February 2014


3 ways to market yourself and your business

In adding a new capability to my firm’s services this year, one of the biggest tasks I have ahead of me is creating a buzz for this new venture while balancing any investments with potential returns.  I’m not naïve to the state of our economy right now – I hear the constant reports of doom and gloom that seem to permeate the airwaves these days, and my newest real estate project seems especially vulnerable to any sudden turn or drop on this economic rollercoaster.  While I’m an unapologetic optimist, I’m also a businesswoman, so the debate between investing in marketing and promotions and holding on to my cash is a very real one.

So my approach in moving forward this year will be investing in inexpensive promotional activities that offer a key value for the money being spent.

1. Online marketing

For one thing, most of my efforts will be focused on online marketing. The days of ignoring online marketing are definitely gone, and there are many businesses that wouldn’t survive, were it not for the money brought in by traffic to their websites. Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is especially unique, because it allows you to pay only for potential consumers or clients who have actually received your message. Facebook has incorporated some unique PPC advertising methods that I plan on doing a little more research on. The added bonus for this is that it boosts your online presence and could even result in a higher appearance in Google’s organic rankings. Researching Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and seeing how I can drive new traffic to my site will definitely be near the top of my list.

2. Promotional gifts

Promotional gifts are not usually my cup of tea – the idea of spending money on an obscene amount of trinkets and handing them out to any and everybody and then seeing them strewn across the parking lot of an expo on your way to your car after an event is not fun.  (Sorry for the rant, personal experience).  But using gifts to maintain relationships with my best clients, that may be in the market for this newest service stream, could be well worth the bottle of wine and postcard.

3. Word of mouth

But the best type of marketing, I think, might just be the oldest: word of mouth.  It’s low cost, meets business objectives, and is the most compelling way to bring in new customers. Think about it: we’re bombarded with countless messages every day – print ads, radio ads, TV commercials, salesmen, spokespeople – and most of us don’t put much stock into what we hear from any of those mediums until we experience it ourselves. But word of mouth marketing is genuine, because the only way to effectively use it marketing is to deliver a kick-butt product or service. Putting my clients first and developing a continuous referral program where they’re encouraged to talk about my awesome service is something I’ll be putting a lot of energy and effort into.

The timing may be a little scary, but I’m focusing on the quality of my promotions rather than the quantity, and putting myself in the best possible position, even if the worst-case scenario should come true.

This article was previously published on February 7, 2012.

Run With It: proper footwear, goal setting, and the Vancouver Sun Run

New to running, but don’t know where to start? To begin, shoes are the most important equipment for a runner. Not wearing the right shoes could lead to injury. It’s best to go to a specialty running store to get the right fit for you. Also, clothing and socks are important to stay dry and warm while running in the natural elements. Don’t have a goal? Having a goal will help you make the right decision to find the proper program to suits your needs and lifestyle.

In our first episode of Run With It, a contemporary show on running/fitness and health, we speak with expert shoe fitter Andrew David and former owner of Rackets and Runners. He talks about proper footwear for beginner runners as well as socks, which are as important as the shoes you choose.

David also covers clothing tips on what you should wear in rain vs. colder temperatures. Current owner of Rackets and Runners, Vanda Borean, talks about her passion for fitness. Borean shares her knowledge of cross training and gives us some running gear tips.

Ever been to the Vancouver Sun Run? It’s the largest 10 km event in Canada. The Sun Run attracts thousands of runners and walkers each year to test their fitness level. It’s a cultural happening where the streets of Vancouver are shut down as a sea of runners make their way to the finish line.

Stay tuned for the second episode of Run With It!

Follow Christine on Twitter at @christineruns.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

Taiwan: the not so ugly duckling of Asia

Living in South Korea as an English teacher is a great way to travel around Asia. Last month my boyfriend and I decided to leave the snow behind and find the absent sun.

Taiwan, known for pleasant seasons year-round, averaged a temperature colder than expected this winter. Not only was the weather unpredictable, but New Year’s Eve proved to be an unconventional chain of events. With poor judgment and lack of planning, our midnight was spent on the side of a busy freeway. The night ended with a “suite” upgrade and VIP service at a local club. Let me start from the beginning.

We had decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Taiwan’s capital Taipei. Taipei was previously known as the “ugly duckling” of Asia. Many tourists seemed to overlook the small island.

My first impression of Taiwan was that of a traditional country struggling to be modern. There were old deteriorating buildings alongside new cars and expensive shops. I loved the unique ambience of the city and the night life was bustling with markets, street food vendors, and small art exhibits. We visited Shilin Night Market which features a  wide range of fashionable shops, authentic Taiwanese games, and eclectic food stalls.

The locals were exceptionally helpful when we haggled with taxi drivers in English. They went so far as to offer us rides which made my first hitchhiking experience a breeze. A friendly stranger in a minivan welcomed us on board where we sat cramped between crates of eggs and jugs of milk. Arriving unharmed at our destination, we bathed with locals in a beautiful hot spring and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the mountains.

The evening ended at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant where the menu looked more like a Latin tome. English was non-existent here and knowing little Mandarin made things quite difficult. We pointed to a picture and prayed we didn’t order any domesticated animal meat. To be sure, there was Adam on one side of the table moo-ing like a cow and I had my elbows bent, trying to mimic a chicken. The waitress smiled politely and walked away. Our melodramatic performance left us feeling defeated, but dinner ended up being pleasantly appetizing.

After spending five wonderful days in Kenting it was back to Taipei. A simple error in hotel rooms, ended with a huge upgrade to a family sized suite. We took advantage of our newfound luxury before heading to Taipei building 101, famous for its annual fireworks display at midnight. Until the tower was trumped by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2010, it was the world’s tallest building.

At 11:58 p.m. we were still in the cab but could see the distant tower. We paid the fee and stood with other pedestrians in the middle of the highway trying to get a glimpse of the lit-up sky. Jam-packed with locals and Westerners wishing “Happy new year,” the crowds outside were electric with excitement. We found a bar where friendly locals shared their VIP booth and drinks with us.

The eclectic cuisine, vibrant night markets, stunning nature reserves, and welcoming locals make Taiwan a unique and exciting vacation spot for tourists of all ages. Taiwan is no longer an ugly duckling. It has blossomed into a truly dynamic country.

‘Looking’ episode 6 recap: Looking in the mirror

Patrick and Richie

Patrick lets it slip – the word that makes it official – he calls Richie his boyfriend. Is it too soon? Richie plays with Patrick’s awkward side, “Who said I was your boyfriend?” This prompts Patrick to back pedal and stumble over his words. The next morning, Richie returns from a quick outing and tells Patrick, “I’m in.” Richie pulls out a scapular for Patrick to wear, one that’s just like his. How cute is this? They now have matching boyfriend necklaces! It’s official: they’re an item! And just in time for Richie to meet all of Patrick’s friends at Dom’s 40th birthday party. We also get to find out a little bit more about Patrick and Dom’s relationship. “We hooked up once” he tells Richie. I must say I love that about Dom and Patrick’s relationship. It is something that has happened to me a few times: people I’ve hooked up with or have had a brief romantic relationship with have ended up being some of my closest friends. Nothing bothers me more than when you see someone out and about who you’ve had a tiny (one-night) past with and they act completely awkward and uncomfortable. Grow up, figure it out, get over it!

Dom and Lynn

Dom meets with Lynn and some of his friends that are potential investors for his piri piri chicken restaurant. The older gentlemen sit around Lynn’s beautiful apartment and discuss opera. If there is one thing I’ve learned from working at a restaurant on Church Street (that has been around for over 20 years) it is that older gay men love opera. Well, not all of them, some enjoy searching Craigslist’s “Casual Encounters” on their iPads and checking off the images-only box. Believe me, nothing is more shocking than dropping off a customer’s steak and frites while they have a giant uncut penis on the screen in front of them.

Afterwards the two clean up together, they wash dishes, looking like the perfect married couple. Dom’s phone starts lighting up, his Facebook is starting to blow up with birthday posts; he is now 40 on the east coast. “Did you know that when you turn 40, Grindr emails you a death certificate?” Dom constantly worries and sulks about his age, even though Lynn – who is much older –  is within earshot. “When I was 40 we took mushrooms in a canoe,” Lynn replies. Can Dom please get over his age-depression and realize life doesn’t end once you’re 40?

On the bus ride to his birthday party, Doris and Dom discuss what’s happening with Dom and Lynn. “God forbid you fuck someone who could care for you,” says Doris pointing out that of all the past relationships (fuck-buddies) Dom has had, this one actually has potential. “It’s different.”

Agustin and CJ

It seems Agustin has taken advantage of his relationship with his $220/hour friend, CJ. He’s taken many photographs of him with what looks like different sexual partners. He displays them on his wall then suddenly tears them down. Oh what a brooding artist he has become! Frank comes over to console him, “That guy’s hot!” Wrong move Franklin. “Hot? That’s all?” Surprise, surprise; Agustin gets defensive when discussing his work. The two go shopping for supplies for Dom’s park party and Frank asks when he’s going to get to meet CJ. Agustin invited him to Dom’s birthday so everyone will meet him soon enough.

Richie and Patrick

Richie and Patrick make their way to the park and meet up with Agustin and Frank, and Patrick’s co-worker Owen and his girlfriend. Richie is introduced as Patrick’s boyfriend and almost immediately Agustin gets defensive. Agustin is really starting to show his true colours and I am not a fan. His insecurities are getting frustrating to watch, but maybe because it’s at times like looking in the mirror (title of the episode, ha!) especially when it comes to his art. Agustin gets very territorial about Patrick for the majority of the birthday picnic; he dishes out some passive-aggressive remarks towards Richie and pokes fun at Patricks’ new scapular. Finally the whole gang has arrived and they are getting drunk on a sunny day in the park. I’m jealous. With the weather Toronto has been having, I would kill for a hot summer day drinking beer in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Just when it seems like everyone is starting to get along, Kevin (Patrick and Owen’s hot English boss) shows up in the distance. Patrick and Richie go over to say hello, and Kevin introduces them to John, his boyfriend who is no longer long distance and has officially moved to San Fran. The tension is so thick you could cut it with a scapular, oops, I meant scalpel. They exchange pleasantries, we find out John is in sports medicine, but when Kevin asks what Richie does for a living, Patrick jumps in, he cuts hair but will hopefully have his own place soon. “I will?” Richie asks. Patrick is embarrassed by Richie, or at least when being compared to Kevin and John.

Patrick and Agustin

Patrick asks Agustin what he thinks about Richie and all hell breaks loose. These two besties let each other have it and the truth finally comes out. Patrick criticizes Agustin for his behaviour with CJ and for introducing him to their friends. Agustin thinks that Patrick is being cruel to Richie by leading him on and letting him think he’s his boyfriend. “What are you trying to prove? You’re slumming and it ain’t cute!” Just at that moment, Richie shows up, and he is pissed off! Richie’s temper is sexy, Agustin takes a huge step back and cowers; he’s all talk and no action. Everyone parts on bad terms. Agustin makes his way back to the blankets to join CJ and Frank who are clearly hitting it off.

Dom and Doris

Over on the hill Dom smashes a piñata of his former self and thanks Doris for putting the party together. “For what? All I did was make a Facebook event.” Dom takes her picture, “Don’t tag me, I’m ditching a bowling thing.” I love how this show embraces social media and our relationship with it. Have you ever gone out even though you called in sick to work that day and had to make sure everyone you were with knew not to tag you in any posts? I have. I have more times than I can count.

Dom and Lynn

Out of nowhere a delivery boy drops off some flowers for Dom, from none other than, you guessed it – Lynn. Talk about husband material! Later, Dom meets up with Lynn to thank him, smoke a joint and watch some cartoons. They really do seem perfect for one another. Lynn pitches the idea of just the two of them putting together a night for possible restaurant investors and Dom gets excited. Just the two of them! Unfortunately this gives Dom the wrong impression and he goes in for a kiss. REJECTION! Lynn wants to keep their relationship business. I think I moaned out loud when the sexy, suave Dom was denied, mostly because I want these two to work out.

Patrick and Richie

On the walk home, Patrick suggests getting some fro-yo to Richie, but Richie decides it might be better to just go home. Richie is still clearly shaken up from earlier, and thinks Patrick is embarrassed about him. Richie is right to be angry. It seems at times that Patrick is ashamed of his relationship with Richie because he probably isn’t the type of person he pictured himself with. Patrick didn’t even stick up for Richie when Agustin was bad mouthing him. Patrick’s reply is to show how committed he really is and invite Richie to his sister’s wedding. The two make up, although there is still a little doubt in Richie’s eyes. At the end of the episode, Patrick is standing nude in the mirror and fixes his new boyfriend necklace; he’s in it for the long haul.

Agustin and Frank

Meanwhile, Agustin and Frank find themselves in a sexy situation. Something they’ve done before – a threesome. Only this time, Agustin is filming it. Maybe it was a good idea at first, but Agustin seems to have some doubts when he’s wielding the camera over his boyfriend who’s being penetrated. I wonder if CJ is charging $220/hour, or maybe there’s a friendly discount.

Follow Brett on Twitter at @AshleyBrett.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

The crush: real prospect or fun fantasy?

Last week I told you about the crush, the one keeping my thoughts from constantly straying to Country Boy. This week I’ve realized exactly why I’ve chosen this boy to crush on – because he’s completely inappropriate and nothing can ever happen there.

With Country Boy MIA for another 12 days I need someone to fantasize about, so that I don’t constantly wonder where Country Boy is, how he’s doing, and if I could be of more help as the supportive partner rather than the one giving him his space. The boy I’ve picked to fantasize about is one that I could never date.  He’s sweet and charming and he makes excuses to see me most days, but he’s not really available emotionally and he’s too in my life to ever be without drama — the perfect object of desire because, even if I wanted to act on my desires, the relationship would never work out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and the way I see my crush is very much like the way I see a celebrity crush, nothing could ever happen so I can go ahead and fantasize without ever risking my existing relationship with Country Boy. But, I also feel like, if in 12 days things don’t work out, if the break was less of a break and more of a break-up, I’ll be ready to move on, I won’t feel so lonely and lost because I’ll have been thinking about other boys in the context of a relationship, like a nicotine patch for love.

I’ve always had difficulty moving on. I’ve always been the what-if girl, running all the possible scenarios in which a former relationship could have worked out through my head; in the end this results in more heartache and pain, when you’re thinking about the what-if it’s almost impossible to commit to someone new.

At this point I’m not looking to move on, but I do want to prepare myself for all the possibilities. I don’t want to walk into our next date with a naïve sense of hope; I want to be smart and practical and let my head take the lead from my heart.

Practicality and logic have never been my strong suits; I’m a dreamer and a hopeless romantic who desperately wants to believe in the all-consuming power of love.  But love doesn’t always happen the way we want it to; sometimes we fall in love with a man who can’t love us back, sometimes we fall in love at the wrong time or with the wrong man — it’s worse than finding a needle in a haystack; it’s finding a soul mate on a planet with billions of people.

So, this time I’m trying to be practical. I’m accepting that maybe things won’t work out and I have to be ready for that. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Country Boy, it just means that I’m planning for the best and preparing for the worst.

But in all honesty, 12 days from now I hope to have a sweaty, sloppy, kisses and butterflies kind of story to share with you.

This article was previously published on March 16, 2012.

Follow Shannon on Twitter at @Shananigans.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

Make mealtime into fun time for your kids

by Deborah Lowther

As a parent, one of the most difficult times of the day is meal time. It’s when active and energetic kids are asked to sit still, use utensils, eat green vegetables, and try new foods.

For my family, I am a big believer in having our meals together at the table and creating a mealtime routine, but having three children in three years did not always make this an easy task. Night after night of being told to sit at the table, eat your carrots, don’t play with your food, drink your milk, and the favorite, “there will be no dessert if you don’t eat your dinner,” can turn our dinnertime into crying time.

So I decided to mix it up and add a whole bunch of fun.

I started a tradition a few years ago when I told the kids we will have special time when they are ALLOWED to play with their food. My husband thinks I’m crazy but the kids believe I am THE coolest mom ever when I tell them it’s “food fun time.”

When grocery shopping, they help me look for fun, playful ingredients and they get excited when they see the trays we use come out of the cupboard.  It’s a ‘special occasion’ kind of activity saved for rainy days or after a healthy meal. Yes, it’s messy, it’s kind of gross, the food involved is generally not very healthy, but it’s right at the top of our kids fun-list.

All you need is inexpensive large plastic trays: ones that have a nice tall edge work best to contain the fun.  We wash our hands really well and then get creative. A little chocolate pudding, mix in some vanilla pudding — with your hands of course — add some whip cream, and maybe top it off with some sprinkles. Jell-o is high on the fun chart for its colours and jiggly squishiness between their fingers. Anything goes. They love mixing it up and licking it off.

We’ve done ice cream with chocolate sauce, and I hand out straws to slurp up the melted finished product. We have even brought in a tray full of clean snow from outside. I give them some small cups to make little snow forts on their trays and some food colouring to turn it colours.  They play until it melts and then we go get more from outside.

I am hoping my healthy kids find ways to always enjoy food . . . they still have to sit still at the table and eat all their vegetables; but sometimes at dessert there is a whole lot of fun with food at our house!

How to deliver a positive first impression

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and with the launching of the new real estate capability of my firm, I’ve been focused on that old adage more than ever. I’ve been meeting new people constantly, from other realtors to corporate builders to potential clients, I’ve been painfully aware of the fact that those initial defining moments can be the determining factor for whether my firm is hired or not.

One of the things I’ve had to remember is our first impression is very rarely a face-to-face “hello” with the person on the other end.  First contact is often made by email, phone, IM, social media, or even through a receptionist or personal assistant, and even if this connection is not in-person with me, it’ll still have a lasting impact on how I’m perceived personally and professionally.  So, I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that this impact is positive. I’ve retrained my staff on the basics – everything from answering the phone in a positive and upbeat manner to proper email etiquette so that non-verbal cues are easily presented and nothing is misconstrued. I’ve made sure that my website and social media sites are free of typos and grammatical errors and that, aesthetically, it’s a balance between the professionalism and personal image that I want people to get about who I am.

When I do make a one-to-one contact with a potential client or colleague, I make sure they get the highlight of the message I want to convey: I value their business and their time.  For a schedule as hectic and busy as mine, that often means slowing down and taking the time to have a conversation without rushing to get off the phone or get through the meeting. Of course, anyone I meet knows that I have other clients and other responsibilities, but it’s my job to make sure that they know their project is important and worth my time.

On that same note, no matter how many emails I have in my inbox, I always respond to communications in a timely manner.  My standard of service guarantees a response within 24 hours, and I find that the quicker you respond to a client, the more likely they are to be pleased with this first impression. A good way I’ve learned to stay on top of this is to allot a special time out of your day – an hour, let’s say – dedicated to communication response and avoiding an insurmountable mountain of messages.

It’s not an exhaustive list of how-to’s, but I’m hoping that this focus on delivering a positive impression right off the bat and following through with a superior standard of service will be just the recipe I need to establish a competitive brand in the marketplace.

Embracing country

I’ve been trying to keep busy while Country Boy and I have been taking our little break, which actually isn’t hard. It’s only been a week and I’m already losing it. It’s not hard for me to trust him; it’s not hard for me to believe that we’ll be back together in a few short weeks, but it is really hard to be without him.

I’m lonely and I want a little company and while there is no lack of men in the city, I just don’t want any of them. I want my Country Boy, with the deep brown eyes and curious smile, and no one else will do. So, what am I going to do if things don’t work out? What if the distance and work and life gang up on us and win? Well, in all honesty I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, I’ll do what I’ve always done: I’ll move on. But this time I’ll be able to do so with a better sense of what I want in a relationship and in a man.

I love Country Boy; everything about him makes sense to me and everything about him excites me. I need a man who listens to country, drives a truck, has a big family and values to go with it. I need a gentleman with small-town southern flare.

I am not the girl who can date a Bay-Street guy. I am not the girl who can date a lifelong city boy; it’s not me and it never was, but it has taken Country Boy to make me realize what really makes me happy.

When I was younger, my mother told me to stop bringing home the tall, skinny, artsy boys because they were all wrong for me. Ten years later and I realize she was right. She’s always known me better than I know myself, but I’m stubborn and I had to figure it out on my own. If only I had figured all this out when I was 15, life would have been so much easier.

I’m not giving up on Country Boy by any stretch, but there is a comfort in realizing that, for once, I know exactly what I want. I want the wedding (some day), I want the house in the country, I want the life in the city, and I won’t settle for anything less.

It may take a while to get everything I want but the best things in life are worth waiting for and the kind of boy who will take a drive to nowhere so we can fool around in the back of the truck while Eric Church blasts through the radio – definitely worth waiting for; but then again maybe I’ve already got that.

This article was previously published on March 1, 2012.