

It is okay to not know something, or to have incomplete information, or to say that the story is being followed and will be updated. Again, in the age of fake news, it’s more important to be accurate than to be first.

Being a responsible journalist means accepting that you have a bias. Biases evolve from our experiences and perceptions, both of which are unique to every individual. If you can identify your bias, you are better equipped to keep this in check and make sure they do not bleed into your work.

Another aspect of responsible journalism is not spreading stereotypes or hurtful tropes about people, particularly marginalized groups. Words matter and so do the connotations of the words you use. For example, referring to immigrants or refugees coming to a country as an “invasion” is both inaccurate and inappropriate because it has a negative image and a negative connotation to it.

Eva Salinas warns the crowd about the dangers of fake news and misinformation and the effects they could have ahead of the federal election in October. Photography by Marcus Medford.

“Change starts with individuals, and it’s important that we start,” said Eva Salinas.

Salinas is the managing editor of OpenCanada.org and a journalism instructor. She was one of the speakers on Saturday. According to Salinas, people care about the issue of fake news and want to get involved, but do not always know-how.

Salinas said that our individual voices are more important now than ever: “We all use our voice in different ways, and we have to use them responsibly.”

The future and fake news

I, like workshop speaker Brent Jolly, the director of communications, research and community management with the National Newsmedia Council, found our conversation encouraging.

In the era of fake news, I see our role as journalists as being similar to that of climate scientists. We have to share what we know with the public because the issue affects us all. We cannot deny the problem or run away from it because the effects are real, and if we don’t act the consequences could be dire.

Dear Trudeau, I’m Not Mad, Just Disappointed

Four years ago was the first time I was able to participate in a federal election. I was in the third year of my journalism program. I was beginning to develop the casual cynicism that is so common among journalists when it comes to politics. So when Justin Trudeau won while talking about issues like truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the importance of diversity, I genuinely started to believe that politics could be done differently. 

Now, just over a week into the new federal election campaign, Trudeau is in hot water after images of him in racist costumes emerged. Three separate instances of the PM dressed in brownface or blackface have surfaced since Wednesday night. First, Time magazine released a photo of Trudeau at an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala hosted by West Point Grey Academy, at which he taught, dressed as Aladdin. Trudeau was 29 at the time and the only person photographed in brownface. The second incident is a photo of Trudeau performing the song “Day-O” at his high school’s talent show, “wearing makeup.” Then, in a video shot in the early ‘90s obtained by Global, Trudeau can be seen wearing blackface. 

What is blackface/brownface?

Dressing in blackface is the practice of non-black people darkening their skin and exacerbating stereotypes to mock black people. Blackface in the 1820s involved minstrels using exaggerated accents, malapropisms and outlandish clothes to ridicule black people. It has been used to belittle, dehumanize and spread harmful stereotypes about black people. Calixa Laval, the composer of the Canadian national anthem, travelled as a blackface minstrel. 

The first person of colour (POC) to lead a major Canadian political party, Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party, was “jarred” seeing Trudeau in brownface. Singh has previously opened up about his experiences with racism and gave an emotional statement in response.

“Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface … it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are,” Singh remarked.

Trudeau said that he didn’t think his actions were racist at the time but now realizes that they were. He has since apologized and asked that Canadians forgive him, adding that he’s “pissed off” with himself.

As a POC, I’m pissed and disappointed too

I’m upset that a well-educated, 29-year-old teacher didn’t have the sense to realize that brownface and blackface are racist. It is concerning considering that Trudeau became the Liberal’s critic for youth and multiculturalism in 2009, then the critic for citizenship and immigration in 2010.

As Tariq Amin-Khan, an associate professor of political science at Ryerson University, points out, “at one level (his response) shows that Justin Trudeau’s understanding about race and racism doesn’t seem to have deep roots.”

Trudeau embraced minority groups and Canada’s multiculturism during his time in office. At one point, seven of his 35 Cabinet members were ethnic minorities. In the wake of this scandal, we wonder if Trudeau was showing a genuine desire for diversity and inclusion, or just tokenism or overcompensation?

Last February, Trudeau announced that Canadians must address the anti-black racism affecting more than one million black Canadians. He then called for equal opportunity and equal treatment for black Canadians.

However, with this scandal, it is hard to take the prime minister’s words seriously. By wearing blackface, Trudeau failed to treat black people with the respect we deserve and robbed us of the opportunity to define and represent ourselves. Blackface attempts to establish essential differences between POCs and white people and suggests that black people are inferior as a matter of biology. Regardless of Trudeau’s intentions, the three images of him support this ideology.

A look to the election

Singh said that the blackface incident is an “ongoing pattern of behaviour that’s really going to hurt Canadians.” I agree and disagree. I agree that Trudeau’s actions have hurt many Canadians and that they’re part of a bigger pattern. However, I do not believe that Trudeau is a racist who hates black and brown people. 

The disappointing pattern I’ve noticed with Trudeau is the dissonance between his actions and his words. I was jarred when I saw the images of Trudeau. How could someone who champions multiculturalism and immigration do something like that? But it fits the larger narrative. Justin Trudeau the climate change activist who approved the Trans Atlantic Pipeline; the feminist who kicked Jane Philpott and Jodie Wilson-Raybould out of his Cabinet for disagreeing with him.

I understand that politicians are complicated and that it’s important to avoid making sweeping conclusions around election time. But I will say this: before voting this Fall, remember to carefully consider the politician and the platform. Consider the claims they make about themselves and their opponents; consider what issues matter most to you and vote for the candidate who will disappoint you the least.

The Immigrant’s Dilemna: An Interview with Richard Young

Many children-of-immigrants are told that the only acceptable careers are lawyer, doctor, engineer and accountant. Anything outside of the narrow definition of a “traditional” job is deemed unacceptable and is often seen as a failure. This was the reality for Richard Young growing up with his parents who immigrated to Canada.

“You see things from TV or film, but you have no real tangible connection to it because you know what you know,” he said to New Canadian Media.

Young’s father worked at an engineering company; so when it came time to choose a university program, engineering made sense.

“I was at Queen’s University, and after my first year I realized I couldn’t do it. Not that it was too hard, but I hated it,” Young revealed.

Eventually, Young completed his MBA at the Schulich School of Business then worked as a brand manager.

However, “I was miserable,” he explained. “I was talking to a colleague who worked beside me and she was so in love with marketing, and the products and branding and I thought to myself, ‘I just want to love my job the way my colleague does.’ And I knew it wasn’t that, it was the arts. So I quit my job — my well-paying job — and moved back in with my parents.”

Young is currently realizing his passion, working as a writer and an actor. His latest film, Maternal, is about a girl, born in Canada with a Caribbean mother, who’s waiting for an acceptance letter from her dream arts program. In the film, the mother has to make a heart-wrenching decision about her child’s artistic future because the family has limited resources.

The premise of the film came from the discord that arose between Young and his family because of his decision to pursue an artistic career. Giving up his stable, traditional job led to fights and strained relationships with his family, leaving Young feeling angry and hurt.

Young spoke to NCM about Maternal, his family and careers in the arts.

Richard Young. (IMDB)

Richard Young: Of course, my parents were not happy. At first, I thought it was because they were ashamed of who I am. But later I realized the reason for all those fights was love. I started to look at it from my parent’s perspective; they came here to give me a better life and then they saw me struggle as an artist. Even now that I’m doing fairly well, if I’d stayed with my traditional job, I’d be in a better position with better job security. So for my parents, it wasn’t about shame; it was more about not being able to give me the life they wanted to because of what I wanted to do. The arts is an industry that’s non-traditional and all about connections. Yes, there’s schools and programs you can take, but it’s really about who you know, more so than other careers I’ve been in. Actors, writers, agents, casting directors, producers – when you’re in high school nobody knows what these careers are or how to reach them. When I had my audition for the acting program at Humber, the program’s director treated my dream as a reality. And it wasn’t that my friends and family were saying “you don’t have what it takes to be an actor.” For them, there was no tangible way (to make my dream happen). Whereas this program’s director was a professional actor himself, so to him it wasn’t just some fantasy.

Marcus Medford: If you weren’t able to use your family as a resource or support system, who did you turn to?

RY: In university, I started to open up more because I was away from my hometown. That’s when I started to get involved in more plays and writing humour articles. When I finally made the leap to the Humber program, the good thing about those two years was, in addition to the actor training, they also brought in professional actors and casting directors etc. There was more of the formal process of “here’s what to do.”

MM: Who do you think was most disappointed by your decision to pursue a career in the arts?

RY:  When  I was changing careers, having fights, it seemed like my parents were just disappointed in me. But underneath all anger is fear, and underneath all anger is hurt, so I don’t want to say disappointment. What I think they felt is sad and hurt. When they see me struggle it hurts them. If anything they feel disappointed in themselves.

MM: Was there a particular incident which lead you to write Maternal?

RY: I know my parents love me wholeheartedly, but if they had the ability to go inside my brain, change the part of me that loves the arts, and change it so that I loved accounting or engineering or some traditional career, they would. And it’s not because they hate who I am; they just want me to have enough money to be happy. They don’t want me to have to struggle the way they did. And I think that’s where the anger and the fights came from; that’s where my inspiration came from.

MM: What have your experiences writing this film and the conversations with your parents taught you about “adulting?”

RY: When the audience finds out the mother is hiding her daughter’s arts program acceptance letter, some people will probably think, “how dare you destroy your child’s dream?” and then other people will say “I get it. It hurts, but I get it.” The broader discussion I’d like to take place beyond whether you’re pro-mom or not is that this unfair arts industry exists where decisions like this have to happen, and that’s wrong. Where people have the talent, but because their financial situations or a lack of opportunities parents can give their kids, children’s dreams are denied. Ironically, aspirations are a privilege.

MM: Is the mom the villain in this film?

RY: If anything, this movie is a massive indictment of the art industry: this is why underprivileged people can’t get ahead. The arts need to be more inclusionary.

MM: What kind of conversations are you hoping the audience will have after the film?

RY: For any frustrated artists who feel like their parents aren’t supporting them, hopefully, this movie humanizes the parent. For the parents who are against their kids doing something non-traditional, hopefully seeing the parent make that decision will make them take a step back. I hope there’s forgiveness on both ends.

MM: For parents who aren’t supportive of their children’s choices and aspirations, what would you say to them?

RY: You need to ask yourself why you don’t support it. If the reason is because it’s a financial risk, personally, that’s realistic. Then you have to work with your kids to figure out how they’re going to bring in income, like taking a business or entrepreneurship course. Or what are the connections you need to make? If it’s a shame thing, that’s an entirely different issue. Then you need to ask yourself what you care more about, loving your child or your ego?


Young is currently realizing his passion (and no longer living with his parents), working as a writer and an actor. His acting credits include Kim’s Convenience (CBC), Jett (Cinemax), and Taken (NBC) and his writing credits include 16 Hudson (TVO Kids) and Sudden Master (Rogers/OMNI).

Maternal can be seen at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival in Toronto, Sept. 4 onward.

Starting a Consultation Business

The job market is changing. More and more people are exploring entrepreneurship as a career or a side hustle, for passion or necessity. According to Intuit Canada, 45 per cent of Canada’s job market will be made up of self-employed people by 2020. This is worrying given that 30 per cent of small businesses fail within five years of entering the marketplace and nearly 7000 businesses go bankrupt every year in Canada. The main reason these businesses fail is due to a lack of planning and inexperienced management, according to an Industry Canada study.

A consultant is an expert in a particular field who gives professional advice to entrepreneurs and businesses to help their businesses thrive. As the number of small businesses increases so too does the need for consultants. If you’re looking to start your own consulting business, these are things you’ll want to know.

Identify your area of expertise

There are several different kinds of consultants, business, legal, marketing, and technical are a few examples. The first thing you’ll want to do when starting a consulting business is to figure out what your strengths and areas of expertise are. It’s important to be honest with your self-assessment, ask yourself questions like “is there a demand for this service?” and “do I have a unique point of view?” You should consider areas you excel in at work, hobbies you’ve mastered or other areas of interest as the focus of your consulting business. Whatever niche you choose it should be one you enjoy, especially if you’re consulting full-time.

Other valuable assets for a consultant to have include good communication and interpersonal skills, strong time management abilities, sound organizational skills and acute critical and analytical thinking. Whether it’s software, cutting-edge information or professional certifications, it’s crucial to find out what’s important in your industry and expand your knowledge in that area.

Get certified

The licenses and certifications required for you to start your consulting business will depend on which field you specialize in. Consulting for certain fields, like real estate or engineering, requires you to get special licenses, for legal and competitive purposes. In other fields, it’s common for consultants to hold special designations such as a CGA (Certified General Accountant) or a CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant). The Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation is the only international certification for consultants, it’s recognized in over 40 countries.

Most municipal governments will require you to have a municipal business permit even if you’re working from home. Starting a consulting business doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to start and register a corporation, in many cases you can simply work as a sole proprietor. Also, register your business with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) if you plan to hire employees or will make more than $30,000 a year in profit. Regulations vary from one jurisdiction to the next so it’s wise to contact your local government business agent. BizPaL, a partnership between multiple levels of government, is designed to streamline access to information on certifications, licenses and other permits you may need.

To compete with other consultants, it’s helpful to know what qualifications employers are looking for. Most employers require consultants to have a minimum of two years of working experience or a bachelor’s degree majoring in a subject like business, accounting, marketing or finance.

Find your target audience

If you’re an insurance consultant, it’s not enough to say that your target audience is people looking for insurance. You need a clear idea of who your target audience is and how to best serve them if you’re going to be a successful consultant. Consider the following questions when trying to narrow down your target audience: where is your target audience (are they local or global), what are the biggest challenges they face, why are they seeking your help, who is their competition, what makes you unique, what are your clients end goals?

It’s important to match your skills to your prospective clients, particularly when you’re just starting your business. Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t think you’re a good fit for the task. If possible, recommend the client to someone who’s a better fit for their needs. Also, beware of spreading yourself too thin in the early stages of your business, it’s better to avoid doing too much than lose sight of what your business your does best.

Networking

Networking means connecting with people involved in your industry as well as having a digital presence to connect with potential customers. A recent Local Search Association report finds that 63 per cent of consumers use websites to find or engage with businesses, and 30 per cent of them won’t consider a business without a website. Also, Google gives your business more authority in local rankings if you have a website — be sure to make it SEO (search engine optimization) compliant. Services like WordPress and Squarespace make building a website easy, and you can secure a domain name through services like GoDaddy.

Networking and referrals are crucial for building your business so consider joining Facebook or LinkedIn groups that your target audience might frequent. It could be useful to develop an outreach strategy. Writing and sharing posts will make you familiar with the community and vice versa, allow you to show your expertise and keep you in the know with events, workshops and networking opportunities.

Set your rates

It’s easy to charge less than you’re worth when you’re new to consulting, especially with no proven results. Your best bet is to first research what consultants in your field are charging in your local area, sites like Glassdoor.com can help with this. It’s important to be realistic and also to remain competitive when setting your rates. You’ll want to figure out if you’re charging clients an hourly rate, by day, by project, based on their goals or by some other measure. Consider how you’ll bill your clients and how you’ll accept payment. Platforms such as Freshbooks, Invoicely and Due allow you to automate billing cycles, track and manage invoices and payments and run reports on your earnings.

Mental Health for Entrepreneurs

This article was originally published in The Edge: A Leaders Magazine.

Entrepreneurs are known for pouring themselves into their businesses. Long days, hours spent alone and making tough personal sacrifices are not uncommon for entrepreneurs. They often put their businesses before themselves which negatively affects their mental well-being. Several studies have shown that entrepreneurs experience high rates of stress and mental health issues like depression, anxiety and substance abuse. 72 percent of entrepreneurs have reported mental health concerns compared to 7 percent of the general public. On top of that, every year one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness. These instances cost the economy more than $50 billion. Mental health issues have a huge economic and emotional toll, here are some tips for managing your mental health.

Mental Strength is Good Mental Health

Don’t fall for the “never-not-working” mentality. It shouldn’t be a point of pride, and it does more harm than good. According to Fortune magazine, 30 percent of startups fail due to “founder’s blues.” If a business’s founder loses their passion, focus, or suffers from burnout, the business won’t succeed. The mental and emotional state of an entrepreneur is vital. It’s important to balance your work with eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

Your business might be time-consuming, but it shouldn’t consume your personhood. Avoid thoughts like “I don’t know who I am if not the founder of ____” or equating your value with your business’ success. Both these notions are manifestations of perfectionism which can damage self-esteem, cause anxiety and emotional turmoil.

Be gentle with yourself, and remember, your thoughts should motivate you. Mental exercises like reciting positive affirmations and doctrines like “The Four Agreements” can strengthen your mental resolve.

Repeating these words regularly makes the beliefs easier to internalize and call upon in moments of doubt.

Shift Your Thinking to Regain Focus

Entrepreneurs often have a lot on their minds, both business-related and personal. It can be difficult to focus on your work—or perform at your best—if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Especially if your work is what’s causing you to feel anxious or depressed. Shifting your focus can get you out of a low-mood situation and help establish better mental health practices.

The 23-minute routine is a mindfulness technique meant to be done shortly after waking to ensure a positive start to the day. The routine consists of writing about a positive experience from the previous day, expressing gratitude via text or e-mail, writing about three things from yesterday that went well and why, 5 minutes of cardio, and taking two minutes to breathe. The routine is supposed to calm you, centre you, and turn your focus away from stressors. By recalling what brings you joy you’re forcing your brain to think positively. Thinking deeply about what makes you happy will also make you more likely to pursue those things.

Inserting purposeful breaks into your work schedule can also be beneficial. The Pomodoro method is a popular productivity technique in which users work in 25-minute intervals followed by 5-minute breaks with every third break being 15-30 minutes. Working in short sprints trains your brain to focus quickly and can help improve your concentration and attention span. Also, regular breaks bolster motivation and increase creativity.

Avoid Burnout

Research shows that exercise is effective for treating mild to moderate depression. A 20-minute walk or jog can improve your mood for 12 hours. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that reduce one’s perception of pain and trigger a feeling in the body. Regular exercise has been proven to: increase energy levels, improve sleep, reduce stress, boost self-esteem, and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.

Exercising with people or joining a sports team can be even more beneficial. Social support and interaction are good for our health, particularly if struggling with depression. Making time for friends and hobbies is important too, even if you’re busy.

Entrepreneurs often engage in networking and sales-focused conversations. Neither ideal for genuine connection nor vulnerability. Many entrepreneurs pride themselves on appearing to “have it all together.” This is known as impression management. Impression management contributes to isolation, insecurity and identity confusion.

Surround yourself with people you can truly be yourself around. Use your network to connect with other entrepreneurs and people with non-traditional careers.

How Canadian Businesses Can Benefit From A Growing Single Population

This article was originally published in The Edge: A Leaders Magazine.

With more and more people putting off marriage, getting divorced, outliving their
spouses and choosing not to date, there are tonnes of single people out there.
According to the 2016 census, one-person households are the most common living
arrangement in Canada for the first time in history. And while that might sound
concerning for the population of this country, it is good news for businesses. Society is
geared towards families even though the single demographic is one of the
fastest-growing in Canada and around the world. If businesses could tap into that
growing market, it could be hugely profitable. Here, The Edge takes you through some
of the ways businesses can benefit from a burgeoning single population.

Adjust your business or service

More and more travel companies are adjusting their services to accommodate single
people and solo travellers. Tracey Nesbitt, the editor of Solo Traveler magazine, says that
demand for solo travel has exploded among millennials and baby boomers, particularly
for women. Some travel companies have responded to the increased interest by
offering more single rooms and waiving singles supplement charges. Some companies offer communal dining tables and happy hour reception while allowing
solo travellers to pair up in rooms and even meet before the journey electronically.
Since launching in 2015, Transat’s collection of solo packages has nearly doubled. It
includes 19 sun destinations, 39 resorts in 10 countries and welcomes about 8,000 solo
travellers a year.

Adjusting your product or service to suit the needs of a shifting population can positively
impact your business. For example, Canadian supermarket chains have dedicated more
floor space to ready-made food because it appeals to busy, well-off singles. Also, food
packaged in smaller portions is more likely to satisfy a single diner than a family of four.
These adjustments “serve a market and substantially increases margins” says professor
of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, Sylvain Charlebois. On the
flipside, because singles are more likely to dine out, packaged foods need to be tastier
and more appealing. Restaurants also need to consider the solo diner when creating
their menus.

Businesses related to housing and housing-affiliated products should also be mindful of
changing trends. Nearly 4 million Canadians live alone and 28 per cent of those 4
million live in condominiums, according to Statistics Canada. The growing number
Canadians living alone has coincided with the increase in condominium construction. If you’re in the real estate or housing development business, you could create more
single-person units to get more business.

Marketing to singles

Single people tend to have more free time and disposable income than people in
relationships. As one of the fastest-growing demographics in Canada, businesses
should capitalize on the marketing opportunity. To market to singles, you need
to understand them. However, unlike most demographic groups, singles are not defined
by age, income or gender so there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing model. For example,
the two largest groups of singles are 18-24-year-olds who’ve never been married and
people 55 and older who are widowed or divorced. These are two very different groups
with very different needs and must be marketed to accordingly.
Be mindful of how you portray singlehood and the risks involved with poor marketing.
Don’t frame singlehood as negative or as a case of “not being able to find a partner.”
According to Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University and author of Going
Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, singlehood is an
empowering choice. “Living alone helps us pursue sacred modern values — individual
freedom, personal control, and self-realization,” he writes. Marketing to singles can be
as simple as not excluding them when marketing to families. Seemingly-small steps like
not having every adult in an ad or commercial wearing a wedding ring can go a long
way.

Take advantage of trends

In addition to being a fast-growing demographic with extra disposable income, singles
are economically powerful because they influence buying decisions. Single people are
more connected through social media than others, spending almost 30 more minutes a
week socializing than married people according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.
“Evidence suggests that people who live alone compensate by becoming more socially
active,” Klinenberg writes. CEO of marketing firm Dragon Rouge US, Pearse McCabe, says single people are more likely to share brands, recommendations and marketing messages. “Those people are very important nodes in the communication and marketing networks,” McCabe said.

You can utilize the social and economic power of singletons by combining marketing
directed at them with social media incentives. Giveaways, contests and hashtags are great ways to engage people online, help them interact with each other and attract new
people to your business.

5 Tips To Grow Your E-Commerce Business

Starting an e-commerce business is no small task; many demands need to be met—both temporal and financial—several decisions to be made and other factors that need to align for your business to be a success. Whether you’re supplementing a traditional brick-and-mortar operation with an online presence or your business exists solely in the digital realm, it’s important to know the best practices to help your business grow. Here we take a look at the top 5 strategies for growing your business online.

Understanding SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO, means structuring your online content in such a way to increase your business’s chances of appearing higher on the list of results for search engines. It’s impossible to control search results completely but there are small aspects you can control like making sure your website is mobile-friendly and being present on social media. Other things to keep in mind when it comes to SEO are including concise titles, keywords and descriptions in your posts. Remember, every business is different so what SEO strategies will work for you will depend on the type of business you have.

Build your online reputation

One of the best ways to build your business’s reputation online is through positive customer testimonials. Positive reviews about your business are a sign of its trustworthiness and are critical for your business’s success. According to a 2018 consumer review survey by BrightLocal, 97% of customers read online reviews before they buy and 57% of people will only use a business with 4 or more stars. Not only are these positive testimonials almost as good as personal recommendations, they also increase your business’s SEO-ranking and therefore its visibility.

Search engines will reward your business if it appears as though you have hoards of
customers who are satisfied with your product or service, which in turn will lead more customers to you. This is especially important if your target demographic is millennials (18-34) as 80% of them have written a testimonial and 95% of them read reviews for local businesses.

Invest your time wisely and know when to invest

When you first start a business, you usually end up taking on a majority of the workload
because you have to. As your business grows there become more and more tasks that need to be completed but still only 24 hours to work with. By utilizing tools like Hootsuite and Buffer, business owners can automate their social media posting, which is hugely important but time-consuming. There are also tools like QuickBooks, which provide accounting software capable of accepting payments, bill management and payroll functions. While QuickBooks is not free, it’s value comes from the time that you’ll save that can be put towards other important business functions and ensuring the work is done professionally and efficiently.

Another option to consider as your business grows is outsourcing to deal with an increased workload. Online marketplaces like Fiverr and Freelancer.com are convenient, easy to use and help lead you to professionals with a variety of skills that can be hired for short-term work. As the old adage goes, you gotta spend money to make money.

Get into your customer’s heads

Understanding human psychology is a powerful tool in business and marketing. If you
understand how people think and what they react to, you can reach them more effectively. From relatively simple things like what colours people associate with certain traits and emotions, to understanding how to use language to affect the way people think of something, psychology can be used to help grow your business. Social Proof is a psychological phenomenon where people conform to the actions of others because they believe those actions are reflective of the correct behaviour. Marketers, for example, use this phenomenon by showing their customers that people already like and trust their business. They do this by sharing their statistics, subscriber counts, customer testimonials among other things.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a psychological term used to describe the anxiety people feel about missing out on something trendy or exciting. Businesses can take advantage of that to increase sales and conversions by adding scarcity or
exclusivity to your offers.

Take your business global

For most entrepreneurs, their first target market is their immediate geographical area. However, one of the best ways to grow your e-commerce business is to appeal to a global audience and the internet makes it easier to do that. If you plan on making your e-commerce business global, you must do your research on: how shoppers purchase goods online when are seasonal sales peaks and holidays, local and international laws, shipping and distribution logistics among other things. Make sure you have an understanding of cultural customs, taboos and trends before you try to establish an online presence in another country.

E-commerce platforms like BigCommerce allow your e-commerce shop to operate in over 150 countries, display in almost any language and accept payments in most currencies. Meanwhile, gateways like PayPal and Stripe allow users to simply and accurately pay in their own currency without transaction fees. PayPal Passport is also a great resource for finding more information on how to bring your business to the world.

Luxury & Lifestyle Trends for 2019

Consumer habits are changing, and experts found that people are more interested in
experiences than brands or products. People are searching for things that are exclusive,
memorable and unique to complement their lifestyles. Whether it’s a product or a
service, something to make your life easier or just to make it more enjoyable, here’s a
look at some exciting trends for you to indulge in this year.

Year of the electric car

cars parked in front of company building

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

It’s predicted that every major car maker will have an electric car on the market, in
showrooms ​or in production by 2020. Tesla is expected to release its highly-anticipated
base Model 3 this year, ​and two new cars in 2020. ​Even luxury car makers like Porsche,
Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz are joining the electric revolution. The 2020
Mercedes-Benz EQC crossover marks the beginning of the Mercedes-EQ sub-brand of
vehicles with an electric ecosystem and is being touted as the most important vehicle
from the company in decades. Meanwhile, there’s an air of exclusivity about the 2020
Aston Martin Rapide E. Developed in collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering,
each car will be fitted with Pirelli P Zero tyres developed specifically for the Rapide E.
Not to mention only 155 sedans will be manufactured.

Antarctic adventure

 

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A Scenic Eclipse Cruise Ship. Photo courtesy of Scenic Canada.

If you’re searching for an unconventional vacation experience this year look no further
than an adventure cruise on board the Scenic Eclipse. On the world’s first discovery
yacht you’ll experience the wonders of the Antarctic up close. With voyages limited to
200 guests, you’ll enjoy an exclusive cruise which includes helicopter rides, submarine
expeditions as well as specialist-lead Kayak excursions. The cruise is as lavish as it is
adventurous with each passenger having a premium verandah suite, with upgrade
options that include spa suites and private butler service.

 

 

Work smarter, not harder

JAXJOX-KettlebellConnect-Product-Shots-31

The KettlebellConnect by JAXKOX.  Photo courtesy of JAXJOX.

Incorporating technology into your workout is the perfect way to combine brains and
brawn, and there are plenty of smart devices to help you reach your fitness goals from
FitBits to self-tying shoes. The innovative features of JAXJOX’s KettlebellConnect
makes working out more efficient. For starters, it has 6-cylinder weights inside it which
can be adjusted to weigh between 12 and 42 pounds. Motion sensors enable it to
accurately track movements, count reps and automatically sync data with the
corresponding app. Plus it can create profiles for up to nine users and if you subscribe
to JAXJOX’s subscription service you gain access to live fitness classes. If boxing is
more your style, FightCamp’s smart fitness system is designed so you can box at home.
The kit includes gloves, a punching bag, hand wraps and an exercise mat and signing
up for FightCamp’s subscription gives users workouts via the iOS app. The app can be
used to track your “punch count” and keep track of your breaks.
So whether you’re shedding winter weight or getting beach-ready, these tools will help
you get the best workout.

 

 

Brilliant watches

Watches from Ulysse Nardin’s FREAK collection are coveted for their beauty
and the innovative materials used to make them, the Skeleton X is no
exception. An aeronautical-grade forged carbon called Carbonium is used to
make the watches, the same material used to build aircraft. And because it’s 95% sourced from carbon by-products, it’s eco-friendly. The skeleton dial forms an X with four of the indexes and is framed within a rectangle, showing off the watch’s intricate details. There are four case materials available for the Skeleton X, titanium with black DLC, rose gold, and an entirely new Carbonium GOLD. The Carbonium GOLD interweaves gold fibres which give it a wavy effect.

 

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The RJ ARRAW 6919 in rose gold and titanium. Photo courtesy of WatchTime.

 

The materials used in the RJ ARRAW 6919 as equally impressive. To celebrate
the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Geneva-based company
included parts of the original spacecraft in the bezel of the watch. The material,
which was created from the lunar and command modules of the Apollo 11, is
fixed to the case by a metal grid. The grid is available in polished and
satin-brushed grade 5 titanium, ceramic and 5N+ red gold.