Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leap Is Going Off Air

The idea for the Look Before You Leap: Self Employment Survival Strategies project emerged from our passion for helping career development practitioners explore career options beyond government funded programs which, for many, included work as career consultants. We also wanted to ensure career development practitioners gained an increased awareness of self-employment, helping them to support clients. Our work on the project was supported by our 20+ years of self-employment endeavors and our awareness that many leap into self-employment relatively uninformed and unprepared.

The Leap project was made possible thanks, in large part, to funding received from the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC). Project deliverables included a 2-week facilitated e-learning course focused on self-employment, a corresponding workbook useful for those considering self-employment and those supporting self-employed persons, and a research article published in the Canadian Journal of Career Development (available at: The project’s final report is available at:

Having launched in 2010, the project agreement has now come to an end and the Life Strategies team has decided it is time to wrap up all remaining activities. We are thrilled to announce that the PDF version of the Leap workbook will now be available for free – click here to download.

The Leap website will remain live for the foreseeable future, but will not be updated. Don’t hesitate to visit as the site includes links to many useful resources.

The Leap Blog will also remain live, but we won’t be contributing new posts.

The Twitter feed will also go silent; our last Tweet has been set for September 2013 and the account will close soon after.

Our team is still passionate about supporting career development practitioners interested in self-employment, either for themselves or for their clients. Do not hesitate to connect if you’d like more information on customized training options.

Huge thanks to CERIC, Leap students, and research participants for your support of this project. We also want to thank Miranda Vande Kuyt for managing the Leap site, blog, and Twitter feed, and for teaching the Leap course, over the last few years. We also can’t forget our project coordinator, Cassie Saunders; without her support our self-employment endeavours would be infinitely more challenging!


Roberta and Deirdre

Monday, August 5, 2013

Top 10 "Lacks" That Cause Business Failure

All too often new business owners sink their hearts, souls, and life savings into starting their business only to have it fail. They are good people: intelligent, articulate, ambitious, and motivated, and yet they still fail. Sometimes it is for external reasons, but usually it is because of things they haven’t done or things they lack. So why did they fail? Here are 10 of the most common “lacks” that cause businesses to fail.

Photo by Dreamstime
1. Lack of Funds. More businesses fail from lack of funding or under funding than anything else. It may be 18 months before income exceeds outgo, so where is the money coming from to withstand that drain? Do a thorough cost analysis in advance. Set competitive yet profitable prices. Make your revenue projections conservative and over estimate your expenses. Set up a contingency fund or a line of credit to cover unexpected expenses.

2. Lack of Research. Research everything and then research it again. You have to do a thorough SWOT analysis of every aspect of your business: your competitors' businesses, who your ideal customers is, what rules and regulations are involved, what your costs are (fixed and variable), what's your niche, and what makes you different from the others. Use Statistics Canada or LMI or good old fashioned leg work but check everything out in advance. What registrations, licenses, certifications, or regulations will you have to comply with? Find it all out before you start so you don’t get suprised by them six months down the road.

3. Lack of Planning. I have said this before and I will say it again. "Fail to plan and you plan to fail." Most small businesses don't plan, they just DO. The business fatality rate is so high because of things that have NOT been planned for. People start a business before they even know what they don't know. You need to have a strategy going in. A thorough Business Plan will become the blueprint for running a successful business. Your business plan should include an exit strategy.

4. Lack of Passion. Unless you have a true passion for what you are doing, you are doomed to fail. Find something that you love to do and figure out a way to get paid to do it. I would (and do) coach entrepreneurs for free periodically because I want to pass along my knowledge and experience. Getting paid to do it is a huge bonus! Going into a business that you care nothing about just because there are huge profits in whatever widget it is will ultimately lead to failure. Find something that excites you and devote your energies to it willingly and you will increase your chances of success

5. Lack of Training. Businesses fail because business owners attempt to start in unfamiliar industries. Entrepreneurs should try to find part time work in the field they are planning to open their business in so they can learn more about it. They should have advisory boards to bounce their ideas off before they implement them. They should take certifications that are required for the industry they are entering, and do the appropriate professional development they need to run their business adequately. I have seen hundreds of entrepreneurs who dreamed of opening their own restaurant yet they have never worked in one in any capacity, let alone managed one. Unsurprisingly, many of them fail.

6. Lack of Organization. Most new business owners don’t even start with “Shoe Box Accounting” and as a result they get into cash flow difficulties without even realizing they are getting into trouble. Basic record keeping should be implemented from the very outset. Get someone who is qualified accountant or bookkeeper to set up a basic manual record keeping system for you even if you plan to keep the records yourself. Invest in Sage Simply Accounting or QuickBooks and someone to set it up for you and teach you how to use it.

7. Lack of Marketing. If you're thinking, "I have built a better mousetrap so the world will beat a path to my door. My business will grow by word of mouth." WRONG! People can't beat a path to your door if they don't know where your door is or that you have a better mouse trap. The Marketing Plan portion of your Business Plan is a separate plan all of its own. How are you going to reach your ideal customer? Have you even defined who that ideal customer is? (No, "Everybody" is not a valid answer.) How much are you going to spend on advertising? Where? When? How often? How will you TRACK the results?

8. Lack of Networking.  Networking relates back to number seven. Far too many entrepreneurs set up their businesses and then just sit back and wait. Without customer interaction the business withers and dies. Whether it is good old fashioned handshakes and conversations at Chamber of Commerce meetings or a social media marketing plan, they need to be out there promoting their business and getting their message out. Which platforms fit your business? If you sell B2B you need to be on LinkedIn. B2C is better suited to Facebook. Is your business visual? Put it on Pinterest. Set up a web site. Attach a blog to your web site. Create presentations and movies on Slideshare and You Tube. Are you in the hospitality industry? Put yourself on Foursquare. Link all of this stuff together. Don’t know how? Hire someone who does!

9. Lack of Focus. AKA: “Re-inventing the wheel.” The tendency of small business owners is to wear too many hats, especially during the first year of a start-up. As a result they wind up spending hundreds of hours working on their business without actually working in their business. The owner takes the time to learn how to do every aspect of business and get themselves bogged down doing things they could be delegating to others. If the owner’s wage is of 40 hours a week generating revenues is worth $150.00 per hour ($6000 per week), why on earth would they spend 10 hours doing simple tasks that they could outsource to someone else at a lower rate of pay?

10. Lack of Coaching. Entrepreneurs have a tendency to “Go it alone”. Too often they embark on projects or full fledged business ventures without any input whatsoever. Many do this because they don’t want to hear negative thoughts about why what they are trying to do wont work. Unfortunately that attitude can lead the bold entrepreneur into ruinous mistakes. It is critical to establish an “Advisory Board” of experienced business people who you can use as a sounding board. Look for people who are strong in areas where you perceive weaknesses and elicit their opinions.

If you can’t find an advisory board on your own, try hiring a business coach to be your mentor.

Richard Lindfield is a Business Coach specializing in Business Planning, Business Management, LinkedIn Basic Training, LinkedIn Company Page Development, Social Media Marketing Strategies, Content Development and much more. Visit the Fraser Valley Training Group to connect with Richard at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

10 Tips For Managing Time And Prioritizing Tasks

Photo by Microsoft Images
1. Know yourself. Keep a detailed log of how your time is spent. Identify what tasks take the most time, when you’re most productive, and common time wasters.

2. Avoid multitasking. Studies suggest that we can only focus on one project at a time and only for 40-90 minutes. Multitasking is a myth. Strive to “chunk” your time; trying to get everything done at once can result in nothing getting done at all.

3. Set goals and reward yourself. Set SMART goals; break down each large goal into key tasks and smaller “to-do” items. To stay engaged, celebrate each milestone as it is achieved.

4. Use a prioritizing formula. A structured format can help with important decisions concerning how to spend your time / what tasks to do first. Sample formats include Deadline/Payoff, Paired Comparison, Importance/Time, and Richard Bolles’ Prioritizing Grid (discussed in That Elusive Work-Life Balance).

5. Invest time in scheduling. Use calendars, task reminders, and/or Gantt charts to schedule your time. Chunk smaller or similar tasks together, but remember to build in some wiggle room, leave time for interruptions, and schedule regular breaks.

6. Be clear and concise when communicating. Use e-mail subject line, to, and cc fields effectively (i.e., subject line links to email purpose, to notes key recipients(s), cc reserved for FYI). Ensure any requests for action are clearly stated, addressed to specific individuals, and include due dates. Leave clear and concise voice mails; don’t assume someone has your phone number. Develop appropriate/effective agendas to guide meetings.

7. Make effective use of technology. With such a wide range of technologies available pick something that will work for you – not what’s “hot” today. Invest the time to fully understand every technology you use. Remember, low-tech solutions (e.g., tickler file) can sometimes work the best so don’t rule those out.

8. Avoid management by crisis. If you’re always fighting fires, you’re not productive. Plan your time and tasks effectively; don’t ignore upcoming deadlines as they tend to “sneak” up. Remember – stress and emotions interfere with productivity and impact decision-making capabilities, help if you get overwhelmed and/or feel unable to cope.

9. Delegate effectively. Only pass items on to someone who understands the task specifications/deadline and has the skills/ capacity to complete it effectively. Build in some extra time to monitor progress and review the product.

10. Learn to say no. If you can’t complete a task, it’s alright to say no. Be sure to provide a reason and work together to find solution (e.g., shifting priorities, delegating tasks, getting more resources).

This post was written by Life Strategies and is available in a pdf tip sheet format:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

10 Strategies For Managing Your Stress

Nearly 61% of respondents to a recent survey on stress reported they were at least somewhat stressed; however, 81% reported they managed their stress at least somewhat effectively. We’ve pulled together these tips, based on their responses, to help others manage their stress. 

1.  Know your triggers. Stress produces physiological responses – your body tenses, your heart rate rises, and you become flustered/scattered. Reflect on what, or who, triggers your stress and develop effective coping strategies or, if possible, avoid those situations altogether.

2.  Stay healthy. Keeping your body and mind strong by maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help build your stress tolerance and resiliency. Avoid unhealthy coping strategies (e.g., drinking, smoking) and focus on eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

3.  Regain control. According to Professor Cary Cooper, the “feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.” Recognize and accept that there will always be situations outside of your control and give yourself permission to let those things go. Be sure, however, to regain control of the things you can, even if they seem small.

4.  Maximize your support network. Maintain healthy relationships with your friends and family. Ask for help when you need it – whether it is just someone to talk to or one who can offer assistance. Remember that these relationships are reciprocal . . . be prepared to support those in your network as well.

5.  Sort out your priorities. Consider all the things that you’re juggling and identify what’s really important. A prioritizing grid is a great tool to help with this activity.

6.  Plan ahead. If you know there is going to be a particularly stressful time coming up at work or at home, reflect on what you’ll need to help you cope. Consider both what you can add to (e.g., an additional fitness activity, more sleep) or remove from (e.g., carpool duty for the upcoming school trip) your routine.

Photo by Microsoft Images
7.  Remember to play. Think about the activities that you love and make you laugh and feel energized (e.g., hiking, running, reading, knitting, listening to music, painting). Recharge and re-energize yourself by taking time, every day, to enjoy life; laughter truly can be the best medicine.

8.  Reframe your thinking. Consciously make an effort to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. Consider what you can do rather than what you can’t. Ask yourself, is this a small inconvenience or a major catastrophe and be realistic in your appraisal. Remember that a small problem can seem huge when you’re either already feeling overloaded or not taking care of yourself.

9.  Take a moment. When experiencing a stress response, take a moment to practice stress reduction strategies. Focus on your breathing, count to 10 in your head, or repeat a mantra (e.g., “I am calm. I can handle this crisis”). After a brief break, you’ll be able to better process what’s happening and respond appropriately.

10.  Relax and reward yourself. Take time to relax and unwind after a particularly stressful time. Whether it’s a sweet treat, a night out on the town, or a vacation to a tropical island, a reward for “surviving” stress is always well deserved.

This post was written by Life Strategies and is available in a pdf tips sheet:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

10 Tips For Business Planning

By Richard Lindfield
By Microsoft Images
Obviously there are many more than 10 tips on how to write a business plan and I have included links to some of them. If you are an entrepreneur getting ready to write your first business plan, these first few tips will give you something to consider.

1. Why am I doing this? Understand why you are writing a business plan in the first place. A good business plan is a blue print for how your business should be run. If (God forbid) something happens to you that keeps you out of commission for 6 months or more, you should be able to hand over your business plan to someone who can temporarily run your business for you using the Business Plan as a guide. You might be writing it as a start up looking for funding, or an established business looking to expand. In each case you will write it slightly differently so decide up front why you are doing this. A decent Business Plan takes 100 hours or more to produce, so it is not a task to be taken on lightly.

2. Start small. Here is a fun exercise that I have posted about in numerous LinkedIn Groups and I find it very interesting to read the responses. Before you sit down to start writing your Business Plan sit down and describe your business in 10 words or less! Think in terms of what your business will do to improve the lives of your potential clients. What’s the benefit to them? Don’t even try to list any features of your products or services. Try it now, tell us what you do by leaving your 10 words in the comments below!

3. Stay small. Before you write a full business plan write a one page business plan to use as an outline for the full sized one. You already have your one sentence description of your business. Now be succinct in your description of the company, your products and services, marketing strategies, operational information, financial information, any funding requirements, and an appendix showing sources. Use one paragraph of 3 sentences or less for each topic and keep the entire document to 500 words or less.

4. Research, research, research. Now that you have a vague idea of what your business will look like, go and do a feasibility study that will confirm (or not) your assumptions. Do both primary and secondary research on the market and your niche in it. Research your competition. Research EVERYTHING! Use the internet, do surveys, talk to suppliers, identify your distribution methods, get quotes on capital acquisitions and create cash flow projections.

5. Identify your core values. We all have personal values that are important to us. It is crucial that the values of the company be consistent with your personal values or you will not be satisfied with the results you obtain. Incorporate your top 3 or 4 personal values into your company’s mission and vision statements. I use the Values Preference Indicator from Consulting Resource Group International to determine the values of the clients I work with who are developing their business plans.

6. Set goals. Set SMART Goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time sensitive) for 6 months out, 1 year out, 2 years out and 5 years out. If you don’t know where you are going you might wind up somewhere else. It is a good idea to brainstorm your goals with your advisory board. If you don’t have an advisory board, go recruit one. Try to include an industry mentor, your banker, key staff and trusted family members on your advisory board.

7. SWOT everything. SWOT stands for identifying the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. SWOT your business idea. SWOT yourself as an industry expert and as a Manager and Owner. SWOT any business partners you might have. SWOT EVERY competitor. SWOT your suppliers. SWOT the business model you have decided to implement. This research will help avoid getting bitten on the butt by something at a future date.

8. Create a critical path for your business. When will you do what and at what cost for the next 12 months. Not all steps in your critical path will have a cost associated but will still be sign posts of the progress of your business towards the ultimate goal.

9. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Go online and search for free downloadable Business Plan Templates. A good place to start would be the financial institution you normally do business with. If they have a template on their web site, chances are that is the way they want to view information when they evaluate your business for a loan. DO NOT buy Business Planning Software. You are going to spend over 100 hours writing it so why would you want to add a software learning curve into the mix?

10. Do it last! Even though your Executive Summary is the first section of your business plan is the executive summary you should write it last. Why? It is written last because you don’t really know what to put into it until you have done all of the other sections so you can summarize them. You could start with the One Page Business Plan you learned about in tip # 3 and compare it to the reality of your fully researched plan and revise and expand it accordingly and use that as your executive summary.

Richard Lindfield is Director of Training for The Fraser Valley Training Group. Services include Business Plan Writing. You can connect with Richard on LinkedIn at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

10 Keys To Accelerating Success In Any Business

Photo by
1.  Think like a millionaire. Brian Tracy, author of Million Dollar Habits, coaches entrepreneurs to think BIG! He says, “We become what we think about most of the time.” If you want financial independence, it must be top of mind. Set goals and make sacrifices. Develop a mindset of saving, investing, and growing your money.

2.  Be frugal. Stop spending! Never pay full price, negotiate everything (e.g., lower price, lower rates, better terms, deferred payments). Save something from every cheque. For lasting results, “Get rich slowly.”

3.  Do the work you love. Use your natural talents and abilities and arrange your day to spend more time on the things you do best. Find the “thing” that is easy to learn AND easy to do for optimal alignment. Still searching? How long will you stay in a situation when you know it is not right for you?

4.  Be a top performer. Stand out and get noticed (take on more responsibility, act fast, be thorough, be the go-to person, take initiative, be action/results-oriented). Work the whole time you work. Don’t “major in minors”; instead, work on high priority tasks that contribute to your earning potential.

5.  Learn what you need to learn to earn what you need to earn. You are the “architect of your own future.” What you do today will determine the quality of your tomorrows. Benchmark your skills, learn, and realize that you get hired for what you know. As a knowledge worker, value is determined by the results you get.

6.  Be a visionary and provide leadership. Create Vision, Mission, Goals, & Values Statements for yourself and your business. Involve others and share your passion. Remember the Biblical adage, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The best leadership is when the people say, “We have done it ourselves” (Tzu).

7.  Act like an entrepreneur. Make money work for you. Act fast on opportunities and problems. Delegate, don’t abdicate. Join or create a “mastermind group” and recruit the best when you need a team. Remain open to feedback and new ideas and never consider the possibility of failure. Navigate setbacks.

8.  Be customer-oriented. Businesses succeed and fail because of customers. According to Brian Tracy, customers buy only one thing – improvement. Do everything you can to understand your customer’s wants/needs and focus on ways to satisfy those needs. Cultivate customer relationships and accept that you must sow before you can reap. Go the extra mile as this brings better opportunities in the future.

9.  Market like a pro and focus on sales. You must, without any doubt, know what you are selling (Specialization), how you are better than your competition (Differentiation), and who buys from you (Segmentation), and then maintain focus as you generate sales. Apply Tracy’s 7 key habits to sales success and the 7 P’s of marketing to grow your business.

10.  Choose to be a person of good character. You have two paths laid out before you. You will choose to be a person of character or not. You will do the right thing in every situation or not. You will leave a legacy or not. You will live with courage or with fear. If you act as if success is completely possible, it will be.

This tip sheet was adapted by Jayne Barron, CHRP, CCDP,  from Brian Tracy’s (2004) "Million Dollar Habits".  Jayne Barron is a Career Management Consultant & HR Professional.  To learn more about Jayne visit her LinkedIn profile: This tip sheet is also available in pdf format

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

10 Tips For A Great Website

1.  Provide good navigation. Clear headings that get readers to the information they’re looking for quickly and easily are imperative. Search bars are great, but even something as simple as a site map listing all links in one place can help. For more tips on good navigation, click here.

2.  Use a clear, consistent, and clutter-free layout. Headers, sidebars, navigation, and footers should be clear and concise, remaining in the same place on every page. Consistency is key to making a professional-looking website. De-clutter your pages using a simple layout to relieve visual stress.

3.  Pay attention to fonts. Keep with the same font for all paragraphs with a separate one for headings to provide emphasis. Classic fonts, such as Times and Cambria, are always in style. Feel free to get creative but avoid over-used and difficult to read fonts such as Papyrus or Comic Sans.

4.  Plan out your colour scheme carefully. Think of the emotions and symbolism behind your colours and make sure they reflect what your company or service is offering. Stick to two or three complementary bold colours. Use subtle tones in the same colour families for backgrounds and sidebars.

5.  Keep it short, but not too short. On the Internet, patience is not easily found. If it takes too long to read, people won’t read it. Use subheadings, indentations, and bullet points. Alternatively, try linking to a new page that reinforces your ideas.

6.  Ensure browser compatibility. Making sure your website looks great on other browsers is a must. There are five main browsers competing for users: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera. While it may be difficult to work with all of them, making a webpage with at least three in mind should please readers.

7.  Keep links current. Nothing is more frustrating than clicking on a dead link. Be sure to check your website at least once a year to update links and resources. Adding new links regularly keeps content fresh and demonstrates that the company takes time to research their resources.

8.  Integrate with social media. Take advantage of the huge communities behind networking sites, where media can go viral overnight. Facebook fan pages are one way to attract new customers, but other great social media can also show off your company’s best qualities; Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn are just a few.

9.  Add a comments section. Allowing readers to instantly respond to what they’ve read not only increases the connection between your company and your client, but shows you what works and what doesn’t.

10. Remember speed is key. Not everyone has access to a fast Internet connection, so keep flash files, video clips, and intensive graphics to a minimum. The decision to exit out of a page is a quick click away if visitors get frustrated waiting for your page to load.

This post was written by Life Strategies and is available in a pdf tips sheet:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

10 Tips For Writing An Executive Summary

By Richard Lindfield

1.  Write it LAST! Although the Executive Summary (ES) comes at the front of a Business Plan, it must be written after all other sections of the plan have been completed. It is an introduction to your business, so craft it accordingly. Your ES will include summaries of each of the sections within the plan, including a few of the sub sections.

2.  Keep it BRIEF! It is a summary; don’t clutter it up with details. The appropriate section of the business plan will provide all the details required. If you put too much information into the ES readers might not bother to read the rest of it! Also, you don’t want to waste the reader’s time including details that will be covered again later.

3.  Be POSITIVE! Don’t speak in maybes full of wishing and hoping. Never say you may do something. Always say you will do something. Be emphatic and positive about everything you write.

4.  Add some PUNCH! Since the ES is the first thing that readers see, you want it to stand out and make them want to read more. If you fail to capture their attention during the ES then they are less likely to read the rest of the Business Plan.

5.  Be ORIGINAL! Don’t cut and paste sentences from other sections. It is better to select the most important sentences and then paraphrase them instead. This keeps the readers from encountering a feeling of déjà vu when they are reading the actual section later on.

6.  Get their ATTENTION! Start with a well crafted opening paragraph that says who you are, what you do, and why they should care about your business. Start with a general truth (e.g., “For many years there has been a need for X in industry Y”), follow it with a bridge to your business (e.g., “That’s why insert name here introduced insert product or service here to alleviate that need”), then tell readers why it matters. After you write the bridge, read it aloud and then ask yourself “So What?” and write the answer into your plan.

7.  Lose the CLUTTER! Just state the facts; keep it concise and “earn the right” to take up more of the readers’ time. Keep your ES to one or two pages (under 1000 words). Don’t try to jam too much information in by writing long convoluted run on sentences. Brevity, clarity, and enthusiasm should be the order of the day.

8.  Be ACCURATE! Spelling and grammar are important. Use software to check for errors, and if possible hire a professional to edit it for you. Don’t make any extravagant claims that you cannot back up with solid proof somewhere in your Business Plan.

9.  Get some FEEDBACK! It isn’t done when you are done. Set it aside for an hour, then come back and read it out loud to yourself. If it sounds awkward when you read it, refine the wording until it sounds smooth. Once you are comfortable with the way it reads and sounds read it to someone else and elicit feedback from them.

10.  Finish STRONG! Write a closing sentence summarizing the essence of why your business will be successful. Essentially it is a closing “So What?” statement. (e.g., “In short, ABC Company’s unparalleled customer support coupled with our innovative products ensures that…”).

Richard Lindfield is the Director of Training at Fraser Valley Training Group.  He's also a social media strategist, LinkedIn trainer, and business coach.  You can get in touch with Richard through Linkedin at

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

5 Reasons To Learn More About Self-Employment

Most Career Development Practitioners (CDPs) know that the percentage of both the unemployed and self-employed rises during a recession. It seems that when people are unable to find work, self-employment is viewed as a viable alternative. Consequently, it would make sense that CDPs supporting unemployed Canadians would also consider self-employment as a viable alternative for their clients. This, however, doesn’t appear to be the case.

As part of the research conducted to support the Look Before You Leap project, the Life Strategies team discovered that CDPs are less likely to discuss self-employment with clients if they themselves don’t feel knowledgeable enough about self-employment to have those conversations. This is perplexing: CDPs can’t possibly be knowledgeable about every career, yet most feel confident supporting clients considering a wide range of options.

Why is self-employment treated differently? Is a separate level of expertise required to support clients exploring self-employment?

Here are five reasons why CDPs may want to learn more about self-employment... Read More

Monday, April 1, 2013

10 Tips for Creating a Strategic Online Presence

by Microsoft ClipArt
Your online presence could be the difference between a booming business and declaring bankruptcy.  Find out how to build your online presence strategically with the tips below.  Access this Tip Sheet  in pdf format on our website.

1. Know why it’s important. Your online presence (i.e., the combined existence of information about you on the internet – your “brand”) is influenced by what people are saying online. Whether your online presence is big or small, correct or incorrect, negative or positive, you can either choose to influence what is being said about you or not. Google yourself to find out where you stand.

2. Have a strategic plan. Begin with the end in mind by knowing what you hope to accomplish. Use a SMART goal framework to help guide your actions to achieve results. Carefully consider what platforms will get you there – you’ll need to select the right tools to get the job done.

3. Evaluate ethical considerations. Know what relevant ethical codes and standards of practice guides have to say about social media and online interaction. Pay close attention to confidentiality, handling emergencies, netiquette, and spamming legislation.

4. Brand yourself, consistently. Take time to put together an effective profile including a professional headshot, short bio, job title, branding statement or tag line, and unique username. A consistent profile across all platforms is important; these profiles are an extension of your brand.

5. Be selective. Choose platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+) to meet your needs/goals. Create a home base where all other platforms lead back to (e.g., your website, LinkedIn, blog). Learn which platforms your clients, colleagues, and competition are using and make these your priority. Consider creating profiles on sites you don’t plan on using simply to secure your username.

6. Integrate platforms. Use virtual dashboard tools (e.g., Hootsuite) that will allow you to manage all your social media platforms from one interface. You’ll be able to schedule updates, delegate tasks to team members, and evaluate analytics.

7. Engage often. Make a strategic plan to engage on your top platforms regularly. Although daily is recommended, this may not be feasible for everyone, especially if you’re new to social media. Nevertheless, ensure you’re consistent.

8. Delegate. Remember, you don’t have to do it all. Delegate non-personal tasks (e.g., making website updates, posting status updates you’ve written), but keep those personal interactions (e.g., Facebook conversations) on your list.

9. Ask an expert. When in doubt, ask a social media consultant to help out. He or she can educate you on best practices and engagement strategies, as well as assist with initial profile set-up, profile management, and analytics reviews.

10. Evaluate impact. You won’t know if online engagement is working, if you don’t measure it somehow (e.g., page views, number of followers, referral sources). Eliminate what isn’t working and try something new. Keep an eye out for what’s worked for others and put your unique twist on it.

Written by Miranda Vande Kuyt and Cassie Saunders.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Send Self-Doubt Packing

I’m willing to bet when you experience periods of self-doubt it interferes with your ability to operate your business. You’re not alone. In fact, I think every business owner, entrepreneur, or self-employed person experiences self-doubt at some point or another. It becomes a serious problem when it continually affects your productivity and even worse it can force you to abandon your dreams, goals, and potentially even your business.

Occasionally, self-doubt can begin to grow inside you regarding the success of your business as the result of unfavorable customer feedback and ratings, or publicized trend reports that predict the need for what you have to offer is declining. The key is that this type of self-doubt is sparked by valid warning signs.

The type of self-doubt that concerns me and should concern you is the self-doubt that is unsubstantiated and originates due to your fear of failure, an unsupportive environment around you or a lack of personal self-confidence and self-esteem. In his book, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, Tony Buzan talks about the power of repetition as a catalyst for learning. It works the other way too. If you keep telling yourself you can’t succeed at something, it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Instead, it builds up until it becomes a part of your everyday thinking. It’s a perfect example of the “law of attraction” and becoming what you think you are but from a negative perspective.

So the question remains; what can you do to manage these moments of self-doubt and send them packing? I have been self-employed in whole or in part over the last 20 years and have coached both athletes and people who were starting their own businesses. I decided to ask some of them what they do to overcome self-doubt and combined their suggestions with my own tactics. Below are 5 suggestions I’d like to share with you practical and easy strategies for conquering self-doubt. I don’t guarantee that your self-doubt will vanish for good, but with persistent application I’m certain you can keep self-doubt at a comfortable and manageable distance.

1. Identify what is the source of your self-doubt. Is it your inner critic voicing its concerns? If so, what are these concerns based on? Sometimes self-doubt is triggered by a completely different event that has no real bearing on your immediate concern. In other words, try not to shift blame.

2. Instead of focusing on all the things you can’t do, shift your focus to all that you can and have done. Regularly remind yourself of your accomplishments through visualization. Go a step further by maintaining a visual representation of them. Positive customer feedback, testimonials, favorable press coverage, photographs, awards, framed certificates, and mementos that remind you of previous success can serve as great reminders and encourage positive thinking.

"Follow your bliss and the
universe will open doors
where there were only walls"
~ Joseph Campbell
3. Create a personal motto for yourself or find one that inspires you and post it somewhere where you can see it on a regular basis. Read it whenever you pass by and think deeply about its meaning.

4. Regularly set SMART (Specific, Measureable, Accountable, Realistic-Relevant, and Timely) goals for yourself. This keeps you action focused on working towards something that has meaning to you. I break my SMART goals down into smaller objectives and the objectives into tasks. By regularly setting 1 to 3 daily tasks for myself, I’m able to remain focused on achieving and don’t allow time for self-doubt to stick around for a conversation.

5. Give yourself a break. Realize you’re not perfect and never will be, and neither will your business. Allow yourself the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn from them.

“Reward worthy failure – Experimentation.” ~ Bill Gates 

I’m sure you have your own strategies for managing self-doubt. What are they? I hope you will share them with the rest of us in the true entrepreneurial sense and help us all send self-doubt packing on a one-way, no-return trip.

Cliff Thorbes has been self-employed for the better part of the last 20 years. He creates and markets his unique and functional mosaic art work in addition to providing career and business coaching services. To learn more about him, his perspective on life and to view his art, please check out

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How I Crocheted My Way To Work-Life Balance

My First Project
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Well I have a bit of a confession: I have a small consulting business, working from my home office. I’m a little bit of a workaholic, cramming work into every spare moment of the day. When I’m working I often feel I should be spending time with the kids; when I’m with the kids I feel like I should be working. In those moments when I feel bombarded by work and life, I want to hide from everything and everyone, hoping it will all go away. Unfortunately this strategy isn’t effective. I end up even farther behind in my work and have to work really hard to catch up. Consequently, I feel more overwhelmed, triggering the cycle all over again.

A couple of months ago I tried an experiment. I was burnt out from working all the time and it was Christmas holidays so I decided to avoid work for a bit. I realized if I was going to procrastinate, I should at least do something more productive than play video games. So, I started a new hobby: crocheting hats for my kids. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it and that was all I did for a week straight. I posted lots of pictures of my creations on Facebook and my friends and family had a good laugh, but regrettably, I didn’t get much consulting work done.

So I made a deal with myself: if I could get a reasonable amount of work done by a certain time of day, then I could take a break for an hour. The results were shocking! I became more productive than I had ever been in the past, and I was taking the time off I needed to recharge, avoiding the whole burnt out cycle in the first place. If I wanted to take a break, it had to be scheduled and intentional. I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t working every spare moment; now I know what finding work–life balance feels like.  Now I have time to read the books I've wanted to, learn things I've been desiring to, and catch up on sleep.

Recently, I read an article on about this topic that made me think of my own experiment. They suggest that “Predictable Time Off” (PTO) forces people to prioritize and increase the coordination of their time, and I couldn’t agree more. With a good planning system (i.e., I use a Franklin Covey priority planner), I was able to finally make the time I needed to take a break and address the priorities in my life. I’m happier, my family is happier, and my work is better as well.

What about you? How do you achieve work–life balance?

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is also the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is Telework The Future?

Telecommuting, or a telecommuter, is someone who does not commute to the office but rather works for their employer from home.  We've talked before about the challenges of Clocking In From The Couch, but what are some of the benefits of telecommuting? has shared this infographic to help the picture become a bit clearer.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tips For Accessing Professional Development

As a small business owner I feel like I’m constantly juggling different roles. One moment I’m a bookkeeper, the next I’m an editor, and then there’s the work I’m actually good at; the work that I get paid to do. My business needs me to address all these roles effectively to be successful, but it’s really tough to be innately good at everything. If you’re like me, there is at least one thing that you could do more effectively in your business.  I've discovered that professional development is the solution.

What should you do about the inadequate business skills you’ve identified? You have a few options:
  • Ignore them 
  • Hire or outsource someone to do them for you 
  • Learn to do it right 
Learning to do things right doesn’t have to take an insurmountable extent of time. There are a number of ways to learn the tasks associated with running a successful small business:

Take a course – Formal education can take place on campus at your local community college, through modular courses at distance universities, through online courses by training companies and open learning, and other places such as continuing education by your local school district.

Have someone teach you – Find someone who knows what you want to learn and ask them to teach it to you. This could also be finding a mentor, or being an apprentice.

Take a webinar – These short online seminars shed light on the key points about a topic of interest. Completing more than one of them on a certain topic can be very insightful. Often times you can find webinars for free. Discover other benefits of webinars in this article.

Attend a conference, workshop, or seminar – Workshops and seminars can empower you to try new things and view your work differently. When you attend them as part of a conference you can leave feeling refreshed and eager to continue learning, and motivated tackle your biggest roadblocks. Check provincial boards, business associations, trade shows, and your local chamber of commerce to find out about learning opportunities.

Try volunteering – There are many organizations that are looking to work with and train eager volunteers. Look for an organization that needs the skills you want to learn.

Seek out tutorials – Many software and equipment companies host face-to-face tutorials or online tutorials to teach people how to effectively use their products. When shopping for software and equipment ask which suppliers and retailers offer support.

Source the internet – You can find multiple articles, videos, and white papers on almost any subject you search the internet about. Wikipedia and YouTube are among the favourites out there, but be aware that internet content may not always be reliable so be sure to seek out more than one source. You can also find motivational speakers on

Visit your local library – Your local library is a vast source of information. Thanks to technology most libraries can borrow books from other libraries to help you access the information you need.

If the free options won’t give you the education you need, there are small business grants and loans offered by federal and provincial governments, as well as business associations that fund the professional development of small business owners and their employees. Search the internet for funding options that may be right for you.

What other ways have you found effective for learning the business skills you need?

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is also the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Self Employment Survival Webinars

In the past we've offered Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies as a two week, facilitated online course.  With the continued support of CERIC, we will now be offering a Look Before You Leap webinars series, making it more affordable and accessible than ever.

The first introductory webinar will provide attendees with a brief exploration of self-employment, both within and outside of the career development sector, and a review of the Look Before You Leap project and research (conducted by Life Strategies and funded by CERIC). Attendees will also be introduced to the 5-part webinar series. 

You can register for the introductory webinar here:

This introductory webinar will be followed by a 5-part webinar series exploring  the following topics:
  1. Getting Real About Self-Employment 
  2. Creating Your Self-Employment Vision and Business Plan 
  3. Marketing Yourself Effectively to Get Clients, Customers, and Projects 
  4. Managing the Logistics and Getting Help 
  5. Monitoring Progress and Planning for the Future 
For detailed descriptions of the series, please download this document.

To register for the 5-part series please visit:

The first 10 registrants for the 5-part webinar series will receive a free PDF copy of the Look Before You Leap book.  A certificate of completion will be issued by Life Strategies to participants who attend all five parts in the webinar series.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Clocking In From The Couch

When I tell people I work from home, they respond with, "that must be nice" or "that's awesome."  But, is working from home really that nice and awesome?  Some days I find it quite challenging.  Why?  I must say it's because of all the distractions that surround me.  I have designated office hours and an office space, but I still get lured by distractions such as house work, kids, pets, the mail's arrival, tv, phone, Facebook...

Recently I came across this great blog post and infographic by that gave me a good chuckle about the realities of working from home and some solutions to combat the distractions that make my "nice and awesome" work environment actually a great place to get work done.  Click on the image below to visit the infographic.

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is also the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

8 Tips For Supporting Retained Employees After Layoffs

Engaging survivors is key to successfully downsizing a workforce. Failing to support survivors is proven to lead to low motivation, loss of productivity, and a decrease in performance. Survivor disengagement leads to an increased staff turnover, causing companies to hire new staff, negating the cost saving intentions of layoffs in the first place. Having highly engaged employees is key to successful downsizing. Follow these tips for keeping survivors engaged. 

1. Preplan - Start the downsizing process by considering all your options to avoid downsizing1. Include staff in your look for a solution. Ask them what they need for the company to be successful.

2. Create career development plans - Meet with individual staff to create career development plans. Understand what motivates each employee; what he or she truly values in life and work. Support them to create a plan to journey towards their career goals. Having staff invested in their future helps your company meet your needs of a diversely skilled work force2.

3. Treat those being laid off with dignity and respect - This reassures survivors that if they must leave in the future, they will be treated in the same manor. It reduces their fear and anxiety over the future3, as well as encourages them to stay with the company4.

4. Address survivor guilt - Survivors can be plagued by worry about the future, guilt over surviving the cut, increased stress about the increased workload, and their skill gaps5. This overall leads to lower morale, productivity, and performance, as well as higher staff turnover6. Address this through one on one coaching. Allow each staff to process the transition in their own way as they move toward understanding their new identity within the company7.

5. Recognize accomplishments - Celebrate small wins for the company; how the downsizing is fulfilling its goals. Also celebrate the achievements of staff; when they reach part of their goals, complete training, etc. Acknowledging their accomplishments and how they ultimately make your company stronger boosts morale and the staff's commitment to their personal career development goals and loyalty to the company2.

6. Communicate transparently - Update staff frequently on how the company is doing through newsletters, reports, emails, staff meetings, etc. Encourage them to give you feedback on what they need to do their job more effectively. Use multiple avenues such as feedback surveys, group planning sessions, one on one coaching, etc5.

7. Provide strong leadership - Survivors need help to focus on the most important things they can do for the company and themselves in order to succeed in the time of transition2. They require clear communication on the expected outcome and empowerment to reach and even exceed those expectations. Also, don't forget the need for honest communication and recognition for moving towards and reaching expectations.

8. Create an environment for highly motivated employees to succeed - Have the systems (policies and procedures), as well as the strategies (career development planning, cross training, leadership) in place for people to tap into their internal motivation and talents for being highly engaged employees2.

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is also the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

End Notes:

1 Weber, Liz. (2009, March 20) Managing Layoffs With Dignity. Retrieved from

2 Discover Winning Ways. (2009, April 15) Outplacement – Managing the Survivors After the Layoff. Retrieved from

3 Oliver, Karen. (n.d.) Outplacement Services – Part II. Retrieved from

4 People Central, (2009, February 12) ROI for Businesses Using Outplacement & Career Transition Services Retrieved from

5 Oliver, Karen. (n.d.) Outplacement Services – Part III. Retrieved from

6 CallMe!. (2011, April 26) 5 Steps to Overcome “Survivor Syndrome”: managing Employee Productivity in the Wake of Layoffs & Restructuring Retrieved from

7 Trevor-Roberts, Edwin. (2008) Outplacement Myths. Retrieved from