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New book looks at the evolution of workplace mental health in Canada

Ten years ago I received a phone call that changed my life. It was from a consultant from Toronto who had been hired by Great-West Life to head up their latest initiative—a centre for mental health in the workplace.

Mary Ann Baynton

Mary Ann Baynton talks about banner year that included Centre launch.

The consultant, Mary Ann Baynton, had been told that I was probably the best person to help her get this thing branded and up and running online in the shortest time possible. I recall that there were still a lot of questions about what this centre for workplace mental health would be, in particular from a messaging and branding perspective. But Mary Ann and I persevered and the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace was launched on the web just three months after that first phone call.

Workplace mental health was a whole new world for me at that time, so I am indebted to the people at Great-West Life as well as Mary Ann who trusted me to help get things started.

While that endorsement changed the course of my career, it also connected me to one of the most inspiring people who would help steer the course of my life. Mary Ann is a trusted colleague, an expert who is always generous in sharing what she knows, and a friend I know I can count on to have my back.

Our work over the past 10 years has included collaboration on tools and resources that cover a multitude of topics and issues related to workplace mental health. All were developed with the goal of being available free of charge to help business leaders turn knowledge into action in addressing and preventing workplace mental health issues.
Together we explored topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, addiction, suicide, bullying, harassment, stigma, dementia, and trauma from a workplace perspective.

I brought everything I had to the table and in a some instances, was writing my own story.

A few years ago, the language started to change from these issues, which were often considered concerns for individual employees, to psychological health and safety, which concerned the responsibility of the employer. This was part of a huge shift that Mary Ann and others were leading that was looking at how the workplace could be addressing this aspect of health and safety.

I cheered on from the sidelines as Mary Ann and a large number of other like-minded, passionate, committed pioneers helped draft the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It is the first standard of its kind in the world.

About a year and a half ago, Mary Ann turned to me and said, “I’ve been thinking…” When I’ve heard those words over the past decade I usually knew it meant more work for the cause that Mary Ann is tireless in supporting. She had been thinking about a way to celebrate those who had been working — also tirelessly — to bring positive change to workplaces in the area of mental health and more recently, psychological health and safety.

Her idea was for us to collaborate again—this time—on a book that would capture these stories.

Mary Ann likes to quote Margaret Mead in saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” What she is referring to is the fact that it took people from government, not-for-profits, treatment facilities, businesses, and organizations to make these changes to workplace mental health. Although the group was not large, they certainly achieved some very big things.

Sharing their stories was one of the goals of our book.

The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada: Toward a standard for psychological health and safety, was released on September 21, 2017. Those that are part of this tremendous movement have said they are thrilled to see the many events, people and stories that contributed to this evolution gathered in one place.

Leanne Fournier photo credit: Robert Durham Photography

It has been an incredibly busy, demanding, exciting, terrifying, and finally, exhilarating year. At times I wondered, who am I to think I can write this? But with Mary Ann’s persistence, encyclopedic knowledge, and patience we got it done together.

We also were lucky to have the help of numerous reviewers of the book, including many people from Great-West Life, and our colleagues from across Canada who were continuing to advance workplace mental health. This included in no small part people like Dr. Joti Samra and Dr. Ian Arnold. Our editors and proofreaders — Christine Gordon Manley, Sherry Kaniuga, Kate Heartfield, Cassandra Filice — were invaluable, as was the book design team at Relish.

The many people who shared their stories with us are truly in a class of their own. I am humbled by their dedication, insights and expertise.

One of the best things about my job is the opportunity to engage with people that have made a real difference in the world. I get to talk to people like Mary Ann, Joti and Ian, Martin Shain, Maureen Shaw, François Legault, Mandi Buckner, Stéphane Grenier, and so many others who figured in our book.

I get to be moved and motivated by their stories. And best of all, I get to share them with you.

You can download your free copy of the ebook here.

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Starting and keeping those conversations going

It’s Mental Illness Awareness week (#MIAW17) and I just wanted to give a shout out to the Paul Hansell Foundation, whose aim is to aim is to also erase the stigma surrounding mental health and to support programs aimed at the emotional well-being of youth.

One of the ways that the Foundation is doing this is through the circulation of a #ConvoPlate, which is a hand painted stoneware plate featuring hopeful and inspiring messages about mental health. The plates are designed to start conversations about mental health, and to keep the conversation going along with the plate, which is meant to be sent to someone new every few weeks. I was honoured to receive one as a gift — at a time when I needed it most.

The Foundation asks that we take a photo and share it through our own networks on social media as a way to raise awareness and let our young people know we are always listening. Check out @PaulHansellFdn on Twitter or www.paulhansellfoundation.com.

I was mulling who I would share my #ConvoPlate with and then it came to me. It was my son René’s 19th birthday.

I am so proud of the steps he has already taken to improve and protect his mental health and overall well-being, and grateful to be starting the conversation with him.

The gift of the plate did exactly what it was intended to do as it was an opportunity for us to talk about mental health, his personal accomplishments in becoming healthier, and how we can all continue to support that.

René was visibly moved to receive the plate. He is already thinking about how he will pass it — and the conversation — along.

Moving: Don’t let it stress you out…or break your heart

It’s just a house. I know. But the fact is, the imminent move to our beloved and long-time second home in the country is still breaking my heart. That’s me. Heart prominently on sleeve.

Our city home is just a place and I’m actually quite okay about leaving it. It’s just all the darn memories and emotions that it holds. On days like today, it feels like the walls are whispering to me as I walk from room to room, sharing their memories of all the days gone by.

But I’m trying to focus on the present. It’s the only way I’ll be able to continue to do everything that I need to do.

I have also been trying to avoid “lasts” (last suppers, last sleeps, last year’s last Christmas, etc.) because I’m afraid if I face them, I won’t be able to carry on. But they’ve been unavoidable.

From left: My son Ren, partner Mike, and daughter’s partner Joel hard at work with garage renovations.

Daughter’s last breakfast in the old house.

Ren and Mike dressed for work!

 

We all know the country place, just 2.5 hours away  will soon feel like home. We already have many, many great memories there. I’m sure there’s many more to come.

But the fact is, good-byes are hard.

In a recent course I took on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the facilitator shared that when we continue to focus on the past, we’re at a greater risk for depression, and when we fixate on the future, we can feel higher levels of anxiety. Staying present and mindful can help us to work our way through our anxiety, to remain more calm, more focused and able to do what needs to be done.

I’ve had many days where I’ve wanted to put my head under my pillow and not get at some of the tasks related to this move. I found myself delaying working on the write-up to list our home, on setting the date for my son’s move, on purging, painting and cleaning, and the list goes on.

But then something changed. I decided to pull on everything I’ve learned about mindfulness, stay in the present, and do my best not to judge myself and others in the process. This has meant being kinder and reminding myself that my husband and I are actually on the same team!

When I’ve faced each task in the moment, taken steps to create a plan of action for the day (one day at a time), and followed through to do what needed to get done, I’m immensely less stressed by the idea of our move and relocation. I’ve been able to work tirelessly and get things done!

I’ve also paid special attention to the things that do stress me out and I’ve learned to manage them by either dealing with them in the best way I can, deciding they aren’t a priority and to let them go, or frankly asking myself what’s the worse thing that can happen? In virtually every case, I am realizing that everything will be okay as long as I take care of myself and my wellbeing first. Page 2 of this worksheet, courtesy of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, is an amazing resource for managing personal stressors.

Another thing I’ve learned is that we really do get better at pretty much everything with practice. In this case, a lot of practice has made me a fully confident painter, organizer, purger and giver of those things we no longer need to others in the community.

Following are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned as I prepare to depart this old house and city. The house is just about to be listed so I expect I’ll be learning even more as we open our doors to others who won’t be roaming through our rooms with the same fondness we have for every little nook and cranny. Our renovation has been somewhat relentless and I think something else has been going on. My partner and I absolutely want to leave this old girl at her very best (yes “she’s” become real to me:), showing her the respect and care we feel she deserves.

A little piece of my heart will always live here. But the rest will be coming with me fully intact and ready to embrace the new adventures that lie ahead!

My top 10 tips for getting through your move and staying well

  • Practice self-care. Do your best to eat well (although it’s really tempting to order out all the time!), get enough rest, continue exercise, meditation or other wellness routines and balance the demands of moving preparation with the rest of your life. For me, just taking a break to walk the dogs or walk anywhere has provided some balance.
  • Set reasonable, daily goals (again one day at a time) but get started as soon as possible to reduce the stress of last minute delays or surprises. It’s been amazing how long it has taken to get ready for our listing. But “she’s” finally ready!
  • Do regular check-ins with your partner and other family members involved in the move on your timeline and be realistic about what can be accomplished. Let go of things that aren’t critical and remember that you are on the same “team”!
  • Ask for help from friends and family, and do your best to make good use of their time, and assign specific tasks. For example, if you have a packing crew coming in, get boxes, packing paper and tape, markers, etc. ready. Same for the cleaning crew. Have the supplies they’ll need and a list of what needs to get done.
  • Purge and simplify. Measure the cost and hassle of moving some larger, or perhaps outdated or underused items against replacing them in your new destination. Be prepared to let go of items you haven’t worn or used for a while. No regrets! Yes, I am mulling over a pair of boots and a book that I tossed in the charity bin…but it is what it is (I have other boots and books!).
  • Set boundaries for outside demands on your time. Conserve your time and energy for critical tasks but allow some downtime to re-energize.
  • Manage the inner chaos. Protect some space in the home for your own down time. For me it was my home office as well as my walk-in closet! Try and keep this place free of clutter and chaos and perhaps make it the last room that’s packed up.
  • Recognize the emotions of others. There have been times I’ve had to grit my teeth when others aren’t getting to tasks, are being evasive or downright cranky and difficult. I’ve tried (and have not always succeeded) to tune into the emotions of other family members and friends around our move, refraining from judgment and accepting that the changes are tough on everyone. At the same time, I’ve been careful to set boundaries on taking on other peoples’ “stuff”.
  • Accept that goodbyes are hard. They’re even harder when you’re stressed out, cranky and overwhelmed with the project of moving. Give yourself time to say good-byes and permission to feel a level of grief and loss as you leave family, friends and even the old house that have all been an important part of your life.
  • Stay focused on the end goal. Find the light that can help you carry on through some of the mundane, stressful tasks. Maybe there’s a way you can celebrate getting through this in a way that honours the past but launches you into a bright new future.

There are two words that have always given me comfort and I’m sure they’ll resonate when, once we get through all this and walk through the doors of the new place, order and calm are restored.

Welcome home.

 

Gift of the present

It’s amazing how much clearer our thinking becomes when we’re at peace with ourselves and in the present. Even better if it’s all at the same time. This is my view today, so you can likely understand why I’m happy to be here.

Humility. That’s what’s on my mind today and yes, it’s because of many things that have happened over the past few months that have brought me to today’s “presence” of mind.

The story starts with having had the opportunity to co-author a book with my colleague and friend Mary Ann Baynton.  I’ve been a writer for over 30 years…well actually as long as I can remember going even farther back…but this was a humbling experience as I discovered I still had a lot to learn. I am indebted to the editors, proofreaders, reviewers and most of all to Mary Ann for her vision in making our book even better than I had imagined.  Better than I could have done on my own.

“It’s time to exhale now,” said my friend as we let our beloved project go off to the printer.  More on that in another blog.

Then, as the dust settled and I found my way back into my own life, that life’s main guy — my partner Mike — and I started to seriously look at how we are going to relocate from our urban home of 22 years to our lake home of the past 15.  I’ve had more than a few moments of anxiety about this. But then more than one of the people we’ve shared this news with have said, “You’re living the dream.”  That idea keeps settling in, calming me. This is an adventure, one I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for but I’m doing it. Doing it knowing that if it doesn’t work out as planned…we’ll come up with another plan. The idea of reducing debt is great but even more appealing to me is simplifying and reducing the “stuff” in our lives we don’t need anymore. I do still need work though so if you’re wondering, this is NOT retirement, it’s relocation and an opportunity to focus on and be in the present in one place instead of two. Will I have what it takes to surive a full time existence in wild Winnipeg River country? Not sure. I’m humbled by that too.

Over the past month (while all this has been happening), my son and I took a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) course together.  I was so proud of him for taking this important step to manage his anxiety.  The course helped us both. Talking about it has helped even more. Being the relentless, overprotective mom that I am, I want to keep helping my (adult) son, keep telling him what I think he should be doing next, keep offering my great ideas. But my partner, his dad, has gently told me to ‘stop’.  And this has been a good (and humbling) thing as I’m seeing my son thrive as he finds his own answers. And guess what? I didn’t have all the answers anyhow.

Early in the summer, my father-in-law (my partner’s stepdad), Rollie, began to decline. This was round two in a hard fought battle with throat cancer. A fight we thought he had won when, after a month of radiation treatments, he was cancer-free. We didn’t know back then that just 4 months later he’d suffer intolerable pain due to the nerve damage caused by the treatment.

Last November, at  his 85th birthday and before his cancer diagnosis, we figured Rollie would see 90 for sure.  He had such a dry wit. If  you were one of the ‘fools’ he had no tolerance for, watch out. But if you were one of those people — both old and young — he admired, mentored, or perhaps, just tolerated, you were one of the lucky ones.  Rollie’s encyclopedic knowledge of anything aircrart or anything historical for that mattter were gifts he shared generously and yes, arrogantly, at times. As I said, Rollie didn’t have much time for fools. And, as it turned out in this past month, he didn’t have much time at all.

Humility fits into Rollie’s story through the quiet grace he exuded over the years in many ways. It was definitely there during his final days as the light started to drift out of his eyes and the wit was less forthcoming off the tip of his tongue. And it was there in that final hour, while our mother Shirley was away having a short break, and he left without a fight.

These are the stories that have been running through my life over the past few months, and through my mind today.

CBT taught me some of the benefits of staying in the moment.

But really, it’s these small (and big) everyday lessons that are the real gifts offered to us when we stay in the present.

P.S. Here’s a couple more photos that are the view from my notebook (pen and paper kind) today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S.S. Our book will be released as a free download after Sept. 21, 2017 at www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com. Look for The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada—Toward a standard for psychological health and safety by Mary Ann Baynton and Leanne Fournier.

 

 

Community comes together to continue fight against cancer

Carter Holdsworth

The third annual Concert for Carter, in support of CancerCare Manitoba, was held Thursday, March 16 at the iconic Park Theatre.

The energy in the room was different than the first such event, held in 2015 just a year after Carter Holdsworth died on his 19th birthday from Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer most common in young people between the ages of 10 and 20.

“The first year everyone showed up to honour Carter and support the cause,” said event organizer Niki Taylor. “They had a great time and came the 2nd year. The third year has a been a little tougher but new people are showing up, which is great.”

Co-organizer Lauren Hammond, long time best friend of Holdsworth, added, “People have heard Carter’s story and they’re coming because they’ve been affected by this awful disease and want to support what we’re doing. It’s so important. We need to find a cure and we need it now.”

“It’s so important. We need to find a cure and we need it now.”

Taylor asks for a show of hands for everyone affected by cancer. Every hand in the room went up.

Jérémie & The Delicious Hounds

The Worthy share a toast to Holdsworth and to continue the fight against cancer

Read more at Community News Commons

Let’s talk…about mental health and well-being

As many of you know today is earmarked for the national campaign #BellLetsTalk. Kudos to this big Canadian company for putting mental health on its list of corporate priorities. They have us talking about an issue that for many years was a dark secret for workplaces and families.

Moods Winter 2017

Over the years, I have had the great honour of hearing and writing the stories of numerous individuals who have “worked through” their mental illnesses. I urge you to pick up the winter 2017 issue of Moods magazine to read one of these stories – “Mental Illness and career success”. This special workplace issue is loaded with tips and strategies for improving mental health and addressing workplace issues. Since many of us spend up to 60% of our waking hours at work, its impact on our mental health is significant.

Like many people, I have personal stories that bring this issue closer to home. Sharing these stories is what’s now known to help us see mental health as part of the human condition. My mother was diagnosed with depression several years ago and it has taken a long time for her to find her way back into the light. I am so proud of her and happy to have her “back”. A few years ago, I was the recipient of relentless workplace bullying that depleted my confidence and broke my spirit. As part of my recovery, I made weekly treks for counseling sessions at the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre. When our sessions wrapped up this past December, I told my counselor that she saved my life and she responded…no, that was all you. You did that. I’m incredibly proud and grateful for her and for this free resource that makes mental health support accessible to everyone. We are so lucky here in Winnipeg and Canada!

At the last counseling session, I wrote a letter to myself that was to arrive at my home at some random later date. It came last week but has been sitting on the corner of my desk. I was waiting for the right time to open it. That time was today. It feels right to share what I’ve learned by ‘talking about it’ as my contribution to #BellLetsTalk…

Dear Leanne,

I really do admire you in all your quirky wierdness. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that. And many times I’ve judged you. But you keep showing up with the heartfelt goal of always being your best self. How do you keep doing that?

You do it by understanding and accepting that while you believe strongly in your values – everybody else doesn’t necessarily live by the same values as you and that’s okay…as long as no one gets hurt!

You’re doing it by removing judgment in how you see others and the world. This also means stepping back from the power that the judgment of others has on you.

You’re working to be more kind to yourself and others, but also to be more firm in what you will and won’t do. Make these choices free of blame. Live with those choices.

You’re remembering to love. Always love. Love yourself.

You’re learning to let go of those things that aren’t about you. You can’t fix or save the world. Dammit you’ve tried but stop. It’s too big a job for one person. Do your part and find your allies to fix what you can.

You’re starting to realize your own wisdom (or is it wiseness?). Some lessons have been learned the hard way. Be proud that you’ve had the courage to bring it all to the table. That you faced your fears and challenges and asked for help to heal and to understand what you have to do. Keep asking, keep learning, and when necessary, keep walking away from those things that are not yours to carry. 

You’re forgiving yourself, you’re loving yourself more. You are doing your best. That’s all you need to know.

Don’t be afraid. When you show up with your best self, there is nothing to fear. You might fail or not get quite the results you’d hoped for. But you tried using the best of what you had to give at the time. No one – including you – can ask for anything more.

Love,

Leanne

As a friend and leader, who I admire very much, often says, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” I know it’s pretty tame compared to those of others who struggle daily with mental illness or illness of any kind. But in saying that, all of our stories matter. I’ve shared mine to honour those like my mom who have walked through the darkness of mental illness, and for my many friends and colleagues who have also done so – some who have found the light and some who continue to struggle.

You are the real heroes of this day. So let’s do this!

#BellLetsTalk.

 

Workplace well-being is a shared responsibility

If you’ve followed my business page on Facebook, you know that I’m a huge fan of Harvard Business Review. They provide exceptional well-researched and well-reported articles about the latest trends and challenges in the  business world. That’s why I was surprised by the Management Tip of the Day, How to Handle an Unpredictable Boss, which essentially placed all the responsibility on the employees of such bosses to manage their own response to such things as workplace bullying, harassment or intense emotional outbursts.

What distressed me about today’s article was that it suggested that the behavior of such bosses could be managed if the employee were to employ strategies such as learning to cope  with the bosses’ outburts by noticing their patterns, understanding the bosses moods before making requests or showing gratitude to defuse tension. While employees share the responsibility for their health and wellness at work, workplaces are increasingly seeing it as a core competency for for those who lead, manage or support others to gain emotional intelligence or at the very least understand the consequences of their own emotional response as well as bullying and harassment on the psychological health and safety of the workplace. I don’t say any of this without an appreciation for how difficult it can be to manage and lead  people in highly stressful workplaces. But there are things that can be done to support the leader as well as employees.

While I’m not sure what is in place in the U.S., in Canada, numerous provinces have legislation that requires employers to develop policies and practices to prevent and respond to violence, harassment and bullying in the workplace. We also have a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It states that the “The vision for a psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways, and promotes psychological well-being…Psychological health and safety is embedded in the way people interact with one another on a daily basis and is part of the way working conditions and management practices are structured and the way decisions are made and communicated.”

Leadership is seen as a key component to psychological health and safety in workplaces and the Standard states that among other things people in leadership roles “shall lead and influence organizational culture in a positive way.”

The Standard also states that “Workplaces with a positive approach to psychological health and safety are better able to recruit and retain talent, have improved employee engagement, enhanced productivity, are more creative and innovative, and have higher profit levels. The voluntary standard has been downloaded over 30,000 times and early results are showing that organizations that are implementing it are already seeing some of these positive results. This underlines that behaving in ways that reduce psychological harm to employees makes sense from both a human and business perspective.

There are many resources to help leaders and their teams. Here are two:

www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/pdf/Building_Stronger_Teams_Oct_2016_EN.pdf

www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/free-training-and-tools/bullying-awareness

Both are courtesy of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. The site has many other tools and resources to address these kinds of issues.

 

Help is now available for building stronger leaders and teams

I worked closely with my colleague Mary Ann Baynton and the work of experts in fields like resilience and emotional intelligence. The result is a book to support team leaders in building stronger teams available at the link below.

It was released to a standing-room only crowd this week at the Better Workplace Conference being held in Vancouver. If you lead a team or are part of a work group that could use some great team building skills – download the book!resilience, team building, mental health, psychological health and safety

Focusing on hope: the faces of mental illness

Seeing the first throught the trees; photo by Michael Fournier

Photo by Michael Fournier, MightyWrite

Hope has been a clear message of the 2016 Mental Illness Awareness Week campaign (#‪MIAW2016).

The Mental Health Commission of Canada, marked MIAW with the following statement (courtesy of CNW):

“Recovery journeys are built on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be fostered by many types of services, supports, and treatments. That is why each individual and every organization has a role to play in supporting people through their journey of recovery.

The Faces of the MIAW campaign are the ultimate ambassadors of recovery as they courageously lend their faces and share their personal recovery stories with everyone in Canada—illustrating there is no standard path to recovery.

The 2016 Faces, Andrea Paquette, Dexter Nyuurnibe, Stéphanie Fontaine and the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s own Samuel Breau—and all those who have come before them—are living proof that recovery is not only possible, it is probable provided timely treatment, services and supports are accessible.”

You can view the MIAW 2016 Faces of Mental Illness videos on YouTube or at www.camimh.ca.

It’s true. There is hope. People do get help. And they do get better.

Here is one such story from my colleague and friend Mandi J. Buckner of  Mandi J. Buckner Consulting.

I have journeyed through depression – and the trip wasn’t easy.

Yet here I am today – an accomplished return to work consultant specializing in mental health with experience in employment protocols, career development,  job preparedness strategies and workplace mental health peer support.

Mandi J. Buckner, MHA, CCC, CPS, Ad. Ed. Cert. CMHA Cert. – Psychological Health & Safety Workplace Advisor Facilitator / Consultant

Mandi J. Buckner, MHA, CCC, CPS, Ad. Ed. Cert. CMHA Cert. – Psychological Health & Safety Workplace Advisor Facilitator / Consultant

But there’s more to this story.

When my 26-year career in the financial services industry tanked after my diagnosis of depression, I thought it was all my fault. The constant barrage of questions around my ability to recover and do my job depleted my energy as well as my confidence.

As I started to emerge from the depression, I realized that my recovery would be dependent on a successful return to work where I was supported for who I was – not who I had been. What I encountered instead was being told that it was best if I didn’t acknowledge what I had experienced; that I should hide my illness, put on a strong face and carry on like nothing in my life had changed. I remember thinking, “Is this what the rest of my life at work is going to look like?”

Colleagues, family, and friends could not understand how I couldn’t just bear through it for the next few years until retirement.

At the time, I made choices out of fear and out of feeling helpless. Yet in retrospect, I actually chose to recover my way. I wanted my journey to wellness to be one of authenticity, truth, and respect.

A few years after my early “retirement” I became certified as a Mental Health Peer Coach in Georgia State’s Department of Human Resources. My goals? To provide respect and a different voice for those who were experiencing what I went through. To help others get through the endless fight against the stigma of having a mental illness and focus instead on returning to work successfully with support and accommodation.

I began to understand that there was a huge gap in how the return to work was being handled for people who were working really hard to get well and wanted to be at work during their recovery.

I wanted to provide services to fill that gap and draw on my diverse education to do this work, gaining more confidence with each step: Masters in Healing Arts; Career Consultant; Personality Dimensions Accreditation; Leadership and Coaching Accreditations; Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention Training; the list goes on.

I also became involved with the Volunteer Ontario Recovery group where, as a volunteer, I was connected to training that helped me gain a better perspective of what had happened to me. Mindfulness training was another game changer for me during this time.

The last phase of my recovery was feeling confident to return to work. An opportunity to become an instructor at Sheridan College presented itself. For the first time, during the interview, I disclosed the reason why I had left my long career in the financial sector. I related from a position of power and recovery. I was hired in spite of, or possibly because of, my ability to discuss this topic with confidence.

My time at Sheridan was a turning point for me, as I was able to achieve career success in a way that has been authentic and meaningful. As I ventured out into my own consulting business, I was contracted by Sheridan to develop curriculum for a return to work program for individuals who were off work due to stress leave or mental health issues.

We took the 12-week course and turned it into a Mental Health and Work Program, with 3
4-week courses:

Course 1: Recovery

Course 2: Self-Management

Course 3: Return to Work/Workplace Strategies

Information about the program is available here. The first course, Recovery, is now open for registration and begins on Oct. 31.

I was thrilled that my former employer was paying attention to this issue. I am honoured that my story has helped to inspire that journey and that I am able to be a part of this monumental change in workplaces across Canada.

What I now know:

  • Remaining silent does not support recovery
  • Open, supportive dialogue can make all the difference for a successful return to work when mental health is a factor
  • A supportive workplace can help recovery
  • Recovery from mental illness takes time and accommodation
  • People do recover from mental illness
  • Employees with mental illness can be as competent and productive as before their illness – some even more so!
  • Being mindful of our responses to stressors in life and at work supports ongoing wellness


I have always been searching for that moment when I could feel good about my experience of depression. That it does not define who I am, but it is part of who I am.

That moment has arrived.

I feel empowered to have that experience continue to inform my journey.

Mandi also helped inspire the free resource Working Through It, where people who have experienced mental illness share their stories of how they reclaimed well-being at work, off work and returning to work. Their stories also give hope that can help others persevere through the sometimes challenging work of recovery.

There is hope and help to find answers and support:

Partners for Mental Health seeks to transform the way Canadians think about, act towards and support mental health and people living with a mental illness.

The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness.

Mood Disorders Society of Canada offers support programs to people, and their families, who are living with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for improving the mental health system and changing the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians around mental health issues. Through its unique mandate from Health Canada, the MHCC brings together leaders and organizations from across the country to accelerate these changes.

The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace provides free tools and resources to help employers improve psychological health and safety and support employee success when mental health is a factor.

Turtles and the truths they teach us

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Grandmother turtle poses for her audience

It’s been a busy few months as I’ve been immersed in storytelling and business writing…and the revered summer tradition: Escape to the Lake.

So…in the spirit of a season that’s coming to an end way too fast, and the hope that it may have brought you closer to nature in some way of your choice, I’m sharing a story.

It’s about a turtle. Not just any turtle but a respected, giant snapping turtle that graced our bay just off the Winnipeg River for over a decade. All the time we’ve been in the area. She was the matriarch of our camp life. Untouchable. Shy. Yet occasionally showy and willing to allow us a glimpse of her magnificence. It didn’t happen nearly enough. In the early days, our family was a little afraid of her, but as we grew into life at the lake and the wisdom of how we were meant to be a part of it, we welcomed her as we did the many other creatures that are part of our life here.

We lost our great friend, turtle, this summer when she drowned by becoming lodged in an automobile tire that had made its way into her territory along the bed of the river. A tragic end to a stately, venerable animal that we hope had many offspring. My partner Michael and I both wrote about her at different times as we worked through our grief for what felt like a senseless, irreplaceable loss of part of our history at the lake.

This is our shared story.

Michael: When I first acquired my bit of earth I, like most cabin owners, went about the business of making it hospitable for human existence. I did this in total ignorance even though I have spent much of my life close to the water. So much was forgotten during life in the city. Over time the land has again taught me things I couldn’t learn on the Internet. I am wiser now about nature, how strong it is, how dominant and how flexible. I’ve always had an affinity for the natural world but until recently, I’ve never been saddened by it. Often, as humans, we think some of the things we do in the wilderness are just fine. We don’t think enough about the legacy we’re leaving. Just the simplest of things can make all the difference in the biodiverse system. I’m sad because this cost a dear creature her life.

Picture a large snapping turtle stuck in a tire at the bottom of the lake. She is drowning. Eventually she dies and her body and the tire rise to the surface. This is what I discover as I’m out fishing.

She was known to us, known by everyone in our bay. Just this past month the family had been excited when she came up on our shoreline. Maybe she was saying good-bye. She avoided us mostly – for good reason.

I felt awful as the wake from my boat dislodged her from the tire. It wasn’t pretty and that isn’t the picture I’ll leave you with. The one you see here is instead of a splendid Mikinaak* in her prime.
In wildlife years this turtle was an elder and deserved better.

She was like the whales of the world. How old are they? Do they get what’s happening to them; that it isn’t safe to be near humans? I think she did, like I said, mostly avoiding us. In the end, would it bring her any comfort to know that she would feed the river?

You do not gain wisdom because you are smart or clever or strong. You gain wisdom because you survived. And she did for a very long time.

My message to turtle: You have been with us, around us, near us for over a decade. I remember seeing you for the first time, green and moss covered like a living plant, watching my family. I took your picture, marveled at your size, at your ability to just sit in the sun and ignore us all. One time you came right up to us as if to chat. We swam with you fearfully wondering if you’d ever snap at us. But all you wanted was to see us. Another time you visited and stayed awhile, unafraid. You charmed us with your colour, blew bubbles as you drifted to the surface and under again. I will miss you my friend. In wildlife years you are up there with the whales, the giant elms, and 100-foot white pines. How old were you? 75 years? Nearly a century is a long time for a wild thing. You have my respect, my admiration, and my prayers. My family and the bay will miss you. Meegwetch**.

Leanne: Turtle. Mikinaak. She was the grandmother of our bay for many years, majestic and graceful in her sleepy, lumbering way. Neighbours who shared the bay would tell us how they often saw her popping up for air around our floating dock.canoeing

One season she nested on an island nearby and, as our children were small, I worried that they might land on her someday as they jumped off the dock. That never happened.

A few years later, she perched herself higher up on the same island and we were able to get a photo, immortalizing her. Then there was a blissful, warm afternoon when a friend and I came upon her as we paddled into a bay where she was basking in the sun. We were so close to her and she looked enormous but just for a second as she slid into the water causing my friend to exclaim, “Will she attack us?” She didn’t.

None of these brief interactions with Mikinaak compare to the time she popped up to meet me eye to eye. Turtles represent truth in Indigenous teachings. That wizened gaze reminded me that if I faced my own truths and was also truthful in what I did, I would always be okay.

That great turtle has been lost to us, her long, enduring life ended at the hands of humans. It’s unfathomable to me that she is gone, drowned in her own river home.

We’ve since talked about how she fit into the biodiversity of our river system. Untouchable as she made her slow and steady appearances in and out of the bay over the years. Almost immortal in a way that is rarely seen in nature.

Early this summer she crept up onto the shore near our dock enjoying the warmth of spring or maybe the company of my husband and daughter watching her from the deck above. I was busy preparing to attend a traditional Indigenous ceremony the following week. It’s called Sundance and celebrates new life returning to the land. Because of this, I missed the entire episode and wonder now about that. She’d rarely let you get that close but when she did you marveled at the size, the age, the look in her eye, and how calm this creature seemed to be around us. Perhaps she was there that day to remind us of the reasons we make sacrifices for the gifts of the land.

These creatures instill themselves in our lives and we watch for them when we’re in their places. At the lake, I feel this way about the turtles, herons, beaver, loons, otters, fox, eagles, ducks and birds of all kinds, and even the bears. We listen intently at night, waiting in the silence, and are rewarded occasionally with the wolves calling across the wilderness.

My message to turtle: You remind us that everything has an end but also a purpose and a place. There was a time when I was afraid of you but, by facing my own truths, I overcame that along with many other fears that allows me to be present and at peace in this place you used to call home. Thank you for stopping in from time to time and reminding us of the importance of truth.

We know that we may not see a creature like turtle again although we hope to see her offspring. Yes her end was at the hands of humans, a discarded or lost tire, likely once part of a dock that floated away, harmless at the bottom of the lake until she decided to investigate it. The owner of the tire likely didn’t mean for it to cause such harm.

But if we think about it now, maybe we’ll do a better job tying those damn tires or floats to our docks to protect our precious boats from getting scratched or keep our docks afloat.

There was a time when our family didn’t always show nature the respect it deserved. When we first set up camp on our weedy bay we were hell-bent on making the wilderness work our way. This included many hours dredging the weeds in the bay – actually not weeds at all but wild rice that always grew back, usually thicker than before. It wasn’t the first or the last time that nature would show us who was the boss.

We certainly weren’t the only ones with this idea. Along our river and on nearby Lake of the Woods we’ve seen cottages where hundreds of pounds of rock or concrete have been put in to kill everything that needs to be mowed or maintained. Creating sterile surroundings where people feel less encumbered and less threatened.

Sand put down that kills the ecosystem so the children and adults can enjoy the beach experience in places where beaches weren’t meant to be. Killing everything to create barren environments. Is that the legacy we want to leave our children? Is that what they want? How about we ask them…or at least try to get them to take notice?

Even if we can’t get their attention, can we at least think about it? Because everything we do matters.

A turtle and a tire taught us that.

 

Blog page illustration by Lisa Rydin Erickson. You can find more of Lisa’s work on Etsy.

Photos by Michael Fournier.

*Turtle
**Thank-you

Change is good…even when it hurts

Good day my colleagues, clients and friends. Since I’ve been away for a while, I just thought I’d weigh in with why. I’m very grateful for your ongoing support.

Change is definitely in the air. Our daughter is on her way to university several provinces away in Nova Scotia, while our son is graduating from high school. My parents are moving out of my childhood home of 53 years. My partner is now working away at a fishing camp in N.W. Ontario. And of course my work as a freelance writer in an agile and ever-changing business and social world is continuously serving up something new.

Change is good. But sometimes it can be tinged with a gentle ache that perseveres even as we tell ourselves that the changes are all part of the natural progression of our lives.

While I’m thrilled that my daughter has the courage to pick up her life and dreams and take them to a new and exciting place, I’ll miss her amazing spirit, talent and goodness. While my son still has no clue what he wants to do after graduation, he’s becoming a good man and will find his way when he’s ready…and he will graduate despite years of struggles within the education system. I’m feeling my partner’s absence, but he’s doing what he’s meant to do.

My parent’s move from the home my dad said he’d “die in” has been escalated by health issues, which is normal for people their age – but unexpected, in particular for my dad, who just hung up his hockey equipment this past winter. The fact that they are going along with this – even though they can’t take their dog! – is both courageous and gracious. It really is all good but there’s a lot of history wrapped up in that old house on Beech Street.

I am also a second-year Sundancer at a ceremony that is happening the same weekend as the move. This is filling me with a surreal sense of loss. I won’t be there as a house filled with so much of who I am is being emptied room by room.

Amidst all this, I’ve been awarded the writing project of my dreams – an opportunity, like the Sundance, to bring everything I have to the table. The convergence of all of these things has struck me as being significant somehow. While I could be overwhelmed, I’m strangely thrilled by the complexity of life and the things that are beyond our control that we can choose what to do with.

Like so many of us who juggle the demands of life and work, I haven’t always been the best at protecting my own space and well-being. Yet the demands on me and the choices I’ve had to make over the past few months have forced me to do so.

A colleague and friend recently told me she couldn’t believe the change she saw in me. All I could tell her was, “I had no choice”– no choice but to make the choices that put my own well-being first. In doing that, I’ve been able to take care of myself as well as all the others who are depending on me during this change-ridden time. It’s normal for people to depend on me because I’ve usually come through. But I often did so at great personal and professional cost.

While I haven’t completely come through the other side, this time it feels different and I can see the changes in both my work and personal life.

Many of us are in that time in our lives where it feels like all we do is look after others, with little or no attention to our own needs. When the onslaught of all these changes started to roll toward me I knew I wasn’t going to survive if I didn’t make some serious, responsible choices in how I was going to manage them. Here is my top 10 list of the strategies I used. Hopefully some of them can work for you:

  1. Don’t sacrifice yourself – instead I set clear and realistic boundaries for what I would and wouldn’t do. I consciously didn’t say “could” or “couldn’t” as this wasn’t negotiable.
  2. Pause and refocus amidst conflicting priorities – in doing so, I also ensured my decisions aligned with my values.
  3. Find and use your voice – I used mine to again state what I would and wouldn’t do and what I would need to make it through.
  4. State what you need from others – this was important so that I could remain strong and supportive amidst all the change and competing priorities.
  5. Decide what you can give up and what you can live with – for example, I really don’t want my parent’s dog, but I understand it’s a barrier I needed to get out of the way so that they can move forward. I have space in my heart and my home for another dog and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
  6. Check off the things you really don’t need to worry about – my daughter, for instance, is incredibly capable and will figure out her move with some gentle guidance. My son will graduate from high school. My parents will eventually love the place they’re in.
  7. Hand off what isn’t yours to carry –since I can’t be there to help on moving day, we’ve hired movers. What I will do is show up a couple of days before Sundance to pack and move what I can and again at the end of Sundance to say my good-bye’s to the house.
  8. Stop making unnecessary apologies – Guess what? I don’t know everything and I’m stopping my apologies for that. If I thought I did, I wouldn’t learn anything new.
  9. Recognize your own worth – I try to do this while also reminding myself  that I have always done my best.
  10. Know who has your back – I do know this, and I’m grateful for each and every one of you.

Some of these choices have been tough, but as far as I can see everyone is still standing while I’m making them. I’ve shared this because I’m surprised and gratified by the positive impact all of these choice are having on my work, which is incredibly important to who I am… and to the services I provide to my clients, colleagues and friends.

And that I believe is also a very good thing.

I’d love to hear how you’ve managed your well-being through change. Send me an email  or comment below.

Cheers!

Leanne

Blast from the past – this old family photo, confiscated from my parent’s house, cracks me up!

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World Water Day asks us to think about the water we rely on

Today is World Water Day. It’s not to be taken lightly anywhere in the world including here in Canada where on any given day, more than 1,000 boil-water advisories are in effect across the country.

The David Suzuki Foundation is on this of course and has offered an incredibly easy way for all of us to be part of addressing this issue. I urge you to visit their page World Water Day reminds us not to take clean water for granted.  Follow the steps to submit your letter to editors in your area.

Here’s mine:

I am a homeowner in Winnipeg and a cabin owner in N.W. Ontario. I enjoy the privilege of clean, available water in Manitoba but have learned what it’s like to live without drinkable water at my cottage. This is a small inconvenience as we can easily fill our water jugs at a reasonable cost and haul them with us on our weekly travels back and forth to camp. It has not been lost on me that on every trip I pass by the turn-off to Shoal Lake 40, that along with nearby Grassy Narrows and Neskantaga, have been under boil-water advisories for decades. Online I see there are also numerous Manitoba communities under boil water advisories. But this is a bigger issue than Manitoba and Ontario. On any given day, more than 1,000 boil-water advisories are in effect across the country, many in Indigenous communities. Yet Canada has one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, a quarter of its remaining wetlands and its longest coastline. Canada is the only G8 country without legally enforceable drinking-water-quality standards at the national level. We need to do more to address this national blight on our wonderful, rich country. We should be calling on our federal government and every Canadian to care about this issue, which we can address together. This is too important to stand by and do nothing. I know I for one will do everything I can to protect the people and places I love.

The photos featured here are of our most beloved creek that we hope to always protect as well as the Winnipeg River where we spend countless hours in the water. We swim, canoe, fish and hike along this river throughout the seasons. We are incredibly grateful for how it sustains us and do everything we can to protect and sustain it as well.

The feature image (below) of my partner sipping from a glass is the water we pull from our creek is a joke. the water isn’t drinkable and we also need to boil it…for now. IMG_1612

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Above: The creek that runs alongside our cottage. Below: An outlet of the great Winnipeg River.

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I’ve got this

The idea of someone having my back and me reciprocating has been on my mind a lot lately. In the work I do related to workplace mental health, we talk about this as one of the ways we can improve the psychological health and safety of workplaces.

Everyone wins when people look out for one another and honour each other’s contributions. These are workplaces that have a culture of civility and respect.mightyscrib-pencil

For an independent consultant like me, those we can count on to have our backs can vary depending on the projects and clients we’re working with. I am at the top of my game when I feel supported in doing my best work and can tell a client or colleague with confidence, “I’ve got this.”

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to write for numerous clients whose business is supporting healthier, more productive workplaces. This area of knowledge has taught me how work can be done in ways that benefit everyone. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about building civil and respectful team and work environments:

Let others know that you value their contribution. Recognition of accomplishments and effort is a sure way to help others feel healthier and happier at work. Be on alert for when you see others going that extra mile or showing up in a way that really benefits the team.

Be flexible and open to new ideas. If the workplace culture is truly open, civil and respectful, people will be more likely to share their ideas. While you may not be able to act on all of them, be as transparent as possible about your decision-making process and invite employees to help develop solutions that may meet their needs.

Reward those who go out of their way to help a co-worker or colleague. This can be as simple as encouraging those that received help to posting the deed and deed-doer on a whiteboard, giving a card that the deed-doer can display on their desk, or recognizing the deeds by drawing for gift certificates, lunch or a team pizza party, etc.

Find opportunities to bring work teams together outside of work. Social activities outside of work can help co-workers learn new things about one another and forge stronger working relationships. Make it okay for people to show that they’re human and to connect as people not just co-workers. Anything you plan should of course consider the abilities of everyone to participate.

Let your people know how important their work is and the difference they make in the lives of clients, co-workers, members, etc. People are more energized and inspired when they know that their contribution matters.

Walk the talk. If you happen to have a successful year or a big win in your business, consider how you can pay that forward – in your community or workplace.

Take a break. Everybody needs one. Find some healthy break activities online that people can do together or on their own. Some great free exercises are available at workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/newsletter/Healthy-Break-Activities.

Remember external stakeholders. So what about those (sometimes lonely) consultants or remote workers you’ve hired? I would hope you’d think about treating them with the same civility and respect as your on site co-workers and teams. Consultants like me are often brought in to do the heavy lifting and it’s a lot easier when we know someone has our back too.

Consultants like me are often brought in to do the heavy lifting and it’s a lot easier when we know someone has our back too.

I hope you find some of these ideas useful. I’d be happy to help you in communicating an approach or initiative related to wellness or mental health within your business or to those who make the decisions. Send me a note.

A few great places to learn more about the ways we can improve our work environments so that people are supported to be their best are noted below.

Workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com

Mindful Employer Canada

Short and sweet articles

Choosing the right length for your articles: The long and the short of it

I’m just barely 5 ft (1.5 meters) tall. So you would think that I would say that short is always better. But um…no.

I often get excited about clients’ stories and will pitch them on the reasons to give the story the space it deserves. There’s just so much good stuff!

What to cut?

There are strategic considerations for how long an article, post or web page should be.

Often, shorter is better. But at other times a longer, more indepth story is the way to go.

Slate.com shared that only about 50% of readers would actually read through one of their articles. However readership was much higher for content in a photo or video. This underlines the importance of making content, in any form, as engaging as possible.

In a recent article for the Content Marketing Institute, Neil Patel noted that those who stick along for the bulk of your article are your more important and engaged readers anyhow.

With that in mind, let’s talk about what you need to do to engage those readers. I see this as the true driver of how long or short your content should be. If you can achieve this in 300 words or less, good for you and that’s the perfect length for your message. But if it takes longer, do everything you can to make it engaging, entertaining and valuable every word of the way.

Use clear, descriptive words in your subject lines, headlines and lead-ins. Engage your readers but don’t make them think too hard. While clever headlines will show how creative you are, they don’t search well and will not be as reader-friendly.

Know your audience and speak to what matters to them. Every message you write can’t possibly be for everyone in the world. Narrow it down by using your platform to respond to a concern or problem your readers or customers have told you about. Use the insights you’ve gained through your interactions with them on social media or other platforms to respond to what’s important to them.

Are you still along for the ride? Great! Let’s keep going.

Tell a good story. But not just any story. Tell the story that will mean something to  your audience. Draw on your experiences to teach something new or solve a problem. Help readers see where they belong in your story. “Happily Ever After” isn’t just for fairy tales. It’s for all great stories especially in the world of business and sales.

Build trust. Research around current buying habits shows that shoppers, specifically millennials, are more likely to buy from brands they trust. Make sure the stories you share deliver consistent, quality solutions for your audience so that they will keep coming back or watch for and engage in your posts because they trust you to deliver something of value.

Be a good distraction. Yes people are busy and studies show more distracted than ever before. However research also shows that digital users welcome distractions that can help relieve some of the stress in their lives by offering real solutions to real problems. Be that distraction.

Use data to back up what you’re saying. Good for you if you have your own data through user engagement, buyer experiences, comments, likes, etc. to back up what you’re saying. Otherwise take the time to do the research and gather it from reliable sources. Make sure to cite your sources.

Tell readers what you want them to do next. You’ve identified the audience and given them a story about a problem they might share along with some data to support the solution you’re offering. Now it’s up to them…but they still might need a push to take the next step. Tell them what to do and why this matters.

Deliver what you promised. At the beginning of this article I highlighted the main point – the problem I hope to help you solve: There are strategic considerations for how long an article, post or web page should be. The steps I’ve laid out provide the groundwork to determine what your messages should include. How many words are needed to deliver each step? That varies:

  • If you’re already an authority on the solution you’re offering, then building trust may not need to take as much space.
  • If no one has heard from you for awhile – or ever – you’ll need to share more about who you are and why they should trust you. Be aware of any online privacy guidelines (like CASL) that limit what you can do online.
  • If everybody knows your story, then less description may be required.
  • A follow-up post on something you’ve written in detail can also be shorter.The data might be one short sentence of a new finding and then a call to action about why this is important and what your readers need to do.
  • Social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter demand brevity. This is another reason to make your headlines as descriptive and clear as possible so readers want to link to your longer content.

The long and the short if it? The length of your message will be driven by what you already have in place and how much work you have yet to do in building your audiences, gaining their trust and ultimately, establishing your authority.

Good luck and let me know if I can help. Send me an email or drop a few words on my contact page.

Not so MightyWrite

A good friend and I were the weaving through streets of Winnipeg on our way to a dinner date with some other friends.

She was driving, trying not to make too many sudden stops and turns, as I was simultaneously juggling my laptop while on the phone reviewing some work with a client. I had my headphones on so she was only hearing my side of the conversation but as the call ended, she burst out with, “Sounds like your company should be MightyREWrite!” She’s a funny one that Allie but in that moment she was absolutely write. I mean right.

Yeah, we all have times when we miss the mark on projects or things we create. In the case of this past week, the feedback was all really positive. There was just a lot of it.

The end products were way better because of the thorough review and feedback my clients so generously provided.

As a writer, you never want to receive a document back where your golden words are obliterated by revisions and comments. But it happens. In one instance this week an article I wrote pretty much came back as one great big comment. Ouch. But the email cover included positive remarks about the fact that while there were difficulties with this piece, it was by no means a reflection on my professionalism and the good work we’d done together in the past. The client just wanted something else.

So once I dusted myself off and settled into doing the rewrites I had to agree that the comments were workable and would improve what this client was clearly invested in having me write about this topic.

Key word. Invested. It makes all the difference in everything we do in the world of content and marketing. So while the truth can hurt, you need to say it – whether it’s in the feedback you’re giving to a writer like me, or the story you’re telling your audiences.

What did I miss this week? I think I had the voice wrong and these clients were right to call me on it. I can laugh at myself now because I’ve fixed the content and everyone’s happy. How about you laugh along with me and we can agree on some things we can all do to save ourselves from this kind of pain…

  • Ask the right questions
  • Know the audience – and write for them in the right voice
  • Consider the client’s expertise and perspective
  • Stand up for what you think is right but be open to another point of view (see above)
  • Congratulate yourself on your ability to accept feedback to make your work the best it can be!

Good luck and let me know if I can help. Send me an email or drop a few words on my contact page.

Bringing the Holidays home

Our wish for you

peaceWe came upon this fantastic Christmas display while on a visit to one of our home communities. We don’t get back nearly often enough but even so, we were welcomed with open arms like we’d never left.

That got us thinking about the bigger picture of what we doing here in Canada in welcoming others from places where there are no longer even homes to go back to. How fitting that this is happening during this season of caring and sharing. The generosity expands around us throughout our communities as we try to do our best for those who are separated from their loved ones, alone, grieving or less fortunate. Some will say it’s never enough and that we can always do more. But at least we try.

Our wish for you, wherever you are and whomever you are with, is for the same peace and community we discovered on our recent journey.

There is always magic in those words that truly celebrate the Season…

Welcome Home.

Leanne and Michael
www.mightywrite.ca

Thanks to the support of our clients and colleagues in 2015, we are helping to brighten the lives of young people in a community-based group home.

 

Photo Credit Michael Fournier

The Interview

Give the interview your brand story deserves

What the interview tells us

We’re asked to write and design a lot of websites. An important part of this, for us, is the start up interview we do with clients so that we understand their story at the outset. The purpose of the interview isn’t just to research the content we’ll be creating. It also helps us determine the visuals, the overall look and feel and brand differentiation. This occurs through answers to questions such as:

What’s the tone of the business?

Who needs to hear your businesses story?

What do they want?

What to they need?

How will you deliver this to them?

Once we’ve established the foundation, I like to take a deeper dive into some of the things I’ve heard with questions like – What do you mean by that? Can you be more specific? Why do you need more customers? What do you want them to say about you?

Occasionally, clients have pushed back when I prod them for these answers. I understand this psychology – sometimes we’re uncomfortable facing what’s difficult for us. But I persist because I know that my clients’ customers are looking for the truth. They want stories that are specific, interesting, surprising, helpful, and authentic. They want to hear that you acknowledge and understand their pain and care about providing solutions. Sometimes this gets complicated. If it does, I know we’re on to something.

Being interviewedA good interviewer knows how to ask the right questions that earns the trust of clients. That trust is important because it strengthens the two-way relationship. If someone has trusted me with his or her story, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the content or article I develop honours that trust.

What that means is that at the outset, I’ll be ensuring that the story is professionally written, accurate and in step with the piece’s overall goals. But that’s just the start.

Building trust takes more work, but it’s the work I love most.

As an example, earlier this week I was talking to a potential client for the first time. I could hear the agony in her voice as she described trying to develop content for her website on her own for several weeks. She realized she needed help and called me.

As we talked through the challenges she’s been facing, I naturally started interviewing her and the veil began to lift. We barely scratched the service but I could already hear the panic subsiding as she began to see that I could be trusted with her story.

That’s where it all starts and I’m often shocked by how often businesses under-manage this aspect of their brand. You could have the greatest business idea with an amazing story behind it – but if no one hears it, your chances of ongoing, lasting success are greatly reduced. Why do so many business owners take that chance?

I love what Rob Hatch of Owner Media Group wrote about this:

“The reality is, your stories reveal part of who you are and what you’re capable of even as you have yet to accomplish your greatest achievements.”

The startup interview might help you discover aspects of your story and business you haven’t even thought of. So if whomever is charged with developing your website, or your blog, articles, videos or other social media asks for an interview…give them the time. Otherwise they will only be telling part of your story.

In my case, such interviews have caused a few new business owners to rethink their approach. In one instance, the client actually discovered she didn’t want to do the business at all and decided to stay in her full-time job in which she has found increasing satisfaction and success. I like to think that’s in part, because the questions I asked helped her see the story she was meant to be in.

The Content Management Institute states: Your story identifies what your passions are and serves as the foundation for all your future content developments.

If you’re wondering where to start with your story, I might be able to help. Send me an email or drop by my contact page.

If I don’t hear from you soon, that’s okay too. I’ll be back with another story next month.

Feature illustration by MightyWrite’s Michael Fournier ©2015

Photo Credit: Getting the story of startup success from Andrea Kraj of CORE Renewable Energy Corp. at Innovate Manitoba’s Pitch’Day. Photo by Leif Norman.

Global experts gather to talk about workplace mental health

CNtoweroriginal

IIMHL participants gather in Toronto. Surprise new young delegate joined the photo!

I was honoured to have the opportunity to participate in conversations about workplace mental health and psychological health and safety with a lineup of global experts (pictured above) over the past week in Toronto. Delegates from Canada, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand and the U.K. came together to open dialogue, share and learn from one another about the diversity of perspectives on psychological health and safety in the workplace. The gathering of these great minds was part of ‪the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (@IIMHL or #IIMHL) – a unique international collaborative that focuses on mental health and addictions.

There were many great “aha” moments that I shared on Twitter (@mightywriteca or #iimhl) during our two-day session and I still have over 25 pages of notes to compile! My colleague Mary Ann Baynton presented the highlights from our discussions including strategies for accelerating change towards mental health and well-being and inclusion and building leadership for the future at the IIMHL conference in Vancouver. 

A key takeaway for me was the importance of embedding psychological health and safety into everything we do in our workplaces. This includes how we treat one another (including having one another’s backs), how work is assigned and managed, how we manage and support employees and co-workers with mental illness and ultimately, how we work to keep people at work. A theme I loved was the idea of putting recovery in front of leaders, managers and others who have the responsibility of advocating for and supporting employees who may be experiencing mental health issues. This speaks to the power of peer support and making it safe for those with lived experience of mental health concerns to talk about it.

The youngster in the photo wasn’t a delegate but jumped into the photo and we all welcomed her. I thought it was an excellent example of why we’re doing this – To advocate for inclusion of all workers and the importance of working toward healthier workplaces for the future.

How often have you thought about the labour in Labour Day?

In Canada, Labour Day’s origins can be traced back to the late 1800’s when unionized organizations went on strike for a shorter work week (something like 58 hours!). Although police made arrests related to these demonstrations, unions continued to march on Ottawa, prompting then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to revoke the anti-union laws of the time. Unions continued to protest for shorter work weeks and better conditions for workers.

As in the United States, Labour Day is observed on the first Monday in September, in recognition of this history as well as the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our countries.

As this Labour Day approaches, I would like you to consider and celebrate just how far we’ve come. Back in the 1870’s, workers were required to work long hours in unsafe workplaces where they were often exposed to the risk of physical injury, and even death. Psychological injuries weren’t even acknowledged nor was there any kind of disability compensation for workers while they recovered from illnesses or injuries caused by work conditions. Workers didn’t speak up because they needed their jobs and didn’t have any other options.

Little by little this changed over the decades and credit is owed to many front runners in the labour movement as well as forward-thinking business leaders who worked tirelessly and often at great personal and professional risk on behalf of workers.

Today, workers in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces are protected by stringent guidelines that safeguard both their physical and psychological health and safety at work. The Duty to Accommodate page on the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the workplace’s website highlights some of these requirements and includes links to the human rights codes information.

We now even have a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and there are a growing number of organizations and agencies dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and the prevention of psychological injury in workplaces. In addition to the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, there’s Mindful Employer Canada, Mental Health Works, The Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association and many others. I’d like to give a personal shout out to my colleagues at Mary Ann Baynton & Associates who are workplace relations specialists dedicated to helping organizations resolve workplace issues related to mental health.

So as you enjoy this upcoming Labour Day with your last picnic or to wrap up final weekend of the summer, perhaps as you look up at the fireworks, or just bask in time with your family and friends, remember those workers who paved the way for the improved workplace that you may be returning to on Tuesday morning.

If your workplace hasn’t advanced to this level, then I’d suggest you check out Mindful Employer Canada or for more in-depth consultation and support, Mary Ann Baynton & Associates.

My first experience in a mental health support program

I recently attended the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Education for Families program. It was a transformative experience for me in discovering a safe place to connect with others and learn about supporting people with mental illness.

During the six-week program, we were given ample time to share our stories which was part of the healing process for each of us who had felt losses or stress related to dealing with a family member’s mental illness. The facilitators even added an extra week of class to allow more time for us to tell our stories and learn from our collective experiences rather than sticking to a rigid curriculum.

I took many things away from the facilitators and the course material but also from my classmates who had some courageous stories of enduring through difficult times. Today I’m feeling very grateful and indebted to these people who are all working so hard and with such compassion and commitment for their loved ones. Many were supporting their children with mental illnesses, ranging in ages from 10 to mid-40’s. More than one was feeling completely done in.

At the start of the class I almost wanted to “shut up” as I felt my concerns were so small compared to others in the room.

As the weeks passed it became clear that we all were there to learn from the facilitators as well as from each other. All of our stories mattered.

I have permission from many of the participants to talk about their stories and hope to write more. For now, I just wanted to share some of the words that were expressed at the end of the class because we can all learn from them. These are paraphrased, as I didn’t want to disrespect my classmates by writing furiously while they were sharing so generously:

I know now that this is real, that I’m allowed to feel this way and that there are things I can try to do to make things better for my husband and my family.

Thank-you for creating a safe place and allowing us the time to share our stories. That’s been as important as the curriculum in helping us to heal from the grief and loss we might be feeling as a result of our family member’s mental illness.

I feel like I’m not alone in dealing with this. It’s been incredible to hear about some of the things other people are doing to support their family members.

I have lots of new ideas about what I can do to support my son. I was done in, but now I have more hope.

The program will be offered again and I’ll be sure to post the dates when they’re available. Highly recommend!

Want to join me in learning new ways of thinking about work?

mary-ann

Mary Ann Baynton

I am one very lucky writer. My work has connected me with some incredible, smart people from whom I have learned many great things. One of those people is Mary Ann Baynton of Mary Ann Baynton and Associates , Mindful Employer Canada and the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (the Centre). My friend and colleague wears many hats so I often tease her that she still hasn’t decided what she wants to be when she grows up. To which she usually replies…”Grow up?”

Tom Regehr

Tom Regehr

Another such person is Tom Regehr of Cast Canada. I met Tom during one of my first writing assignments for the Centre, where a group of mental health experts had come together to develop a workshop to help businesses address mental health issues in the workplace. Tom stopped me in my scribbles when he asked us to write down what we had felt when we realized that someone in our lives was struggling with addiction. It was the first time I allowed myself to think about those feelings I had buried long ago. I’ve been healing every since.

In their different ways, both Mary Ann and Tom have changed my life so I am thrilled to be attending a two-day seminar they will be hosting in Toronto this September: Preventing Psychological Injury. I’m sharing this because I think it’s going to be one of the most important learning experiences for anyone who has an interest or responsibility related to workplace mental health or psychological health and safety.

Perhaps that person is you.

During two days of interactive sessions, featuring real life examples and practical strategies, participants will learn new ways of thinking about stress, trauma, resilience and work.

Wouldn’t you like to have the tools to do everything you could to help prevent psychological harm to  someone in your workplace who might be struggling with mental  health issues such as stress, depression, bipolar disorder or addiction?

I know of others who have had personal experience of such harm or watched it being done to their co-workers. They have shared that one of their biggest regrets is not having had the tools to intervene or speak up when they knew the injury was occurring so that they could have stopped it or prevented it from happening to others.

There is still limited space left and I encourage you to consider joining me, along with experts Mary Ann and Tom, for this amazing two days of learning together.

Find out more and register today.

We can all learn from each other’s stories. If you have experiences of trauma, stress, psychological injury or resilience in the workplace you would like to share, please send me an email.

Doing a happy dance!

Doing a happy dance!

Meeting people where they are

Meeting-people-where-at

 Photo:  Meeting place by MightyWrite’s Michael Fournier.

An event happened earlier this summer that had me riled up. More on that in a bit but it made me think once again about how much more we learn when we can put aside our own bias’ to meet people where they are at. Sorry for the improper grammar but there’s no better way to say it.Meetinginprogress

This philosophy has helped me in supporting family members with mental illness, guiding some young people in my life and understanding the different and sometimes conflicting views of others.

It has also been incredibly valuable in my interactions with clients. I’m learning so much more by putting my ear to the ground and really listening to what clients have to say about their business goals as well as their circumstances.

That’s how I’ve discovered that for some clients a direct tactical approach is the best way to go, while for others a full-blown marketing strategy is what’s needed.

While I prefer to be strategic, it’s not always a good fit for clients who require fast turn-around on content or marketing to respond to an immediate need or opportunity. In these situations, I do my best to give clients an idea of what’s at stake if they choose to forego a more strategic approach so they can decide if the risks are worth it…

  1. Jumping in without a well-thought strategy could impact the returns and results they’re hoping to achieve.
  2. Opportunities for cost efficiencies may be affected without an overall strategic plan for how content and other marketing approaches are being developed.
  3. A strategic plan can be the guidebook for everyone on a project to follow and should outline who is doing what as well as why they are doing it. There’s clarity, synergy and in some cases less work when people are clear on objectives, goals and responsibilities.

By giving clients these choices, I’m doing my best to honour where they are in their journey.

What got me thinking about this? In June, an indigenous elder was invited by the University of Winnipeg to host a traditional pipe ceremony as part of its consultation process in working towards an indigenous course requirement. The elder requested that women who attended wear skirts, as is the custom in such ceremonies.

An academic from the university challenged the elder’s request. It’s not the first time the skirt debate has been raised.

While people might not be familiar with native ceremonies, I understood that her request was to inform people about protocol, to respect the traditional items (such as pipes) of those attending, and to help ensure that the ceremony provided as much spiritual connection as possible. Long wide skirts represent the connection women have to Mother Earth. The circle of the skirt reflects the round shape of the earth and symbolizes the sacredness of life.

Historically, as a society and as individuals, we accommodate and accept advice on dress codes for special occasions, workplaces, foreign lands, people and other religions.

Still, the elder allowed attendees to ignore her request. In doing so, she made spiritual and personal sacrifices, putting the needs of a larger general public ahead of her teachings.

The recent findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been well documented and however you choose to interpret them, one fact stands out. We’ve trampled on indigenous culture enough. If we must disagree with something such as wearing a skirt at a traditional ceremony or not wearing a headdress at a party, we have options:

  1. We can gain an understanding of the protocols of the ceremonies and sacred items by reading up about them or asking a traditional person. This is no different than preparing ourselves for a business meeting where we want to be sure we won’t embarrass ourselves or offend others in the room.
  2. We can choose not to attend if we feel philosophically or morally opposed to the protocols.
  3. We can follow the protocols, and experience the ceremony fully, alongside our indigenous people to whom we are indebted for sharing their land, resources and spirituality.

Meeting people where they are at and respecting their ways, whether in business or in different aspects of our lives, can help us gain greater understanding of what’s important to others. In this way I believe we can serve our own needs and those of one another in more respectful and honourable ways.

This is just my viewpoint. I welcome yours. Please leave a comment or send me an email: Leanne@mightywrite.ca

Marketing and content … what’s strategy got to do with it?

In past newsletters I’ve given you some tips for creating a solid marketing plan and hiring a writer to help deliver your message most effectively. Now let’s talk about content strategy – the overlooked gem of marketing and media!Return to MightyWrite

To begin, you should know the difference between a content strategy and a content marketing strategy. In an article in Content Marketing Institute, Robert Rose shared this:

Content marketers draw on the wall with magic markers, while content strategists use fine pensThe content marketer draws the story and plans the channels that will be used to develop the customer relationship with the brand. The content strategist ensures that story, language, and management processes work consistently and efficiently across multiple teams, languages, and every publication the brand leverages.

Marketing uses content to achieve its objectives and in Rose’s words, to “deepen our relationship with customers”.

If your communications’ efforts are strictly limited to social media, a one-stop content marketing strategy will likely do.

For business clients, I’ve found this is rarely enough. Marketing can be so many other things besides content – such as face-to-face meetings or internal processes that are used to advance your business goals. In some cases, such as when it’s extremely sensitive and directed at limited, internal or external audiences, content shouldn’t be treated as marketing. These are situations where people just don’t want to be “sold” so a more deft non-marketing approach may be required. Being sensitive to these differences can help deliver a more solid plan that embodies the right balance of marketing and content strategies.

The goal of content in the modern world is to provide useful information that creates engagement and in most cases, an opportunity to interact with customers or followers in meaningful ways.

Content isn’t just words. It’s also graphics, photos, videos, audio, keywords – all the pieces that form the body of your message – that should also be included in your content strategy.

Here are some questions and answers to consider:

illustration of a magnifying glass over white backgroundAre you clear on why you’re developing the content? Its purpose should ultimately be to tell your story but also to serve needs or solve problems for your audiences. In all cases, it should be emphatically helpful and support your marketing goals.

When should you bring the content strategy people to the table? It’s almost never too early. Starting to talk about content strategy after you’ve settled on the design for your website or any other marketing or media is really too late. The content strategy should be embedded from the start for maximum results.

Where do you start? In most cases, your content strategist should begin by doing a content audit of your existing materials to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement as well as gems that should be maximized. New content should support your larger business and marketing goals and key messages.

Will you invest time in the conversations? Debating the ideal content strategy may feel like “pie in the sky” conversations, especially when you’re busy and focused on the end goal. You might want to say, “Just write the darn thing!” but these discussions can deliver immeasurable benefits in terms of solidifying your message, maximizing your brand and engaging your audiences in a sustainable and profitable way.

How can you ensure your content will provide value? Do the research so you understand what your audience needs from you and establish processes to ensure that every piece of your content is developed with a focus on being user-centred, accurate, relevant, meaningful and true to your brand. Identify and support your content experts to fulfill this task and engage writers who know how to make your content sing.

Done right with attention to all of these details, your content strategy will help deliver both eyeballs and ROI.

Examples of websites that are built on a solid content strategy

The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace website – www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com – Staying focused on the overall strategic goals helped us to develop and optimize large volumes of valuable content to support different audiences.

Mandi J. Bucker Consulting’s – www.mjbuckner.ca ­– Mandi was creating her business as we were building her website. It was critical to have a clear content strategy to ensure the messages were consistent with her business vision and goals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email: Leanne@mightywrite.ca

 

Best,

Leanne

Tips and tricks real writers use to open more ears and eyes to your content

MightyWrite
Return to MightyWriteDoes your story really matter? Has anyone ever even asked you? Or pushed you to think about why it’s important enough to share with the world? A real writer would. Because real writers know how to ask the tough questions to create meaningful content that can inspire your audiences to stop and read or listen.I admit there are some good writers out there who have little or no professional writing experience or training. But there’s still a case for hiring pros that know how to write content or stories that can rise above all the noise. In the end, the cost is likely not much different when you measure it against real, lasting results.Experienced writers know to push past their first instinct for a story (although it may be the one they come back to in the end) and look for different, unique angles that will stand up against an editor or reader’s questions. We know how to ask the tough questions, gather and check information, delve into all the angles for the story, and boil it down into a relevant, memorable, reader-focused piece.A writer with some reporting experience is always going to seek the authoritative voice and sources for information. You can’t just say it. You have to be able to prove it.Real writers also expect review and revisions. Our egos are wired to understand that we are only part of the process. Our expertise comes from our sources – you as well as others – and we understand you’ll have something to bring to the final product.I really want you to consider the services of a real writer, because I think your story matters. I do of course have a stake in this as I like to think I’m a real writer but I really hope that you’ll use the tips I’m sharing to find the right writer for your job. Someone who will bring you enormous value over time – thereby giving all of us real writers a good name. Here’s some questions to consider:

  1. How will they approach the subject you’re assigning them to write about? You’re looking for some thinking about how they’ll acquire expertise on the subject – either through their own research or by talking to subject matter experts.
  2. What will they need to get started? Any writer should be asking you questions to gather your insights and details for the story as well as the results you’re looking for. If they don’t ask you any questions about your audience, send them home. Understanding who we’re trying to reach or move to action with a story or writing assignment is always job 1.
  3. What’s the process they use to get the story? You want to see that they place a lot of importance on doing the research and that they’ll check in with you (or your designate) for any questions or concerns before they start writing the story. For more in-depth assignments, you’d also like them to provide you with an outline of the story or content.
  4. How long will it take? A good writer will resist your attempts for next day turnaround for writing that should take some time to research and develop. However, most writers with any kind of experience working to deadlines, are adept at fast turnaround. In these cases, I’m transparent with clients so they know what they’re giving up for super fast turnaround.
  5. What will the first draft look like? Depending on the time that’s been allowed for the project, you should be seeing the writer’s best work, error-free and embodying any specifics you’ve asked for. Hopefully you’ll also see what the writer has brought to the table through research, expert information, great storytelling and most importantly an understanding of your message and audiences.
  6. Will they be open to doing revisions? Here’s where you can check just how much ego is in the room. I always expect and am prepared for revisions from my clients or others involved in creating the content because they have perspectives too. However, an experienced writer may respectfully challenge you on changes – which you should expect if they’ve submitted their best work.
  7. How much will it cost? Do yourself a favour and look into the rates that are posted by writer’s unions or writing organizations or guilds in your jurisdiction, understanding there’s usually room for negotiation. A better win-win can usually be achieved for a volume of work, i.e. weekly or monthly articles for eNewsletters, social media platforms, websites or publications with room to move on the budget for longer, more in-depth articles for local or national media outlets. That way the writer becomes an expert on your business and audiences and can deliver work that is accurate, original, effective and engaging on a consistent basis.

A writing pro who follows this approach for you will definitely have more success in developing unique, authoritative, accurate and relevant stories and content. And today, authority = trust. It’s what can move your audiences – customers, employees, colleagues, investors, followers and friends – to believing in what you have to offer them. This in turn can generate more leads, sales and a return on every dollar you’ve paid the writer to help achieve results.

Take a peek

Here are some stories that might interest you. If you want to share your thoughts about them or chat about your story, I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email: leanne@mightywrite.ca or pop over to my contact page.

Service dogs working for mental illness Ghost-writing about mental health issues has been an important part of my job over the past several years, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write this story under my own byline.

Canada’s New Anti-Spam Legislation – The fears and the opportunities Getting the facts straight on this issue was key.

Focus on Innovation Makes Manitoba-Made Technology a Game Changer I was really proud to have the opportunity to write about Kelly Beaulieu’s growing success in building this amazing business.

Teen wasn’t as much afraid of dying as he was of not being remembered This story required a deft approach to cover the news of an event but also to honour this young man’s wish to be remembered.

Queen of pastry has all the ingredients for success Heather Daymond is a very sweet made-in-Manitoba success story.

Best,
Leanne

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Loud and proud about mental health

The first week of May is designated every year for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week. This national event is geared at encouraging people to talk and think about all aspects of mental health. Local events are happening across the country under the Get Loud theme.

CMHA provides a description of mental health that states it is about more than just not having mental illness. It’s about overall well-being. They go on to state that “People who live with a mental illness can and do thrive, just as people without a mental illness may experience poor mental health.”

Good mental health is something that we can all achieve even when we aren’t well or are experiencing mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder.

My experience

These past several months I have been travelling to various locations to collaborate with colleagues and experts for projects related to workplace mental health. How lucky I was to have this work take me to Toronto, Burlington, Waterdown, Vancouver and Halifax!

Even more so, how fortunate I was to be working with others who value and support all aspects of positive workplace mental health.

At the start of the assignment I shared with my colleagues that while my commitment to the project’s success was there, I wasn’t at 100 per cent. These intense writing blitzes usually require me to be at about 150 per cent so I thought I should come clean: I was experiencing burnout due to a number of work and personal hurdles that together, were upsetting the balance in all aspects of my life.

I’d done my research (I always do my research), and was aware that something was different for me. I was experiencing a heightened sense of frustration and was questioning the motives of others. I was also feeling an overall and persistent sense of loss, irritability and fatigue. This wasn’t normal for me, and I’d felt this way for a while. While burnout isn’t considered a mental illness, it can lead to a number of serious health issues if unaddressed.

I felt safe sharing this with my colleagues and they honoured me by ensuring that our time together, although busy, was safe and healthy for everyone.

It really was just a matter of me speaking up. I stated my needs out loud and advocated for what I needed to get through the pace of the work for the next few months. I also had to adopt some strategies to ensure I was able to hold it together while delivering the quality of the work my clients have come to expect:

  • I was vigilant about taking healthy breaks.
  • I would focus on one task at a time and speak up when I needed more time to complete something.
  • My colleagues and I discussed in advance the signals I would use, or what they should watch for, if I was feeling overwhelmed.
  • I clarified expectations and spoke up if I felt some were unreasonable.
  • Together, we set priorities and decided in advance what could “go” if we couldn’t get it all done.
  • We organized the work in manageable chunks.
  • We celebrated our successes.
  • We shared feedback to reaffirm everyone’s value in the process.

Fortunately, the quality of the work didn’t suffer and I will be proud to share it with you when it goes “live” over the next several months. Even better, I have come through the other side of burnout and am regaining my energy, enthusiasm and passion for work and life.

Mental Health Resources

On that note, I just wanted to acknowledge Mental Health Week by sharing links to free resources, courtesy of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, that are available to individuals who may be experiencing mental health issues or those who support them at work or home.

I also hope you will take some time during the week to do a check-in on your own mental health. Think about it the same way you do your physical health. What have you done today to address your own well-being? Maybe it’s just something simple like getting up from your desk or work or wherever you are and taking a walk outside. The David Suzuki Foundation highly recommends this and you can join me in taking the 30×30 Nature Challenge.

Perhaps it’s by talking to someone about your feelings if you aren’t yourself like me a few months ago. I believe that we all benefit by sharing the stories in our journey to become truly well. The individual’s in the free video resource Working Through ItTM share their stories and strategies for reclaiming well-being off work, at work and returning to work.

If you’re having difficulties at work that might be affecting your mental health, Getting help at work provides some ideas to help you move forward.

Self Assessment Tools provides a number of tools and resources to help you assess your own mental health or that of someone you support.

You can also connect to a number of organizations with expertise in the areas of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues at www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/Depression-Anxiety-and-Other-Conditions. Scroll down the page to Family Resources for links to a variety of resources to support caregivers for those experiencing mental health issues:

The Family Guide to Mental Health Recovery

Canadian Mental Health Association Family and Caregiver Support

Right by You – Supporting teen mental health.

I hope these tools can help you take steps to support your own mental health.

Be well,

Leanne

10 steps for more powerful and engaging marketing plans

Return to MightyWriteIf you’re having trouble gaining momentum with your marketing, it may be because you’re not getting traction with your existing marketing plan or…you don’t have a plan at all. I’ve worked with clients in both situations. Of course I believe in the power of a marketing plan but have also come to realize that all plans are not created equal. You need the Write Plan because it is…

  1. Actionable, simple, direct and clear
  2. A few pages max
  3. Aligned with your business needs and strategic goals
  4. Pro-active in establishing your overall marketing objectives, goals and strategies for the next year
  5. Reactive to what your audiences have told you and will tell you as the months unfold
  6. Responsive and able to reach your audiences wherever they are
  7. Iterative to maximize new opportunities
  8. Committed to helping you become emphatically helpful and connected to your customers problems and needs
  9. Supported by all levels of your organization
  10. Specific and measurable

The Write Plan we develop is long enough to do all this – but short enough to keep everyone interested and engaged in making it happen. Following are some of the parts that can add up to a more integrated and successful marketing program, but first you might be wondering…

What the heck is “emphatically helpful”? At MightyWrite, this means caring about our customers’ concerns and problems and working relentlessly to help them find solutions. It recognizes that our authority comes from our audiences – people like you – and what you teach us through the exchange of services, ideas, recognition and lasting relationships. This doesn’t mean we’ll always be the most popular kid on the block, but it means we will provide value by shining a light on what we know and how much we care about helping our clients achieve their goals.

Now, let’s talk about the Write Plan for you. It has…

Objectives – This is the big picture statement of what you want to achieve with your marketing in the next year. Yep just talking about the next year because I can guarantee that we will need to look at the objectives again in the next 12 months or sooner. It’s important to consider however, how objectives can be achieved and sustained for your ultimate success, year after year after year…

Goals – While objectives look are the overall purpose of your marketing, goals are the smaller microchips that build and drive the strategies and measures we’ll use to achieve success.

Audiences – You’ve heard it before I’m sure. Knowing your audience and caring about how your product or service can make their lives better is key. I like to take that one step further and ask how can your products or services fit into your audiences’ lives to become part of their story? That’s where real customer and brand loyalty begins.

Strategies – Oh strategy how I love thee. The possibilities for reaching your customers, colleagues, supporters and friends are truly endless. But it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. For some clients it’s One. Step. At. A. Time. For others, it’s Launch New Product Redesign Website Build a Social Media Platform all at the same time. Whew. I’ve done this long enough to know that the strategic approach has to be a good fit for the clients’ objectives and goals as well as for your marketing culture and the culture of your audiences. The great news is that with the bulk of marketing going digital and social, it can be tweaked along the way. The bad news is that it’s just as easy for a subscriber or follower to shut the door on you at any time. Opening doors and keeping them open is key to achieving ROI.

Tactics – aka deliverables is where us creatives get to play. This is the website that converts, the video that transforms and bottom line, the marketing that brings your customers and audiences home. Whatever tactics you use, remember point #8 above: Be emphatically, consistently helpful and connected to your customers’ concerns. Your marketing and messaging needs to be about them. How are you solving their problems?

Measurements – How will you know if you’ve been successful and have achieved ROI? We always rate prospects over popularity as a key driver of ROI. So while more people at the party is great, will they convert into buyers or supporters? Be as specific as possible and agree up front to take action if the measures don’t…measure up.

For some, even a yearlong plan feels too onerous. Then scale it back to the next six months or narrow your focus even more to a particular campaign. If you need to look farther ahead, think about your reasons for doing so and ensure the plan has room for change and new opportunities. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a window of time you can commit to and ensure there’s follow-up to look at the results.

One of the strategies should be about how you’ll approach content. I’ll write about that in the next eNews.

Yes I can help you. Yes I would love to. It’s what I do every day. Send me a line and we’ll talk.

We all need to find what energizes us along the marketing path. For me, it often comes from what I can teach…but also what I learn from others. This article sums up these principles and includes an “Authority inspired to do list” that you might find useful too. Enjoy!

Fly Away

Michael Fournier Photogarphy ©2014The mist sits thick and heavy on our secluded bay. As it slowly lifts, I am held by its beauty and its promise. I watch with anticipation. I’m anxious for the light and warmth of the day, yet also want it to stop, stay just as it is, because I am secure and still in its embrace. The mist, the morning, the day, all emerging in their individual glory. It’s easy to miss. To be moving too fast off to the next thing and away from here. It is a rare gift to be still like this.

The Great Blue Heron is here today. I didn’t see her at first, as she blends into the tangled, weedy shore. Revealed, like the day, through the mist. I have a kinship with this bird. Have followed her many times as she shyly wanders in and out of the bay. I know she will leave again soon and I want to hold her back. I’m not ready to let go, yet at the same time I understand her need to fly.

When I first spotted her, she was standing tall and straight. Unassuming, grey, nearly hidden in the shadows of the towering poplars and pines. Shaded by all the others. Pelicans, ducks and geese, loons, ravens and many other birds, including the eagles. All more visible, more bold. Yet when the heron spreads her great wings and flies in, flies away, she is the mHeronost glorious of all. Her grey turning to sky blue, soft like the morning across and edged with the darker hue of dusk.

Flying alone, she is led to her next destination by her own guide. Something that tells her when to soar across the bay, up to the highest tree along the shoreline or down again to rest upon a river island not far away. But far enough away that we miss her as soon as she leaves. The heron flies away in my mind on this day as I crawl along the damp shore, camera in hand. I want to capture this time, this memory before it is gone. I have missed many of these pictures.

Then, as I pause, contemplating the heron’s grace, an eagle interrupts the scene. Eagles are not unusual in the bay, but this setting isn’t right somehow. The heron has boldly landed on the tallest pine tree across the bay. The eagle doesn’t like this. Why I’m not sure. Possibly he protects a nest somewhere in the tangled bushes beyond. He circles impatiently as the heron raises her beak. Is she taunting him, blind to this danger? Will she get some sense and get away to safety? Get away! I want to shout from my spot on the weedy shore.

Nothing happens and I wait patiently. Then impatiently as life calls me away. I have work to do. I stand, glancing over at the foolish heron. As I turn and start up the hill to the644539_10151592660809700_54527802_n cabin, there’s a flash of blue grey. It is the heron but she is straight and thin as she thrusts forward across the sky. Ruffled black and white follows. Eagle. He’s had enough and is pursuing her. I’m stunned at how fast she is. I had no idea she was so strong, so sure. But he’s quick too. They skim past me, out toward the creek, over the rocky ridge and then they are gone.

We do not see the heron again for a long time. Eagles, always the more prevalent in our bay, return often, but I do not know if it is that one. The one who chased my heron out of the bay.

When she does return, she’s changed somehow by her time away. She skirts the edges of the bay, seems to glance more often over at the eagle perched atop the big pine not far away. But she doesn’t bait him this time. Does she remember her close call?

I can’t really tell if she is the same heron and I don’t care, as she spreads her wings and floats across my bay. She is back. She is hope. And I am happy to watch her fly.

Photo credit: Heron and Eagle –  Owen Deutsch, Fox Lake; secluded bay – Michael Fournier, Winnipeg and Kenora; lonely Heron – me.

‘Twas the night before Christmas

 christmas-banner2014_02
And all through the house
Not a keyboard was stirring
Not even
MightyWrite’s mouse

The stories all flung
by email with care
In hopes
That our server
Would get them all there

The team was now nestled
All safe in our Keds
While visions
of happy clients
Danced in our heads

And MightyWrite our chief
And the team all in caps
Had shut everything down
Then we heard tap, tap

When out from the network
Arose such a clatter
We sprang up with dread
What ever
Was the matter?

Away to our Windows
We flew like a flash
Tore open our Notebooks
Praying nothing
would crash

The moon on the desktops
Created a glow
Gave the lustre
Of stories
That just had to flow

Then what
To our wondering eyes
Should appear
But a fellow in red
Saying ‘Get over here!’

He had more hard drive
So lively and quick
We knew in a moment
This content
Would stick

More rapid than eagles
Our stories they came
As he whistled
And shouted
And promised acclaim

Now Facebook
Now Twitter
Now Google
Now Linkedin.com
On Pinterest
On Gmail
On YouTube
And StumbleUpon

To the top search engines
To the top R0I
Now dash away
Dash away
These ideas must fly

His eyes
How they twinkled
His dimples how merry
He sat down at a laptop
And said
Let’s get share-y

 

His droll little mouth
Was drawn up like a bow
He gave us a look
I’m a writer
You know

The cap of his flash drive
Clenched in his teeth
The words that he wrote
Were tight
Like a wreathe

He had a great wit
Such talent and mirth
His belly it shook
As he showed us
His worth

He spoke not a word
As he polished his work
Filling page after page
Then turning with a jerk

And laying his fingers
Aside from the mouse
He gave us a nod
Taking his leave
From the house

We sprang to the screen
Our team gave a whistle
The beauty
Of his stories
Clear as crystal

We heard him exclaim
As he drove out of site
Happy Christmas to all
And to all a Good Write!

Our gift to you is this wish and a donation we’ve made on behalf of our clients to Siloam Mission.
Wishing you the Wonders of the Season!
Leanne and Michael Fournier

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Sometimes you just have to say what you need

We Need You

In his book, The Invisible Sale, (recommend) Tom Martin writes: “Customers know what they want but not what they need. Make them need you or your product.”

I agree 100%…but there’s another side to this that we shouldn’t miss.

It is the importance of letting your clients and prospects know that you need them.

As Seth Godin wrote, “We used to have our ears open to anyone we loved or trusted whispering, ‘I need you’.” But, he explains, this is getting overshadowed by the unfiltered marketers who are out there screaming, “We want anyone!”

If you’re doing that,  it’s time to stop. Take the time instead to let your prospects, customers or followers know why you need them as well as how you can work together in a way that recognizes and respects your need for one another. This is a lot more challenging but infinitely more rewarding than just telling people why they should buy from you.

I’ve believed in this for a long time and am quite open to expressing why we at MightyWrite need you. I’d also like to give a shout out to the clients, featured on our website, with whom we have been honoured to have this kind of reciprocal relationship.

As you think about what you’ve accomplished this year and your plans for the 2015, we’d be thrilled if you’d think about how we could help. We need clients like you.

Content specializationWe need you to allow us inside your business to become subject matter experts so that we can do our best work for you. The payout to you will be fast turnaround of accurate, quality content that’s based on a true and deep understanding of you and your business needs.

Writing – We need you and your stories to fulfill our Write for Business mission. This is the case whether we’re ghostwriting articles under your name or crafting messages to make your brand the first choice with your prospects, customers or supporters.Our hero MightyWrite

Brands and positioning ­– We need you to trust us with this essential part of your business. We have both writers and graphic designers to make sure your brand and positioning aligns within an overall marketing and social media strategy.

WebsitesWe need you to allow us to work with you to realize the importance and impact of quality, customized content and strategy within WordPress website development and design.

StrategyWe need you to engage as we develop strategies that pull all of the above together. This is the behind the scenes work that makes sure everything we’re doing is focused on achieving the results you’re looking for.

We need to talk about your end of year messages (there’s still time) or plans for 2015! I’d love to hear from you…head on over to our contact page or message me.

You are welcome to share a comment about how you let your clients, colleagues and supporters know that you need them.

You might also like Who Cares?  A number of recent events have me thinking about the notion of caring: Caring about issues, caring about our work, caring about our communities, caring about the people around us.

All the best to you and yours during this time of sharing and letting others know how much you care.

 

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Who cares?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A number of recent events have me thinking about the notion of caring: Caring about issues, caring about our work, caring about our communities, caring about the people around us.

In his weekly email,  Chris Brogan wrote: “The best wave of media making is upon us: personal media. And it’s not a small-vs-big company story. It’s about people who care about connecting Return to MightyWritewith their buyers and the community they serve. It’s about people who understand that lazy robot marketing and business practices don’t work. And it’s about you. It’s about you choosing to connect with the kinds of people who make you feel like they see you, like they’re there to help you.”

I was so happy to read this, because it validates that just maybe I’m onto something. In 2014, I put myself out there and cared about the work in a new way and had the privilege of working with some people who felt the same. This included expanding my work in the area of workplace mental health and mental illness, focusing on some human rights issues I care about, and getting more actively involved in entrepreneurship and new business startups.

The risk of doing this? Becoming emotionally involved with your work does mean you expose yourself to getting “hurt”.  So what can we do to protect ourselves without sacrificing the quality and worth of our work? I posed this question to some of my “connections”. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Trust yourself and if you need validation, ask your trusted colleagues to give you feedback on what you’re doing.
  • Keep going. Accept that some days will suck when you feel knocked down.
  • Make a checklist to remind yourself of all the positives.
  • Have fun! Remember that discourage is actually 3 words “A DISCO URGE”. Get up and dance – or imagine yourself doing so for a good laugh.
  • Laugh. And laugh.
  • Balance your attention on work with the other things that make up who you are.
  • Stay in the present, stay positive.
  • Celebrate that your business is not just about numbers. It’s about who you are.
  • Decide what you’re prepared to give up in allowing your emotions to come to work with  you.
  • Understand that there will be others who don’t care like you do.
  • Be prepared to let some things  go (see previous point).
  • Be selective and aware. Choose when it’s best for your business and for you to leave your emotions at the door.

What would you add?

While many say to “Keep your emotions out of your work” I agree with Chris that the best is yet to come. Better media, better marketing, better content, and better connections…when we’re brave enough to show we care.

My upcoming eNews is all about caring enough about your prospects and clients to tell them why you need them – which I think is as important as telling them why they need you. If you haven’t subscribed sign up here.

That great feature  photo?  My partner Michael Fournier snapped it. He cares.

Writing is scary

There I’ve said it. And I’m not the first one. It’s my theme for this Halloween day as I tackle my 5th ghost writing project for the week.20141030_204542

Ghostwriting, if you haven’t heard of it, is the work of writing stories, articles, blogs or other text that is officially credited to another person.  I do a lot of it and have a growing case of  byline envy.  That said, I am quite happy to stay behind the scenes.

In my work, the focus is moving more and more to writing and storytelling. Which I LOVE to do and have been doing – I believe well – for a long time.

But still with the delivery of every story idea for a client, I feel fear. With every article pitch, I feel fear. With every finished, thoroughly researched, reviewed and revised article that has been subsequently accepted and lauded by a publication, I still feel fear.

I know. WTH?

If I feel this way, I can only imagine how many of my clients and colleagues – who don’t do this for a living – feel when they have to write about their businesses or other passions.

Writing is scary. There. I said it again.  It takes courage. If you actually look up the Old English definition for courage you’ll find  – corage, from Latin cor ‘heart.’ The New American Oxford Dictionary defines it as the ability to do something that frightens one.

My definition of purposeful writing: Doing something courageous from the heart despite the fear.

But why, even after we’ve spent years sharpening our ability to write successful stories,  is there still those moments when our courage fails us?

Here are some of the fears we writers face on a daily basis:

We write to connect with an audience. This is scary in itself. Who are we to think anyone cares about what we have to say, or that we are worthy of that connection? But still we write because this is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

We write to achieve measurable results. What if we don’t measure up?

We write with our hearts as well as our well-informed brains. And that can hurt, when nobody cares.

We write to be right. We do the research and even after we’ve checked and rechecked our facts, we know there could be a new finding or maybe worse, a new opinion that might be more popular (regardless if it’s right or wrong).

We write and then we have to let our writing go.  If you put your heart into a writing project, it’s hard to take criticism and in some cases let earlier drafts and viewpoints go.

We write and write and it doesn’t always pay.  Your greatest idea for a story may not get any interest from those who will pay. If the story’s itching to get out of your head, you just might have to give it away – but do so knowing your reasons why. Hopefully payment comes in non-monetary ways.

How do we face these fears?  The solution I put forward is to just accept that every act of writing is a leap of faith. We need to do our best work and, if we expect to make a living doing it, be sure that what we write is of value to someone – and not just ourselves.  We need to embrace that our fears are what make us good writers. Because we care, because we’re prepared to be vulnerable, to expose all of our emotions on a topic – and then put those emotions away as we bring reason and perspective to our stories.

I said this before and I’ll say it again. When we write for a broader audience, it’s about finding a role for our stories (and our clients’ stories) in other people’s lives. And then taking them from the story they are in to the story where they want to be.

Please share your comments about the fear of writing.  If you’re really afraid and would like to talk to me about writing your story send me an email.  I promise it won’t be scary.

 

 

 

 

Michael Fournier Photography ©2014

Aiming higher for mental health

“I’m the freak with a service dog.” These were the words that inspired me to write about a young person I know, who has run into discrimination and harassment for having a psychiatric service dog. The timing for the article, Service dogs: Working for mental illness aligned with Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 5 – 11. mackenzie_0047

Why am I sharing this? I used a lot of the strategies I recommend for clients in deciding on how to approach your stories, but in this case consciously decided to break a few of the “rules”. I’m breaking one now in asking you to care about this issue.

Set clear goals: These were to create understanding and awareness of mental illness, educate the public about the role of psychiatric service dogs and address stigma related to mental illness.

Define the audience: I decided to focus on a broader audience because everyone needs better understanding. If I had more budget and time, I’d find a way to reach more specific audiences including business owners and managers, in particular those in the restaurant/hospitality industry.

Decide on the strategic approach: I had contemplated pitching the article to the local daily newspaper to get it out to the largest audience. In this case however, I decided I wanted to tell the story my way and retain rights to share it across all of my networks – social media, email, and the mental health community. This allows for the message to spread organically. For these reasons, I posted the story first on Community News Commons, a Winnipeg-based online news outlet that features stories written by local citizen journalists.

Measure results. I’ve been thrilled to receive numerous emails and calls from colleagues and clients saying that they learned something and were now thinking about their own attitudes and perceptions related to mental illness.

One early success was that the Winnipeg Free Press decided to pick up the story, achieving a larger audience at no cost and still giving me all rights to the story.

The biggest win however has been hearing Mackenzie, who is featured in the story, say that she feels that there just might be people out there who care about this issue and now look at people with service dogs a little differently.

Continue the momentum. Today I posted a second story, Service dogs: Working for disabilities you can’t always see. Now that that Mackenzie’s story has been told, it was important to me to cover both sides of this issue as well as provide some solutions that could benefit service dog handlers as well as the community places that are required by human rights legislation to accommodate them.

Hopefully by working together, we can do better for people experiencing mental illness. They are everywhere, in our workplaces, our families, our schools and our communities. They need our help.

Please take a few minutes when you can to read these articles and post your comments or email me: leanne@mightwrite.ca. Would you then share them with others so that we can all help create greater understanding?

The links again are:

Service dogs: Working for mental illness

Service dogs: Working for disabilities you can’t always see

Some resources you might find helpful:

Helping Someone with a Mood Disorder
Understanding Mental Illness
Depression, Anxiety and Other Conditions
Framework to Help Eliminate Stigma (in a workplace)
Manitoba Human Rights Commission – Service Dogs

 

 

Communications 101: If it doesn’t suck, keep going

Return to MightyWriteI recently read that Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren still worries that her work might ‘suck’.

Mirren attributes this to a recurring fear of losing the momentum of the characters she plays when there are delays between projects.

I was shocked due to Mirren’s obvious greatness. But on another level, I could relate.

In communicating our business and services, we all have times when our courage fails us, when we’re not sure of the way ahead and wonder, ‘does anyone really care about this?’ and yes…’Is this going to suck’?

The key is to get started and keep moving forward. Sometimes one step at a time.

If you’re a business leader, you likely have other things to worry about. But think about your internal team that’s working really hard to deliver a project. Communicating recognition of their work and some milestones can help re-energize the team and get their commitment for the long haul. Your customers can similarly benefit from regular, consistent communication about the steps you’re taking to solve their problems.

You have a story to tell. There are some relatively painless ways to get the most out of this sometimes-dreaded part of your business.

  1. Get a good start. Bring your communications team in early on in a project and help them understand the business problem that’s being addressed. Be clear on your priorities and expectations.

  2. Weigh in. The communications strategy that’s developed with your input is the road map that your team is going to follow. Your feedback and approval are key to moving the communication forward. You may be able to check out at some stages of the communications – but not here.

  3. Be open to voicing and listening to concerns. It’s a requirement for communications people to be able to take criticism and feedback of any kind. Don’t hold back. We want to provide value and would rather revise a strategy or article than see it collect dust. It’s also our job to ask questions if feedback isn’t in sync with the strategy or if the reason for a change isn’t clear.

  4. Stay engaged or engage others. “Engagement” is a big word in business and it’s no less important in a communications project. If you are the key business contact, you’ll need to engage at key times or assign someone to do this for you. A breakdown in reviews and approvals is one of the main reasons communications projects lose momentum.

  5. Have some faith. You or someone in your organization put this team together for a reason. Unless some fatal flaws become obvious, it’s likely a good choice. Believe in what you’re doing together and keep moving forward.

  6. Accept help. Many clients like to be part of the creative process, which is great. But you shouldn’t be the process if it’s not your main skill set or priority. If you’ve agreed on the communications strategy, the team you’ve hired should be doing the heavy lifting to keep the project on track. If they aren’t, then you have every right to feel burdened and will need to speak up.

  7. Be open and honest. If something changes that could impact the communications, let the entire team know – even if it’s bad news.

  8. Focus on results. Ensure information is being collected and review the results – conversion rates, sales, increases in audience or traffic, etc.

  9. Ask for a post-mortem. This is the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. In addition to looking at the measurable results, have everyone on the communications team, including you, provide input as to how the project went overall and suggestions for improvements. This is especially important if you will be working together again.

  10. Keep the momentum going. Look at the business opportunities to carry on the momentum. It may be by adding a new product or service, responding to a new problem or increasing touch points with your audience. Your communications team may have included this in a long-term communications strategy, but it’s good to check in based on the latest results. Watch for new opportunities and be open to change.

After nearly 30 years of doing this, I still have “Mirren” moments where at the start of a project I think, can we do this? Then the communications planning process gets going, the momentum and the relationships build, and together with my clients I know, absolutely we can.

What are some tough moments you’ve experienced in keeping that loving feeling going in a communications project? Does one of the points I’ve shared stand out as something that did or didn’t worked for you? I’d love to hear your comments or email me.

What’s new and the work we do with MighyWrite clients:

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health in the Workplace – Refreshed website, featuring a new interface and updated content to help business owners with the prevention, support and management of workplace mental health issues.

Mindful Employer Canada – Check out the latest blog articles and learn more about becoming a Mindful Manager. The monthly webinar series presents Understanding Mental Illness on Oct. 15.

Innovate Manitoba ­– Check in on the latest news on how Innovate Manitoba is helping to catalyze innovation in Manitoba. The Focus on Innovation article showcases how innovation makes a manitoba-made technology a game changer

musical canoe

Ready for a great story?

musical canoeReturn to MightyWrite
This eNews comes to you from a secluded bay in N.W. Ontario. I’m sure I’ve shared a few tales from the lake with you as part of my story. Do you have such a place where your stories unfold?

In the best two-way relationships, everyone should have the opportunity to tell their stories to someone who cares. In business relationships however, it isn’t just about the stories we have to tell. It’s about the stories we can tell together with our clients.

This starts with knowing the questions to ask and listening to the answers. It’s about finding a role for your product in your clients’ lives – and taking them from the story they are in to the story where they want to be thanks to what you have to offer them along the way.

The art of story

Storytelling is how you reach people where they live. I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague Paolo Fabrizio who believes story telling is an art form. He writes, “Regardless of the topics that we describe, we have infinite ways to approach and tell them.”

Many business people are paralyzed by the blank canvass of content and story creation. Fear is good. It means you’re likely onto something. But you have to get started and here are some tips to make the task a little less arduous:

  • Focus on the audience and what’s unique and useful to them. What’s the problem that needs to be solved and again, how do those concerns fit into your story?
  • Start small – sometimes it’s best to break a bigger message into bite size pieces that are easier to develop and digest. These can grow, sometimes organically, over time.
  • Optimize every opportunity to tell your story. Every email, blog, social media post or live event is a chance to educate others – one story at a time – about how your products and services can improve their lives.
  • Have a plan. I intentionally put this last. While I’m a strong believer in the power of an overall content strategy I also have come to believe that preparation shouldn’t slow the process of actually doing the work and writing those stories. This should be happening even as the plan develops. The fact is, you will probably never feel completely ready. You just need to get started and accept that you might not be perfect at the beginning.

Another colleague Judi Knight dug up some great stats, courtesy of Hubspot, that help make the case for consistent and generous sharing of stories, even in short form:

– Those who write just 3-4 blog posts per month get 20 more monthly lead submissions, 800 more monthly site visits, 60 more Twitter followers, and 50 more Facebook Likes than those who only write 2 blog posts per month.

The trust factor

The stories we share also help build trust and authority which in turn, can result in more sustainable and profitable business relationships. People who trust you will follow you, recommend you and best of all, buy your products or services. The better you are at earning that trust by placing your audience and their problems and concerns into your stories, the more likely you are to convert them into customers and loyal fans.

If you aren’t doing this, it’s a missed opportunity that may be costing you customer loyalty, brand awareness, traffic and sales.

What’s stopping you? I’d love to hear your story. Please leave a comment or email me.

canoeing

Lessons from the lake: Know your audience

Return to MightyWrite

canoeing

Going up the creek…with a paddle.

“Storytelling is how you reach people where they live.”

-Brian Clark, Copyblogger Media, Authority Intensive 2014

This has become a motto of sorts for me, ever since I first heard it at an incredible live event my partner Mike and I attended in Denver, Colorado earlier this year.

I think about it often as I sit unplugged and disconnected from technology at my camp out in the wilds of N.W. Ontario. This escape is a large part of my own story. It’s an enormous source of inspiration and where many of my stories come from. I like to think that what I learn here and teach to others who visit is meaningful, relevant and useful.

Even though they’ll always listen to our stories, the reality is that not all of our guests care about the same things as me and Mike.

There I admit it.

Many times We (with a capital W) have been guilty of letting our passion for our place in the wild overshadow the wants and needs of our audience. And I rant to my clients all the time about the importance of understanding your audience!

Who knew that a canoe ride on a windy day would be less appealing than curling up with a good book in front of the indoor fire?

Or that the gorgeous clouds on the horizon are invisible to the guest who is blinded by the mosquitoes swarming around his or her head?

Dancing in the rain? Sounds charming but with no electricity to dry hair and clothes, likely not going to get us a five-star rating.

Haul some wood? Are you kidding? This is a VACATION! Surely it will all be there when we actually need it?

It’s taken a few years, but we have finally wisened up to the fact that we need to do a better job of thinking about our audience and their needs for these cottage gatherings. There’s lessons to be learned for business owners as well.

Happy Camper checklist

Who is the audience? Is this the annual family get together with people of every age, a more adventurous crew or kids who come bearing tech toys and attitude? Food, services, activities and “toys” will need to be planned to address budget (ours and theirs), physical abilities and attitudes.

✔Clearly communicate the action you want your audience to take

✔Provide details so they know what to do (and it’s easy for them)

✔Speak to the audience in language they’ll understand

✔If appropriate (and necessary), segment your messages for each audience

What’s the problem they need your help in solving? Are there a few new paddlers, friends or family who need to reconnect, a guest who can’t sit still or one who doesn’t want to move? While it’s not all up to us, we work to consider what problems our guests might be bringing or encounter during their stay.

✔Assess the situation

✔Identify risks

✔Consider solutions that address all concerns

When are they coming? Our camp offers different year-round activities and we love them all. We’ve learned however that some of our guests aren’t as enamored with cuddling up to a wood stove (our only source of heat) when it’s -45C. Still others just can’t stop counting mosquito bites or measuring the degree of their sunburn at +30C.

✔Establish timelines

✔React to the market conditions and opportunities

✔Be prepared to be flexible

Where will everyone stay or spend their time? Weekend invitations usually consider the amount of accommodations and activities we have available. In some groups it’s every man, woman or child for themselves. However, when we have elders or guests we arent’ as familiar with, we need to consider more specific and formal arrangements.

✔Assess

✔Be adaptable

✔Consider concerns, limitations and strengths

✔Make them comfortable!

How do we keep everyone engaged? Guest stays over a few days usually start to push the limit in keeping everyone happy and participating in the natural gifts that our cottage offers them. At this point, a trip into the neighboring town is usually warranted but not desired by everyone. This is when we usually reach out to our guests and hand some of the “entertainment planning” over to them, including giving them space to do their own thing.

✔Recognize milestones

✔Identify gaps

✔Let the audience choose

✔Be open to new ideas

How do you measure success? We know we’ve succeeded when the hugs and smiles of our departing guests are bigger than when they arrived. Sometimes this isn’t the case and we need to assess what we missed and how we can do better next time.

✔Establish baselines

✔Set measurable goals

✔Pay attention to the results

✔Determine how you can do better

✔Build on strengths/positives

✔Celebrate your success

So smack me with a paddle the next time I suggest a hike when the thunderclouds start rolling in. Mother Nature is and always will be the best teacher of all. I’ve learned to take my cues from Her.

This is a fun look at the importance of planning for your audience. I will be writing about this in future articles. It’s the most important component of any media, marketing, content or weekend getaway strategy.

 

 

Canada’s New Anti-Spam Legislation – The fears and the opportunities

Return to MightyWriteBeing a business owner is not for the faint of heart. Those of us who have chosen this path understand the need to be fearless at times.

Michael Fournier Photography ©2014As thick-skinned as I like to think I’ve become, I’m admittedly a little unnerved by Canada’s new Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) that comes into effect July 1. If you haven’t heard, CASL will make Canada one of the toughest places for sending out commercial electronic messages (CEMs). A CEM is described as any message whose purpose is to encourage the recipient to participate in commercial activity:

-offers to purchase or sell goods and products
-offers to provide a business, investment or gaming opportunity
-advertisements and promotions, including in relation to a person

Consent is key – implied or express

CASL strives to reduce spam by prohibiting the sending of CEMs to people who haven’t consented  to receive them.

The issue of consent rests on what’s described as implied or express consent. CRTC, one of the government agencies responsible for enforcement of the law, has some good information, indicating that implied consent occurs when there’s an existing business or non-business relationship. Express consent is when someone has opted in to receive your communication through some kind of online form or other mechanism. There’s a 3-year grace period for getting express consent from those you have previous implied consent from. There’s time limits on implied consent (two years after the relationship ends unless otherwise specified) while express consent is indefinite unless the recipient unsubscribes.

It’s important to understand that the legislation applies to more than just email. Text, video and audio messages as well as some content published on social media platforms also fall under CASL. It appears that you can continue to post promotional messages on your social media sites but the legislation applies to direct messages you send to your connections, friends or followers.

The government has provided a number of resources about the new law as well as some ready-to-use articles that provide the highlights. I’m not a legal or CASL expert and am only sharing what I’ve learned along with links to resources I’ve found helpful.

Must have’s as of July 1

As of July 1 any CEM you send needs to have implied or express consent and should include clear identification and contact information:

-Your business name, if different from your name and the name of anyone else on whose behalf or business you are sending the message.

-Your mailing address as well as one of – a phone number to access an agent or a voice messaging system, an email address, or a web address for you or the person on whose behalf you are sending the message (must be valid for a minimum 60 days after sending the message). If you’re using a link to provide the required information, that needs to be prominently displayed in the message.

-An unsubscribe mechanism for the recipient. These need to be processed within 10 days.

More questions than answers

I’ve participated in several CASL webinars which have helped reduce my fears but there are a still a lot of exceptions and grey areas that will likely become clearer over time.

Here are a few questions from the webinars that touch on some of the issues:

Does registering for a webinar give implied consent? Yes.

Can I send a CEM to someone who has posted their email address on a website? Yes you may send CEM’s if the individual has not indicated that they do not wish to receive unsolicited CEMs.

Do you need to have an unsubscribe option on emails that you send to recipients who have given implied or express consent ? It appears that CASL requires you to give recipients the option to withdraw consent or unsubscribe at any time if you are sending CEM’s. This may not be the case if you are conducting regular communication via email related to ongoing business but it may be advisable to update your email signature to include all of the requirements (as above – business name, mailing address, contact information, the option to unsubscribe). I’m continuing to investigate this and will share what I learn.

I’ve just distributed my eNewsletter to subscribers we have implied consent for due to an existing or past business relationship (some of which may be more than 2 years). We promoted CASL and included an unsubscribe option but did not ask for express consent. Can we assume we have implied consent if they don’t unsubscribe? Generally no although it appears that implied consent will cover most businesses for the grace period. The liability in this approach lies in having a fragmented mailing list where implied consent could still be challenged. You’ll need to have processes in place for documenting how consent has been received to determine your risk.

Request for Consent for the Mighty eNews

The answer to this last question is the reason we’ve decided to request express consent from the MightyWrite eNews email list at this time. If you aren’t a subscriber to our eNews, this would be a great time for you to sign up!

CASL’s silver lining

All fears aside, CASL does create opportunities that will  benefit consumers and businesses:

-It will reduce spam and the lost productivity as a result.

-It gives consumers clear choices for how they want to interact with businesses and in particular, when they want to engage with them in the buying cycle.

-It forces businesses like ours to work harder to be more relevant and useful – if we want to keep our subscribers.

-It opens up opportunities for other creative, and possibly more thoughtful, human-driven approaches for reaching potential customers. Face-to-face and voice-to-voice approaches as well as good old regular mail aren’t covered by the new legislation.

-Surveys aren’t considered CEMs so this is another way to reach out to potential customers to collect legitimate research about their wants and needs – without trying to sell them something or offer an incentive (which would be considered a CEM).

-It will also force businesses to put in place processes for continuous improvement in how we interact with our audiences according to their wishes.

The bottom line

As of July 1, you won’t be able to use CEMs as your first point of contact with new prospects. Sending a message to someone asking them to give you permission to send them a CEM is also prohibited in most cases after July 1.

There are exemptions including those that apply for registered charities, political candidates, personal and family relationships as well as some business to business communications, third-party referrals and more. You may want to get legal advice on how CASL affects you and your business.

There are a number of organizations providing free information and resources to help businesses navigate the CASL waters:

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce hosted a free webinar and has provided an overview.

Getting ready for CASL: What you need to do – A checklist I helped draft for eTouchServices.

Canada’s Law on Spam and other Electronic Threats – A deeper dive into the legislation and specific requirements for compliance.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – Provides highlights and details of what you need to know about CASL

What steps are you taking to reduce your fears related to CASL? I would love to hear your stories (but be wary of sharing them as a CEM). Good luck!

Field of rainbows

Time for a fresh start

Return to MightyWriteHere we are at the beginning of a new season. Until a couple of weeks ago, spring wasn’t even in sight. Despite that, with just a few days of sun and warmer temperatures, it has sprung – just in time. The crab apple tree outside my office window sprouted its short-lived flowers as it always does. Early lilacs and tulips have made their appearance right on schedule. The birds are in full song just as they should be.

Field of rainbowsThis is my segue to introduce this eNews that you’re receiving for the first time. Like this spring, it feels like it has been a long time coming – and not a moment too soon. With Canada’s new Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) coming in effect as of July 1, I wanted to be sure to reach out to you at this time. Once CASL is in place, Canada will have some of the toughest laws in the world related to spam and other threats through electronic media. I have been working with  eTouchServices to develop some articles and a helpful checklist on this topic. eTouch has teamed up with privacy lawyer and CASL expert Brian Bowman to offer a CASL webinar on June 24. A special discount rate has been extended to MightyWrite eNews clients.

The Canadian Chamber also has some information available on what you need to know before July 1.

This is the kind of information I hope to bring to you regularly through the monthly Mighty eNews.

I’m a writer at heart, a researcher by nature and a business owner by choice. I am always asking questions and seeking answers for issues facing business clients in the work I do for them. That’s the basis of the trusting relationships I have with my clients and colleagues.

You are receiving this eNews because we’ve trusted each other in some way. That might be by working together or through a business or social connection with me or my partner Michael. We might have just met through our new company MightyWrite or in the past with Dezine Source (see Breaking up). Our hope is that you will stay with us as we send useful and relevant content to you on topics related to business, content, media and marketing.

I promise that future articles will not be all about us

In the interest of trust and transparency I wanted to give some context to what you’ll be seeing in our eNews. More than anything we want to be of value to you. We want to hear your stories, what’s important to you, and what you want to hear from us.

You can expect:

  1. VALUE  through ideas and information that you can use in your business.
  2. AUTHORITY on topics we’re knowledgeable about.
  3. CASE STUDIES of our work with people like you and the problems we helped solve.
  4. LATEST NEWS about changes in the marketplace that provide new opportunities for you to tell your stories.
  5. COMMUNITY by sharing your stories and the stories of others for the benefit of the group.
  6. CONNECTION to what some of the best bloggers, marketers and our colleagues around the world are saying and doing.
  7. LESSONS LEARNED from our experience and knowledge in content, strategy, media, marketing and business.
  8. RESPONSE to what you have to contribute.
  9. UNDERSTANDING through attention to your feedback and questions.
  10. COMMITMENT to do what matters. Make it so you would miss us if we were gone.

We’d love to hear from you through comments or if you would prefer send me an answer to the question: What is the #1 challenge you have when it comes to getting your story to your audiences?

We hope you’ll stay with us on this journey. We promise to make it matter.

We should all care enough to work this way

The incomparable  Seth Godin (who I recently heard live and wrote about at Copyblogger Authority Intensive 2014) sums it up best in this blog post: “…practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters. No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous. When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners.”

What I learned from what everybody else learned at Authority Intensive

I have a confession. I (gasp) inadvertently took possession of someone else’s program during the inaugural Copyblogger Authority Intensive conference that wrapped up in Denver earlier this month. Didn’t notice until the flight home. The handwritten notes  on the first few pages (before I “lifted” it) are impressive and screaming with the energy we all shared and I’ll gladly return it to its rightful owner. My apologies aside, this is one example of how much we learn from each other at events like this. Check out the inspired recaps by some of my fellow Authoritarians or the many, many Twitter posts (#authority2014).

booklet

Copyblogger has a track record of delivering the best there is in content marketing. They took it up many notches at Authority Intensive with an outstanding lineup of keynotes and panelists running along four streams: design, content, traffic and conversion. When I found out that the likes of Seth Godin, Darren Rowse, Ann Handley, Lee Odden and many others were going to be in the same room I was so there along with my partner Michael.

I’m still feeling awestruck, caught up in the bubble of a unique time and place where it felt like anything was possible – where words like truth, empathy and fear were freely tossed about, considered and celebrated. I haven’t attended a lot of live events of this caliber so I may be a little naive. But I’m also changed.

Yes I was one of the people tearing up when Seth Godin came on stage. I was shaking when I stood in front of Darren Rowse to ask my ‘secret question’ after his remarkably powerful presentation. I pretty much tackled Copyblogger CEO Brian Clark for a photo op at the opening reception. And that was me posting shameless selfies with all the “famous people” in the background. It seems I got over my dread and fear of selfies while attending Authority!IMG_1064

Fear. We all experience it in our businesses. I felt it just showing up at Authority Intensive. But when Seth Godin tells you it’s okay to be afraid, to find that fear and dance with it, you dance.

Ditto when Sonia Simone described how new bloggers just have to be willing to do something badly for a while. Anything less than perfect? Now that’s scary but if Sonia says so

Then Copy Hackers  Joanna Wiebe created a whole new spectrum of fear all around a button. Who knew that “Sign up” could send clients running for the hills? Ann Handley implored us to acknowledge our customers’ fears and concerns with pathological empathy.

And who would have thought that a world renowned blogger like Darren Rowse would ever utter words like “Fear stood in front of me and blocked my way”?

If you’re paying attention to the things you already know to be true, what’s there to be afraid of? Really.

Getting past all that fear, Jerod Morris’ concept of servant leadership was as validating as much as it was meaningful. Ditto again to Tom Martin’s take on the power of prospects over popularity.

There was at least one golden takeaway from every session. Because there was so much, I had to throw it all together, shake it up and see what stuck once the radiance of Authority Intensive receded a bit into the warm glow I’m still feeling today.

The result is my personal Authority inspired to do list, made up of what I  learned from the keynotes and panelists as well as my colleagues at the event. It’s a daily plan I’ll be using to help achieve the ultimate Authority for me and my clients: Mattering enough that we would be missed if we were gone.

  1. Remember that our authority comes from our audience.
  2. Care about our customers’ problems. Emphatically. Pathologically.
  3. Invest in the most powerful optimization of all: relationships.
  4. Shine a light on what we know.
  5. Dance with fear. It means we’re onto something.
  6. Create value.
  7. Be useful.
  8. Don’t waste time on shortcuts.
  9. Focus on the audience and what we want them to do – as well as what we can do for them.
  10. Never underestimate the value of meaningful customer experiences.
  11. Show up. Show we can be trusted.
  12. Start.
  13. Take chances. Be open to failure. Start again.
  14. Remove fear and friction.
  15. Build prospects over popularity.
  16. Do the work.
  17. Do something that matters.

When I started following this copyblogger guy, Brian Clark several years ago, I knew I was onto something special. As conference host and moderator, Brian confirmed this over and over again with his honest, sincere introductions, his admissions of failures and restarts, his obvious gratitude to others who had made a difference to him and finally through something he said that made all the difference for me …

“Storytelling is how you reach people where they live.”

Thanks Brian and all of the Authority Intensive team for bringing this message home.

Other nuggets:

Joanna Wiebe Lizards Thru Doorways: Optimize Your Website Buttons with These A/B Tests

Lee Odden Be the Best Answer

Chris Garrett Design for Conversion

Bill Erickson Authority Intensive: My Thoughts and Presentation

Arienne Holland Make Sure That Your Content Communicates

Tom Martin Six Reasons You Need to Stop Focusing on Click-Thru Data

Copyblogger Authority Intensive 2015 details

 

IMG_1140  20140509_09314220140507_201709

Apologies for any friction as blog is currently only playing nicely with Twitter.

Are there any humans out there?

Many marketers talk about the importance of the human element in their marketing mix. But in the rush to adopt the latest technology, social media and automation to attract customers, real live touch points with people can and do get lost.

It’s important to understand that using technology exclusively to interact with audiences is preferred at different stages of the sales cycle. The role of content marketing is to allow potential buyers to navigate the buying process until they are ready to engage with you and your products and services.

The ideal solution incorporates a blend of how your prospects want to shop and buy from you and the opportunity for you to engage with them to understand and respond to their concerns when they are ready. The key here is to not let technology drive how you interact with your customers, but rather to take the insights you have gathered from their shopping habits or engagement with you to maximize the relationship. This includes looking at and analyzing their comments, emails, likes, follows, sign-ups for free webinars or podcasts, etc. Are you listening to what your customers are telling you here?

And are you answering their questions? This can include everything from personalized responses to retweets and comments to answers to questions during a webinar or podcast to more direct responses to emails and sales or product-related questions. Have you realized the incredible clues you can get about your clients and followers in this way? You just have to care enough to open yourself up to their stories and their need to contribute.

A study conducted by the SCI Sales Group showed that more and larger sales resulted from human interaction in some form. A 2013 Content Marketing study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs also notes that B2B marketers find that in-person events are still the most effective way to qualify leads and get sales.

It is the personal integrity and relationships that you build with your clients and customers that really matters. People still buy from people they trust and respect, and in my opinion the only way we can really get to know one another is by taking the time to share our stories.

In the best two-way relationships, everyone has the opportunity to tell their story to someone who cares.

As one of my colleagues, Michael Scranton pointed out, it isn’t about the stories we have to tell. It’s about the story we can tell together with our clients.

This starts with knowing the questions to ask, and listening to the answers that are given. It’s about finding a role for your product in your clients’ lives – and taking them from the story they are in to the story where they want to be, thanks to what you have to offer them along the way.

So I have to ask – what’s your story?

Why should you trust us?

At the risk of being “selly-sell“, a term coined by the always worth following Chris Brogan, I wanted to talk a little more about the concept of trust, why it matters in our business and most of all why it should matter to you.

Why should you trust MightyWrite to help you achieve your goals?

  • We care enough to gain understanding Our strategic approach to projects means we ask the questions that put us inside your business so we understand your business needs, challenges and goals.
  • We want to help you move forward Using our services frees up you and your staff to focus on other tasks and skills that generate revenue and business growth
  •  We understand procrastination and fear – We feel like we wrote the book on facing the challenges and fears of just getting started. You might not know what to say, the best way to say it or how to put it all together. That’s what we do. Every day.
  •  We can help balance an overloaded team – We understand the complexities of large and small businesses. We’ve worked in them, managed them, and have supported them for a long time. We know how to hit the ground running to add skills and resources to support an existing, internal communications team.
  •  We know that sometimes it’s just better to ask for help – We’ve been here too. You might be pulling your hair out over a really tough project, with multiple components and can’t see the strategy for all the challenges and roadblocks that are in the way. We’re wizards at cutting through the clutter and helping clients see the way ahead.
  •  We make it easy for you – We make it our business to become subject matter specialists about your products, services and business goals so content updates or changes can be made efficiently and accurately. We fulfill our write for business promise by developing great SEO/SMO content that gets the response you’re looking for − for web, digital, social, print, and electronic media or face to face opportunities.

I cannot stress enough how often we’ve been able to help clients get to the finish line on large projects that demanded a professional approach. Some much-appreciated words from a client best tell this story:

“I have had the opportunity to work with Leanne Fournier on a project that involved multiple stakeholders, complexity in both content and format and a need for creativity and innovation. Leanne was quite simply amazing at satisfying and coordinating among the stakeholders, balancing the competing demands while complying with legal and technical requirements, meeting the deadlines and always finding ways to improve upon the process. What was most appreciated was that she did this while contributing both creativity and innovation to the actual substance of the project as well. Whether we needed a quick fix or a big picture solution, she was always ready, willing and able to help. I would hire her again in a heartbeat.”  – Mary Ann Baynton, Program Director, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Gee, thanks Mary Ann!

Can you name a time when it just made sense to get help from someone else?

What do you stand for?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.  It came up early in the stages of deciding to rebrand our company and change the focus of what we do. I did some research and realized that what I was looking for was a clear statement of my intentions in working with clients. Oxford defines this as a “manifesto”. Whoa – I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Let’s just call it a statement of principles.

I decided to walk my own talk, and use the same process I use whenever I work with clients who need help getting out of their own way:

  • Take a great big step back to think about the purpose of what you’re doing, what you hope to achieve and who you need to tell.
  •  Put the customers first. It should always be about them.
  •  Stay focused on the end goal and how you’re going to get there.
  •  Break down the main messages, thinking about what you want to say but also, how to leverage those words into results.

As I did this for MightyWrite, my intentions took on a bigger life. They felt almost grand, like something that could truly guide us as we moved ahead. How could I describe this in a way that wasn’t just about me? How could I make it more of a declaration to clients of how we would work with them, our intentions and what they could expect from us in the way of values, motives and views?

I was starting to knock the walls out of the way, and then I listened to a couple of TED Talks that helped crystalize for me what it would take to contribute to our clients’ stories in a meaningful and mighty way. One of the talks featured Seth Godin on how to get your ideas to spread. The other was Anthony Robbins with his take on why we do what we do.

Here’s what it all means to MightyWrite and what guides us in working with clients:

  • We listen, teach and lead as we collaborate with you to gather information about your business audiences, needs and goals.
  • Our work focuses on producing long-term sustainable results for your business driven by increased visibility, traffic and sales.
  • We will be accountable and expect the same from our clients and colleagues. This rests on a clear process that honours the terms of our working relationship as well as the responsibilities of everyone involved.
  • We understand the value of being flexible to changing project needs. We will speak up when we have concerns.
  • We always do what we say we’ll do – and we do it with passion, dedication, integrity and creativity.
  • Building an audience that builds your business is our most important work.

That’s “write” for our business. What principles guide you?

The power of the almighty word

Consumer behavior has changed dramatically over the past decade in ways that have made creating quality, relevant and informative content more important than ever. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract traffic that you can then convert, close and build into lasting and hopefully profitable relationships.

At MightyWrite, we love it when we get the chance to write and strategize for content approaches that are more fluid. What I mean by that is they are developed in a way that recognizes and responds to the changing needs of consumers and the technology available to reach them in a more receptive, holistic way – through Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, and the list goes on.

That’s not to say that traditional advertising such as print, direct mail, radio, TV, etc. are all dead, but it’s been said they may be on life support.  The key is execution in a way that engages the audience and is built on a solid strategy. Ideally, and where it makes sense, integration of traditional and digital media is the way to go. But more on that in a future post.

Whatever approach you choose to use, content is still key. It’s the message and the words that hold the almighty power of converting potential clients into buyers. Engaging copy that takes readers along for the ride is essential…and harder to do than a lot of people (correction most people) think.

We writers are always working on our craft. Besides continuously improving our skills, we also have to pay attention to the changing needs of readers in all media. That’s what sets us apart. We understand it’s become a DIY marketing world. But think about content you’ve read that’s gotten a response from you.

What made you respond? My bet is it’s because someone took the time to understand you before they wrote a word. The reality is that most business owners don’t have the time to do this. If you’re nodding and this is you, you owe it to yourself to find someone who does have the time and the skill to do this for you.

Fortunately, I’m rarely lost for words but one of the hardest things I find to write is anything about myself.

Can you name a time when you just couldn’t get the words out? I’d love to hear about it.

Our home away from it all

We’ve been working on the Fournier family cabin located in Northwestern Ontario, Canada over the last nine years. We’re very proud of our little cabin in the woods. It’s location is tranquil, surrounded by nature and shares the woods with the many creatures of the Boreal Forest.

We, like other cottage owners in the Lake of the Woods area, dream of our cottage escape to when summer in the city gets unbearable. After acquiring land, we looked at neighboring cottages, magazines, books on log cabins, timberframe buildings and more. We realized the funds required to truly pull off the dream was going to be a bit much for our budget.

What to do? Build a garage package to start with and make periodic additions – possibly. Then one of my aunts, who lives in the area, brought to our attention a young school house that was going to be put up for auction.  We placed a low bid and won! I liked this building for many reasons.  It could be moved in two pieces, each half had two pretty laminated pine beams that ran the length of each half providing a cathedral ceiling, and it featured an interior free of any supporting walls! It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever re-purposed (and we’ve done a lot of re-purposing). We moved it over an existing wagon trail through the bush to our building site.

At first, most of my planning, doodles and permit approval drawings were done using a 2D computer program. This was great for graphic design, but changes were time-consuming and the program didn’t allow for 3D drawing. I bought a 3D computer program but found it equally limiting. THEN in 2008, I discovered SketchUp and from the handy tutorials soon learned the simplicity of the program. I started with the island in the kitchen and quickly redesigned the building to accommodate a 2nd floor, an addition to the main floor and a screen room. SketchUp made it easy to visualize and modify my ideas as the concept developed. I learned how to work with components, layers, section planes and cuts, how to do multiples of components and animate a sequence of scenes – I was in planning heaven.

With my new SketchUp drawings, a local contractor was able to quote the additions to our little school house. It was going to be great. Then the economic meltdown began to affect Canada and our family-based business suffered. We had managed to build the foundation footings but realized our grandiose plans had to change or we risked never truly realizing the dream. So I went back to work with SketchUp redesigning a structure we could do our selves. At this stage, I began to realize how helpful SketchUp could be for a DIY person like myself. I studied Canadian building code, consulted with my local housing inspector and finally found the courage to take my ideas to a local lumberyard that specialized in timber.

The sales rep was very helpful with wood species selection and beam size requirements for our new plans. During the winter of 2010 I finalized a smaller more feasible concept based on a timber-frame look with only the screen room needing the structure and cost of solid wood. We wanted a design that would deal with the dramatic changes in weather and temperature of the region. With SketchUp I could see accurate shadow and sun conditions for the time of day and year which helped me position my beams for shade in summer and protection from the snow and wind in winter. Back to the lumberyard with drawings and cheque book in hand we ordered the required materials: 6 24′  4″ x 6″ and 10 20′ 3″ x 6″ Douglas Fir beams and an assortment of smaller dimensions selected for both strength and low maintenance.

The new design also required moving the roof’s peak four feet north to mate the new addition to the rest of the new metal roof structure. Again SketchUp allowed us to visualize and calculate how many and what length the metal roof panels needed to be – 23′ 6″ by 4′ wide. When built, I was out by only 4″ on the south side after moving the roof peak and building the new breezeway! I really wanted to get each entrance way protected so when we arrived for a winter getaway we would not have to shovel our way in.

When the order arrived in the spring of 2010 the wood beams were a beautiful rough finish and the 1″ x 8″ tongue and groove siding was easy to work with. We stained everything a red cedar to give the building a warm back country look (we decided to keep the industrial metal siding around most of the building simply for its cost savings, durability and low maintenance). Each beam was very heavy but manageable by two people, steel cable and a come-along to crank them into position.

My wife Leanne and I learned most of our skills renovating our 1950s home in the city. The timber framing was difficult. We kept the connections simple having neither the proper tools or experience to do it like the pros. The winter of 2011 had well over three feet of snow and thankfully everything performed as planned. It works and we’re very happy with the results. With SketchUp’s paint, layer and section plane tools it was fun to design the 1,100 square feet of interior space: living room, dining room, three bedrooms, bathroom and the screen room and decks. SketchUp’s vast component warehouse makes designing with 3D furniture, lighting, plumbing and landscaping fast leaving time for the custom deck railing.

Guests tell us the cabin feels very open, roomy and cozy. We think it’s the fireplace, oil lamps and our LCD chandeliers that keep them wandering around in the soft light of off-grid power. There’s still lots of fun work yet to do and design. Our little cabin is almost grown up, it sleeps up to 8 people comfortably, is easy to maintain all year round and with the money we saved using SketchUp, and electricity is now installed.

We believe SketchUp helped with many of the design, build, and cost decisions that made the Fournier Cabin a successful project for our family. We’re very grateful software of this caliber is available to anyone who wants to use it. May Google continue to offer SketchUp freely and that professionals worldwide continue to support what we consider one of the best software user experiences.  

Groovy cabin in the bush

Accompanying soundtrack for the video “The Fox & The Bee” by The Duhk’s. 3D production software provided by Google SketchUp.

What’s in a name?

In a word? Everything. It’s what distinguishes your company from others that might do the same thing as you. As part of your overall brand, it should help to tell your story at a glance. It’s who you are in the business world. It deserves a lot of attention and yes, your love and devotion.

This past August we made the tough decision to put Dezine Source to rest. Our company would be reborn with a greater focus on our strategic planning and content services. We needed a new name.

I’ve named hundreds of products and programs but this was going to be tough. Stick with me for the story of MightyWrite.

Once upon a time … there was a domain

One of our first checkpoints was looking at available web domains. We wanted to establish our new endeavor as a Canadian company so actually preferred to go with the .ca rather than the .com. That helped us early on, as there are generally more .ca domains available. Still, some early favorites were knocked out this way.

We tossed around a lot of ideas. Thoughts were related to how much equity we already had in the Dezine Source brand and whether the new name should be an extension of what we already had. This forced us to face the reality that although it had served us well in our work with a number of longstanding clients, Dezine Source has limited market exposure. We considered how these clients would react to the change and determined that while there was some risk, the benefits of starting fresh far outweighed the obstacles. As long as we could back up the new brand with our existing credentials, it was worth the risk.

This freed us up to move on to a new name. We had a blank canvass, which can be frightening to the creative soul, but we felt up to the challenge. To begin this process, we established the criteria of what we wanted the new name to do:

  • Be descriptive, creative and clear
  • Attract attention
  • Achieve good SEO
  • Include the word write
  • Resonate with business
  • Relate to our unique selling proposition
  • Express the strength and power of our approach
  • Stand out, maybe even raise some eyebrows
  • Entertain, engage, and get people thinking

We came up with a final shortlist of about 5 potential names and did a search to see what was available to us from a copyright and domain perspective.

We then circulated the finalists to a core group of trusted business associates representing a variety of skills and interests – writing, graphic design, marketing, business management, workplace relations, mental health, environmental activism and spiritualism.

Our reviewers were unanimous in choosing MightyWrite as the ideal name that best distinguished us and reflected our core values and strengths – our experience, the variety of clients we’ve had, the scope of projects we’ve worked on and finally how we pull all this together to help push clients forward. We really do live by the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword” although we do have to get tough with clients sometimes.

We circled back to the domain check and woohoo! MightyWrite.ca was available. We immediately secured it and made our way through all the hoops to register the new name.

Designing the brand

Next was thinking about the look and feel of the brand. This got a little ugly, voices were raised and a lot of things thrown in the air (and maybe at each other) to arrive at a design we could agree on, developed by my partner Michael Fournier. We loved some of the earlier designs, but the feedback from our review group was mixed.  This forced us to stretch our brains even further to arrive at the final design.  Immediate feedback from our peer group was “love it”  “it’s so you” “you’ve knocked it out of the ballpark” ! ! !  Just the response we all hope for when we put our hearts into creating something new.

The logo is creative, shows some spunk and is credible without being too stuffy which is how we want to be perceived by our business clients. There was some concern that the pen quill might age us, but we agreed that we wanted the brand to convey that we have been at this for a while and have the experience to meet our clients’ diverse needs. The face-to-face component of the design is spot on in illustrating how we work with clients — putting our heads together, and yes sometimes butting heads, to achieve results.

Positioning

I’m a great believer in the power of words to bring your message home. A logo on its own is a great thing but the positioning you put behind (or alongside) it can really help tell your bigger story. The tagline “Write for Business” clearly positions the work we do with clients and gives the brand excellent SEO.

And they all lived happily every after

That’s the MightyWrite brand story. We’ve shared it, because it embodies the same principles we apply to developing brands for our clients:

  • Make it relevant to the target audience
  • Ensure it conveys a sense of who you are, what you do, your values and how you contribute
  • Build it around your goals and the results you’re after
  • Be distinctive with a look and positioning that tells your bigger story.

Do you believe in the power of a name? What are your brand challenges?  I could go on and on. Let’s talk.

Dezine Source

Breaking up Is hard to do

My partner and I stare at each other across the room.  The intensity of the moment is in contrast to our surroundings.  I wait for his reply, comforted by the soft chatter of birds and the gentle rustle of leaves on this quiet morning on our secluded bay.  This is a tough conversation, but it’s time.

We’ve been at the lake for several weeks over the summer. We can always think more clearly here. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  And now it’s out there, on the table.

“Really, just shut it all down?” He says. As he ponders this, I watched the relief wash over his face.

But I begin to backtrack.  This is really hard.  “Well I don’t know if we need to end it this way but … we need to make a change.”

We’re talking about our business, the one we’ve run together for the past 15 years.

As Dezine Source, we were proud to be a full service small advertising and marketing firm. In addition to strategic planning and professional writing services, we did graphic design, print production and brokering. And website design. A lot of web design.  As this piece of our business became more and more commoditized we — like many of our colleagues — have been forced into a hard reality:  too little profit, too much liability.  The investment in training and technology to keep up isn’t paying off for a company our size.  We’re kind of stuck in the middle – too small for the size of web design projects that have room for some ROI, and too big to do this work for free.

We still believe in the power of customized design, writing and consultation but see the need to shift our focus to those areas of our business where we’ve continued to see growth and opportunities.

So where do we go from here?
The conversation on this promising August morning turned to what we wanted to do for the next evolution of our business. For me, it’s always been about defining key messages and at this early stage, ours looked something like this:

  • We write for business; business is our passion.
  • All messages are not created equal. Knowing your audiences and responding to their specific and different needs with relevant content and marketing is critical.
  • We understand the style and structure of copy that sells and engages.
  • The strength of our work lies in the fact that we deliver solutions that are unexpected, unique and fuelled by solid strategy.
  • We care. About our clients. About the work we do for them.
  • We understand that the right messages and media choices can make all the difference.
  • We know how to approach all stages and sizes of projects – from initial research, concepts and budgets to content audits, full strategies, implementation and followup.
  • Our proven strength is helping clients move forward with a commitment to their purpose and goals.
  • We still do graphic design but only when it’s driven by a solid content and media strategy.

It is clearly time to break up with Dezine Source and start something different that captures these key points.

Now, what should we call this new company?