Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 9

From our family to yours!

From our family to yours!

Chapter 9: Thriving in Your Community

Ever since we opened the smoothie bar, the concept of "community" has been a constant topic of conversation! And I say "we," because even though I have quite literally run myself ragged at times during this start up, it truly does take a village! And for those of you who don't know me personally, I grew up in Georgetown (home of our vegan love child - My Fit Little Foodie), where I was a fairly active member in the community up until I left for university in 2012 (give or take?). Spending 5 years away from home made it slightly difficult to return to Georgetown as an equally involved member of society, especially while working a full time job in Mississauga. And after a year and a half, I was beginning to feel a slight sense of resentment towards my quaint little town. Now, four months later and I'm telling an entirely different story. And this, I believe, is because of the power of community. 

"Sorry, I Didn't Catch Your Name?"

I really believe this sentence has made a major contribution to my business's growth as a start up. It is unbelievable how much of a difference learning someone's name, and one or two things about them makes in the long run. Establishing a regular cliental can be extremely vital for businesses that are just starting out. And for this, we value each and every one of our customers, because they are the reason we are able to do what we do! I can honestly say there are days when almost every individual who walks through our door gets greeted by name. And if they don't, they'll hear "sorry, I didn't catch your name" as we're exchanging our goodbyes. A quick handshake, and they're on their way. Establishing your business comes hand in hand with establishing yourself, as well as a personal relationship with the person in front of you. You'd be surprised how easy it is to make your customers smile! 

Proud, Protective, & Pleased 

If you live in a small town like Georgetown, you know the significance of this next bit. Bite size communities take pride in their homes, small businesses, greenery, etc. In a place this small, everywhere is home, and we like to treat it that way! When My Fit Little Foodie does well, it acts as a reflection of the community, and their loyalty to local success - and man are they loyal! When we share our success with our customers, they can feel a sense of pride for being a large part of that success. And a successful customer is a pleased customer! Creating that symbiotic relationship between guest and employee is the ultimate goal!

A Special Thank You

Now coming up on 2 months of serving smoothies to Georgetown's finest, I've had the chance to really sit back and reflect on the experience thus far. And I can honestly say, I'm thrilled! The positive feedback we've received from the community has been extremely heartwarming, and for that I cannot thank you enough! We are definitely looking forward to our future in Georgetown, as we grow, learn, and expand on everything we have to offer! To everyone who has shown their support, whether that be words of encouragement, your patronage, or spreading the good word of My Fit Little Foodie, this one goes out to you! So, THANK YOU! 

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch 8

Chapter 8: Is it Time?

I've always wanted to (fill in the blank). There's no question about it, we've all said it, thought it, dreamt it. We come up with these goals, lifestyle changes, passion projects, that just sit in the back of our minds. You know the one, probably because it's surfacing right now. And following this grand idea, is a shred of doubt that has now snowballed into a wall, blocking out all the sun from your little seedling dreams. 

Now I'm a firm believer in "you can do anything you set your mind to." Yes I know this is cliche, but realistically WHY NOT. "Why not Amber? Well, I can give you a million reasons! I'm making mortgage payments every month, and I need time for my family, and I wouldn't even know where to start!" The list goes on. So how do you know when it's the RIGHT time to start your business? Well, if you've already started thinking about it, guess what... you've already begun! 

There's no question, starting a business takes up a large portion of your time, money, energy, sanity (haha..), need I go on? BUT what's worse, becoming a crazy ball of stress at 23 (not to name anyone in particular) or looking back on your life 20 years from now and quoting the classic "I've always wanted too..?" So what do you need to consider in order to get your butt into gear?

1. Brainstorm Yourself Silly

There's no question about it... some ideas are just not that great. But, even bad ideas can be made into good ones. If you have a business concept in mind, then you've already started brainstorming! Now, it's time to make your hypothetical dreams into realistic ones. In this stage, it's important to be your own best worst critic. Start by creating a business concept, and then pick it apart flaw by flaw. And with each hole in your business idea, find a solution. Rework your concept until you can back it up 100%. 

With a concept in mind, you should be able to build a rough business plan, adding more structure and relevance to your idea. And with a business plan, you will find more flaws, and with flaws - more solutions! Sample business plans are available online as well as at your local library (if anything they will be able to point you in the right direction for sources, mentors, etc). This leads me to my next point - mentors! Once you've picked your business plan apart the best you can, get fresh eyes! Find a local business owner, financial advisor, successful business person, etc and let them find MANY more holes in your plan. This is a GOOD thing! There is no question that someone else will see errors that you won't, and it's much better to sort those errors sooner rather than later! 

One of the things I love about business, is that it's ever growing. This leaves you with endless possibilities for growth. It also means, that you'll have to find a cement supplier, because you're always going to be looking to fill those damn holes. Never stop brainstorming! 

2. Get Your Finances in Order

Alright, I won't give you small business survival rates, because I don't want to scare you back into a pit of darkness. BUT it's important to understand that starting a business takes A LOT of HARD work! And I understand that it doesn't always fit everyone's individual lifestyle goals. That's another key point. ANYONE can do it, but not everyone wants to. Especially once you realize the major commitment that's involved. Either way, you need to have your finances in order to the best of your ability. Personally, I worked in the restaurant service industry for 2 years in order to give myself a cushion. I moved back into my childhood home, and lived on a lovely little budget. I found hobbies that didn't cost much (like blogging), and did my best to treat myself mindfully. I began working with a financial advisor, in order to organize my finances, invest, and start planning long term. Part of your business plan will fall into this category. You'll need to be sure (to the best of your ability) that you can not only support yourself, but your business as well. And depending on your business plan, you may want to look into bursaries, grants, investors, etc. Businesses have start up costs, as well as a lull period where you're potentially taking a broad pay cut. Keep these things in mind when planning. Starting a business has many stresses, so do your best to create some piece of mind financially. 

3. Spend Some Time On YOU!

Ask yourself this: what kind of life can your business give you? Owning a business should be about creating a life that works for you - literally and figuratively. If you create a business plan with the intention of working 50 some odd hours a week every week until you're 65, well that doesn't sound overly enjoyable, no matter what your business is. My recommendation is to take some time for yourself before starting a business. Get in tune with your values, imagine your ideal lifestyle, and most importantly - build yourself up. Starting a business can become taxing in so many ways - physically, mentally, and emotionally. There will be skeptics, critics, and those who doubt you and your business' potential. If I can offer some words of wisdom - Don't be one of them! There's a difference between critiquing yourself and discouraging yourself. It's easy to get caught up in negative opinions, but there is nothing more detrimental to your self worth or your potential business for that matter. Because realistically, they are VERY closely linked. Your business can become anything you wish. And it can change any time you wish. So build a plan that fits your wants and needs, and work on yourself so that you can bring those plans to life!

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 7

Chapter 7: The Tactical & the Strategic

I'd love to tell you that I have spent the last 3 weeks making countless attempts to log into my website so that I could write chapter 7 of "Diary of an Entrepreneur," because I am a responsible, timely, committed individual who stays true to her promises. BUT that is clearly not the case. Now it's not that I have been slacking so to speak... I've just been BUSY. And now that life has handed me some free time, I'm able to fill you guys in on WHAT I've been doing, and WHY it has taken precedence over this segment of the blog. And... I can finally rid myself of this looming guilt that has stemmed from weeks of neglect.

When you start a business, there are two divisions that your work can be separated into; tactical and strategic. Now most of you are already aware of the smoothie bar we've just opened in Georgetown - and have tried the deliciously healthy smoothie bowls we have to offer (sorry I had to). But yes, the smoothie bar.. My Fit Little Foodie's very own new born baby. And you know what new borns need? Attention - and lots of it! But us mothers love our babies, so we give where it's needed and we love doing it. Now if I've lost you, I promise this will start making sense so bare with me. Opening the smoothie bar took research and planning, and THAT was strategic work. However, there was also a lot of hard labour that went into buying products, setting up the shop, and serving once we were open, and THAT was tactical work. Now the difference between tactical work and strategic work is fairly simple - tactical means to work at or for your business, and strategical work means to work on your business. The trick is to master the balance. And this doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split. In my own personal opinion/experience, it starts with strategic work in the early planning stages, then a large amount of tactical work is done in order to create the foundation of the business, and then more strategic work is done in order to grow!

Needless to say, I've spent the last 3 weeks diving head first into all of the tactical work, getting my hands dirty, making connections with customers, and quite literally mopping the floors. Yes this is tactical BUT if I can use my experience to create a system for future employees that is fair and efficient, then I've turned tactical work into strategic - thus creating opportunity for growth!

I would love to expand on the process I went through opening the smoothie bar, and in time I will. But for now it is important for me to explain this concept, and how it can make or break small businesses. Clearly I'm not an expert - I'm a beginner - but some day I hope to have grown a successful business, and hopefully these steps will help me accomplish those goals. In the mean time, I have to recognize when it's time to work for my business, and when it's time to work on my business.

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 6

Chapter 6: Collaborating for the Win Win

If you're an avid foodie on the blog, you've probably witnessed a few collaborations here and there. No friends, I unfortunately do not get paid to "promote" the products I write about/use for recipes. BUT I do get tasty little treats delivered to my door every once in a while... and THAT is winning! No, I'm not here today to brag about all the free food I receive. And frankly if I were, then this chapter would be fairly short (I'm not as popular as you might think). Most of the collaborations I've done have been a direct result of me reaching out to companies I love, and asking straight up - would you like to team up? And that my friends was a magical little lesson I learned when I first started out in the blogging realm. 

Like I mentioned in previous chapters, blogging and social networking has so much to do with the interactions you have with other like minded individuals in your niche. If you're a starter blog, not many companies are going to reach out - if any. As a baby blogger, you don't necessarily have collateral. BUT what you do have is a platform, an area of focus, a creative outlook, and an appetite (okay maybe that last one was bias). Much like working as an intern, many bloggers begin creating their network by offering/trading free material. There are a number of ways to manage collaborative work, you just have to (a) think about how another name will reflect on your own (who do you want to associate with - think values and overall brand), (b) decide on an area of your own expertise you want to exploit (do you want to showcase your creative writing, photography skills, recipe building, etc), and (c) make sure it's a win - win (the point of a collaboration is for both parties to benefit). If you're writing for a large platform, make sure you're getting credited. If you're putting in a substantial amount of work, make sure you're getting some value. Remember, the key is to expand your network. Collaborative work, if done right, can build your following, add depth to your portfolio, and teach you a thing or two about the world of blogging. 

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 10.31.02 PM.png

If I remember correctly, my first collaboration started before the blog. I had heard from a fellow IG friend that companies sent out products to loyal customers. Of course being my frugal self, I thought this concept was super neat, and thought I'd give it a try. So I contacted my favourite vegan protein company - Vega - and mentioned how much I liked their products, and asked if they'd be interested in sending a few treats my way, and in return I'd share my adoration with my followers. Next thing I knew I was receiving products in the mail (which if you're a digital native like myself, snail mail is super fun and exciting). Now once I had the blog up and running, I knew I could make use of this new (to me) system for finding networking opportunities with companies I loved. Giveaways were my next adventure! I started working with companies like Central Roast and Village Harvest to expand both our social networking circles. Plus, I already used the products, so getting to use them for free was a total bonus! 

I obviously had no problem reaching out to companies for collaborative opportunities. I think it's a really smart way to work yourself into larger, more interactive networks. But the REALLY neat part about integrating yourself into another platform is that people start asking YOU! When I started receiving messages regarding collaborative work, I knew I reached another level of success in the blogging realm. I was becoming a recognizable figure to those in the health food niche, and it felt great (still does)! This led to guest postings and recipe creating for other platforms and companies which I was then able to reblog or repost for my own material as well. The beauty with teaming up is that there really are no limits! Realistically, the first step is putting yourself out there. Figure out what it is that you can/want to offer, and find those willing to nurture your creative endeavours! 

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 5

Chapter 5: Making the Connection

Whether you’re a people person or not, the “connection” unites us all. What is the connection? It’s exactly what you think it is. It is the reason you donated to your friend’s GoFundMe project, and it’s the reason you shared a video on Facebook of a firefighter saving a kitten. It’s also the reason why you try your best to shop locally and why some of our parents and grandparents read the obituary in the paper. The connection, you see, is based on a feeling. And when something or someone makes us feel a certain way, we remember. 

Check out LulusDreamTown  HERE!

Check out LulusDreamTown HERE!

Check out KateFruitFlowers  HERE!

Check out KateFruitFlowers HERE!

Check out CaitlinFoulds  HERE!

Check out CaitlinFoulds HERE!

Video Content

Now if you’ve done your research, you know that this site is filled with tasty recipes. But something I learned a little while back was that you can find numerous recipes for vegan ice cream online. So, why would anyone choose to come to me? Well, aside from the drool worthy pictures and the easy instructions, I’d like to think that it has a little to do with how I make them feel. This along with a few other reasons was why I started creating video content on the blog. These short clips gave me an opportunity to address issues I found important, all while forming connections with my viewers. Taking the time to speak about topics such as animal cruelty, mental health, motivation, and healthy living, allowed me to really express myself. And judging by the responses, it made people FEEL! Video content is especially fantastic for connecting with your audience, because you have a chance to emote through facial expression, word choice, and delivery. And people love watching shit. Especially videos of cute animals, so if you’re looking to up your game, a quick cameo of your pet kitten is never a bad idea. 

The IG Network

Check out Thriving on Plants  HERE !

Check out Thriving on Plants HERE!

Realistically though, video content isn’t the be all end all of forming connections. Interacting with followers is a great way to boost awareness, draw in viewers, and create a solid network. In a previous entry I mentioned linking other blogs and websites to your posts in order to create higher traffic rates. But, this method also applies to any social media outlet! My favourite platform - Instagram - allows for ample opportunity to network with other accounts, and that’s exactly how you benefit! Following popular accounts in your niche, as well as interacting with those accounts is a great way to direct people towards your IG. As a baby Instagramer I looked for accounts I aspired to be like, and then created relationships with those users. I took part in reposting photos from accounts that motivated me, I tried other bloggers recipes and posted my pictures with shout outs, and I took time each day to interact with any accounts posting within my niche. More than two years after I started and I can still point out some of the first accounts I looked to for inspiration. And lucky for me, we still encourage and support each other even now! 

It Works Both Ways

The beauty of networking is this - as much as you put yourself out there to form connections - you'll find that it all comes back around. I like to think that people support and encourage me mostly because in some way, shape, or form, I've made them feel good. And when I receive messages and comments related to my content, it means that people are engaged, and THAT is the goal! That is really what fuels my fire. Doing something I love, and sharing it with people who enjoy it. 

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 4

Chapter 4: Get Caught In The Web

Do you ever sit there watching your phone and think "does this thing still work?" Because you've sent messages out to about 6 different people and *cricket cricket* ... nothing. Oh you haven't? That's just me? Oh well then never mind friend, carry on... you popular son of a bitch. 

There's no worse feeling then putting solid content online, and getting little to no response (ok there probably are lots of worse feelings, but for arguments sake - there isn't). Great content is a must, as we talked about in chapter 3. But, if no one sees great content, is it still on the web? In an effort to avoid existentialism, let's dive right into the concept of networking. 

Where to Start

When Myfitlittlefoodie was just a wee little baby, it was a main priority of mine to get the word out to, well ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. Starting from ground zero is tough BUT, you're never really at ground zero. You always have networking resources already in play, whether you realize it our not. Realistically, we are constantly networking in many aspects of our lives! So, I started with Facebook. It seemed like the most logical. I already had a long list of friends to share my blog with (whether they would return my texts was besides the point). And if I was lucky enough, those friends would share with their friends! The first post peeked quite an interest. That's usually how these things go. If you start doing something new, people want to see what your up to. After that, it's all about maintaining interest and keeping things fresh. I've collected an avid group of friends that regularly show an interest in my work, but I'm also convinced that the rest of my Facebook circle is annoyed by my constant food pictures and healthy sentiments (prove me wrong, I dare you!). But hey, Facebook is a mere tip of the iceberg. 

Finding The Tools

Inspiration pulled from Pinterest!

Inspiration pulled from Pinterest!

Facebook is a perfect first step, because regardless if you're good at what you do, people you know are generally pretty supportive (a great initial confidence booster). And once I finished riding that glorious wave, it was time for baby My Fit Little Foodie to hop on out into the real world. Since we all LOVE lists, here is a list of the sources I used to spread the foodie blog:

  • Instagram (I technically started here; it has become my most active business marketing tool - I'll do a chapter on this in the future)
  • Stumbleupon (Very simple, straightforward, and quick)
  • Reddit (Lord help me, I'll never figure this site out)
  • Twitter (you can set up your blog so that your account tweets your new blog posts automatically)
  • Youtube (this was mostly just a platform to link blog videos, but also acts as another outlet)
  • Pinterest (I've been told if you can join groups on Pinterest, that is where the magic happens)
  • Google Communities (surprisingly really beneficial if you find groups tailored to your niche)
  • Linking Other Blogs/Websites (add links in every blog post to increase your connections)

We Excel In Our Passion

Obviously the list goes on forever, but those were just some sources I found to be beneficial. In retrospect, some of them became totally obsolete to me BUT different tools work for different users. If you find one you enjoy using, you can become pretty damn good at it. Personally, I love Instagram. So, I found ways to build and brand, that don't feel like work at all. Reddit on the other hand... well, Fuck Reddit. 

The internet offers many platforms for you to showcase your creativity. The worst thing you can do is create content, and wait for people to come to you. Cause guess what, they ain't comin'! Be active in pointing people in the right direction, or at least in your direction. Content first, then be the compass. 

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 3

Chapter 3: Content is key

The reality is, we live in a world of short term attention spans. Large companies go to great lengths to research the best ways to market their products. Methods of advertising have turned into a wide spread game of Wack-a-mole, where bundles of marketers are trying to pull our attention in every which way. That is why, content is key. And to better understand WHAT we want to create, we have to understand WHO we are creating it for (other than ourselves of course). 

One of my first steps in creating the blog was to brainstorm what I was all about, and who I wanted to share with. To do this, I needed to create an avatar, who would be the main focus of my target demographic. This was explained to me through a google hangout with a friend of a friend; a successful woman in the social media realm. Like I mentioned in chapter 2, finding your teachers and learning their wisdom is a VERY important beginner's step. 

The Who? The Avatar

'What is an avatar?' you ask. Well, in a general sense of the word, it's basically a concept represented by a human form. In the marketing world, avatars are essentially used to identify the likes and dislikes of a target audience. The example that was given to me way back when was a company I'm sure we are all familiar with - Lululemon. This highly successful corporation uses male and female avatars to specify branding and marketing strategies to a T, and clearly it works! Lululemon KNOWS who they are selling to BEFORE the buyer themselves know. And that, is genius marketing. If you want to learn more about Lululemon's avatar strategy, you can check the link here

The more I brainstormed my avatar, the more I realized that my avatar was me. I was mostly describing myself. Now I don't really see anything wrong with this. It makes sense that I would be targeting like minded individuals. And to be honest, that's how I knew that what I wanted to share with the world was authentic! 

The What

Content creates followers, it is essentially WHY we follow. No one is paying us, bribing us, or tricking us. When you like what you see, you subscribe.

 If you're considering building a blog, first think about what your niche will be. What is going to set you apart from others? For me, it was obvious. A vegan food blogger, focusing on recipes, healthy living, mindfulness, and the occasional LGBTQ post if I was willing to get personal enough. Now, content is not just WHAT you write, photograph, or say. It's HOW you deliver. This is why it was so important to me when I started blogging (it's still important) that I just be myself. Even to this day, the highest traffic on my blog posts are ones that really came from the heart. The more I emoted, the more people seemed to feel WITH me. And for me personally, that's a big part of the overall goal. It's also one of the many reasons why I've created "Diary of an Entrepreneur." So that I could connect with followers by involving them in the most basic processes of blogging and building a business. 

If I've learned anything about content, it is this: you can analyze data, find the best time of day to post, use the most popular hashtags, and even interact with as many social media accounts as possible BUT if you don't deliver solid content, anyone who is directed to your profile - won't stay... or won't come back! In my experience, great content stems from a strong passion. So find your niche, your inspiration, what makes you tick, and share it with the world!

Diary of an Entrepreneur: Ch. 2

Chapter 2: Becoming A Student

To grow is to be a student of your craft; to be sedentary is to dismiss your potential.

If I've learned anything throughout my journey thus far, it is this. Now considering where we left off (roughly a year and a half ago), Myfitlittlefoodie had just made a major decision to produce the next best selling cook book. I'd like to tell you that countless hours of vegan blood, sweat, and tears went into this project and you can now buy a published hard copy in stores. However, contrary to popular belief, hard work alone cannot build a 3 story house. It takes motivation, skill, and an inquisitive mind. You MUST be willing to become a student of your craft. And let's be clear, I am by no means suggesting that you sign up for courses or apply for a 4 year degree. You see, the true beauty of entrepreneurship lies in the freedom it encourages. As a self employed individual, you have the absolute power to find knowledge anywhere you wish. Read a book, learn from a stranger, watch a documentary, explore your community. There are no limitations except for the ones YOU place on yourself. 

So what did I do at the ripe old age 22? Well, if I knew better I would have created a course of learning for myself. Unfortunately I had yet to become my current clever self. But it just so happened that I stumbled across the right person at the right time. I'd like to think that with an open mind, we can attract in life, exactly what we need when we need it.

Check out Myfitlittlefoodie's first video! Calling this a throw back would be a bit of an understatement, but you can definitely SEE the inspiration sparking! A great message as well, for anyone who needs it!

It was a family dinner at a close friend's house that really triggered me to take the next step. Now I'll shed some light; do your best to learn from those who have what you want. And no, I'm not referring to the kid sitting next to you eating a jumbo burrito from Chipotle, or the girl texting away on her new iPhone. I'm referring to lifestyle. The people we want to become, the way we wish to spend our days, and the philosophies we want to stand by. You must be so careful as to whom you take advice from, because if we act on the lessons we learn from others, we often end up getting what others have. 

So when I was privileged enough to sit down with 2 very successful business owners, I ate it all up (literally AND figuratively)! I talked about my goals and ambitions, I asked questions, and most importantly, I listened. And what I took in that night, changed my entire path! 

What I learned was this:

  1. I needed to weigh the cost of publishing hard copies vs. an eBook
  2. I needed to consider what the demands of my target demographic were 
  3. I needed to create a platform that would be used as a marketing tool
  4. I needed to further understand the growth potential of the industry I was in
  5. I needed to further understand my own potential

Needless to say, within a week I had purchased a domain name which would soon grow into the blog you're reading today. I started taking myself more seriously; planning out my goals, researching and speaking to successful bloggers, and of course learning the technical side of blogging (which if you've ever tried learning how to code, you'll know just how serious I was). Looking back, I'm now realizing just how many small steps went into this journey, and believe me it was much more than my daily recommended 10 000. But the importance of this entry is not to burden you with a long list. I'm here today to reassure you that even though you'll need to purchase a new pair of sneakers, you'll be making leaps and bounds if you find the right teachers to your student.