Trouble sleeping? Insomniacs of the World Unite . . . with Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” App

Are you troubled by insomnia, as I sometimes am?

When taking an informal poll among freelance creatives and entrepreneurs recently, I discovered a sorry truth: Many of us are beset by at least occasional insomnia, including disruptions to the length or quality of our sleep. 

Some, like me, have found little help from the recommended practices of ending screen time (TV, computers, smartphones and other portable devices) at least two hours before bedtime; taking warm baths with epsom salts; drinking warm milk or sedating herbal tea; and even trying prescribed sleeping pills (Zopiclone, anyone?). So what’s an insomniac to do?

Sometimes (thankfully, not too often), an over-stimulating day or evening can leave me tossing and turning, lying down and getting up, repeatedly.

Sleeplessness reduces our capacity to be productive at work and to cope with the daily stresses of family, career and health.

But meditation can often make a difference! However, some websites that I’ve visited, like calm.com and headspace.com, have been useful, but not transformative. Then my friend, freelance journalist and CBC producer, Ashleigh Mattern, recently recommended a smartphone meditation app that has already helped me to sleep better.

At https://wakingup.com/ American Sam Harris—neuroscientist, philosopher and bestselling writer—-features a daily meditation program suitable for “beginners and experienced meditators alike.”

As his website says, ” ‘Waking Up’ guides you through a 50-day introductory course, teaching a progressive series of meditation techniques, before unlocking access to an ongoing series of daily meditations,” all of which are created and led by Harris, himself.

He has practiced meditation for more than 30 years, studying with Tibetan, Indian, Burmese and Western teachers of the craft, both in the US and overseas. 

Unlike other apps that I have tried, “Waking Up” does more than soothe a troubled mind in each moment, but instead stresses what discoveries and realities we can make or learn about the ways our minds function. Pain, stress and loss are among the emotional experiences explored and released through meditation.

And, remarkably, free access to the course for the first year is offered to those on low incomes, who wish to subscribe. Regular subscription fees are also reasonable.

Harris has written five bestselling books and given public lectures on neuroscience, meditation, philosophy and religion. He focuses on, in his words, “how a growing understanding of ourselves and the world is changing our sense of how we should live.”

Accolades have poured in. Business guru Tim Ferriss praises the program, saying, “Whether you want to sharpen your mind or experience more peace, this can help in dramatic fashion. The power of its progression is hard to overstate.”

And Harris’ soothing tone of voice makes this app a powerful vehicle to relax by.

And now it’s your turn: Visit the above website for more information. And let me know on my “contact” page if “Waking Up” restores your sleep, too!

Why is Saskatchewan’s Business Climate Bleak? We’ll Only Grow if We Grow Small Business, Leaders Say

This week’s posting is a Special Report on the Feb 19th 2019 Podcast of CFCR’s “Civically Speaking”

Last week, on Lenore Swystun’s highly thoughtful and eclectic public radio program, “Civically Speaking” (CFCR 90.5 FM), entrepreneurial leaders Monica Kreuger (founder of Global Infobrokers and CVO of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship), Sara Wheelwright (Founder and Owner of S&E Trusted Online Directories, and Trusted Marketing Services) and Mark Zielke (Team Lead of StartFreshMedia.com, President of KwickAutoRepair.ca and People’s Advocate) participated in a “state of the union” style discussion on the shape of small business in Saskatchewan. 

I urge all Saskatchewanians to listen to this podcast, whether you’re entrepreneurs or not. Visit the podcast posted on Facebook: https://bit.ly/2VhPXHs This week’s blog posting summarizes the highlights.

Since 1990, Monica Kreuger and her team’s Praxis School of Entrepreneurship (full disclosure: I will graduate from it in April) has trained about 900 new and diverse entrepreneurs. But it has not seen a change in the types of small businesses that entrepreneurs offer. Instead, as Kreuger stated at the outset, the changes that have occurred during the past five to 10 years among proteges of the program have been due to gender and cultural diversity: Praxis has seen increasing participation from women, Indigenous people and from international newcomers or new immigrants. These are all good developments.

Kreuger, Wheelwright and Zielke agreed, furthermore, that there are always challenges to stay in business and to keep a business growing—we have to keep innovating and reinvent, or we won’t be able to keep operating our businesses. Entrepreneurs must be nimble.

Sara Wheelwright observed that her marketing services support local business owners, from “Ag to tech to local plumbers, roofers, lawyers, realtors, mortgage brokers,” many of whom currently are “doing well . . . [But] the key is innovation.” Standing still is not an option.

Mark Zielke sees less optimism among small business owners whom he meets in the province. He cites that one property developer in construction in the city has laid off half his staff in the past six to 8 months. Zielke asserts that “the status quo isn’t working and . . . there are a lot of businesses that aren’t able to adapt.”

“This is the new norm, he says. It’s not going to pass. “What are you going to do to adapt and to break in and get people into your [small] business?” People on the street whom Zielke talks with are not optimistic, either.

Kreuger agrees that present economic challenges are the “new norm,” but that to adapt, we need to look at “new business models. What we’re looking and seeing now and stats show it that . . . there is continuing growth in small businesses and entrepreneurship, but in certain age categories” such as “the 55-64 year range [who are] stepping out of traditional business . . . taking their expertise and starting their own companies. But where I see us having to reinvent how we operate as businesses is starting to collaborate in smaller groups—how do we help each other succeed?” Praxis’ entrepreneurial training schools do this. Sara Wheelwright’s intensive marketing services do this and Lenore’s consulting and broadcasting work do this. How do we come together, to “lift each other up,” and “collaborate, cross-market?” This is about more than just keeping one’s business going. “It’s about helping each other to grow,” more broadly. 

These are questions with deep implications for our province’s communities, as a whole.

What do the community and our governments need to do to be visible and to encourage innovation? What climate do we need to build, to support small business?

Wheelwright says that Saskatoon’s municipal government does not currently support small business. The City is not visible (whereas not-for-profit supports like WESK, the Saskatoon Chamber and the NSBA are). The downtown is not vibrant during daylight hours. Many storefronts have closed: the City needs to become involved. Downtown vibrancy will drive business growth, she says. How can we afford to build new bridges and host new festivals unless there’s a vibrant downtown to support it all?

Zielke observes that business cannot be a silo, but should draw others to participate in it. Entrepreneurs are risking their mortgages, inheritances and many investments. He cites the recent report of the Saskatoon and Area Homebuilders’ Association as showing that less than half the number of annual building permits is being requested for Saskatoon. He says it’s a “litmus test” for what’s going on in Saskatoon’s economy.

Kreuger says that the “lens has not been placed” properly “by all [three] levels of government” on “the small business and entrepreneur.” There are plenty of policies and procedures and focus on support medium- to large-sized businesses, which are necessary. But she challenges governments to look at small businesses. When “87% of our businesses in Saskatchewan have fewer than five employees, including the solopreneurs, . . . we need a lens at the local, provincial and federal level[s], where we can address policies, from the perspective of the small business . . . Because we’re small, we don’t have a lot of time to go through all of the various procedures that larger companies have. And to do one policy to fit all . . . doesn’t work.”

On how to think about small biz policy, Wheelwright says the City and Province need to “cut the red tape,” so that small business owners can find the time to sit on boards and engage actively in the community—something almost none of them currently has the time to do.

Small business owners are the hardest working members of our community. We wear many hats, including developer, researcher, sales and marketer, service provider, communicator, bookkeeper and more. . . . We have little time to do deep dives into government policy or to lobby various levels of government to make much needed changes in policy. So small businesses struggle and, in some cases, flounder.

Wheelwright argues that we need an overhaul of the summer intern program, Edwards’ School of Business’ intern program, and to the grants that available to new entrepreneurs that small business owners don’t even know about. Small business owners are not reached and don’t know how to fill out grant applications or to spend “five, six or seven hours plus [written] business plans to get the financial assistance they need.” 

Wheelwright says that internships should provide “hands-on” business experience, allowing small business owners to acquire “massive skills and experience” that they can use, as they build their businesses.

Small businesses underpin our community, but lack the “tons of resources” that large companies garner, to do all of the wonderful things that get celebrated in the media.

Kreuger cites as an example the Federal Government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), as a rare program to focus its lens focused on small business. The TFWP allows companies with less than 10 employees to find policy that optimizes their use of the program. If that small business-friendly lens “was focused on every business policy out there, we would see much more engagement by [the] small business and entrepreneur[ial] community,” and we’d simultaneously be much more seen by the community. Community would see “we are a part of them.”

“Without a healthy and vibrant business community,” Kreuger says, “we have no community at all.”

She cites the example of a small town’s grocery store: When it closes, the community dies. That’s a business we need. Two or three people (or more) who lose their jobs, when a small business closes, add enormous burden to the community.
And at the end of the day in SK, “most businesses are small.” 

And we must understand, Wheelwright adds, that “small business supports local.” And small business fuels crucial not-for-profit organizations. The public and government need to “get it.”

Kreuger translates the reality of small business under-representation and support in terms of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in SK. Each small biz contributes “$165K /year to the province’s GDP. If we help small businesses to grow one or two people more . . . [with lens on policy] we will make a huge difference on the GDP.”

To have one policy to fit all businesses doesn’t work.

Municipal, Provincial and Federal Governments need to move their “lens” to see and include small businesses in their policies. A “one size fits all” has dominated in SK through the 20th and 21st centuries, but simply “does not work,” Kreuger says. We are missing out on great opportunities for community enrichment and financial growth and development. For instance, innovative internships, collaborative working models (starting, for instance, with Saskatoon Makerspace) could offer vibrant growth.

It can be tough to acquire these skills of collaboration, she observes. But it’s very necessary. “What can we do together as a group?” It’s easier for young entrepreneurs, who are working in incubators and start-up groups, already. But we need more than that and we are not all tech start-ups.

While local entrepreneurs work unbelievably hard in SK, growth and change sometimes come more slowly in our province than in other regions of the country. How can we address this need for change? 

Kreuger repeatedly cites the statistic from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) that “87% of all businesses in SK are made up of five or fewer people.” And yet government policy at all three levels does not enhance practices and policies that are needed for small business growth and development.

The “new norm” forces small business owners to make changes to our businesses and to seek new business models to succeed. We have to “reinvent how we operate,” Kreuger says. And we face the daily reality that the changes we know are needed to our business climate take time to happen.

A question we can and should ask is: “What can we entrepreneurs do together, as a group?” The model used by the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship that Kreuger founded is one of “entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs.” Many collaborative ventures and partnerships could come from small businesses and even sole proprietors, but government policy is not encouraging such collaboration.

The age-old division between home/business no longer represents Saskatoon or SK. Instead, we should ask what entrepreneurial models and policies are best for the city and for businesses to grow and scale? Kreuger argues that we need to be clearer at the civic level about the management of small businesses.

For instance, one way to measure the undue burden on small businesses is property taxes. The media tends to discuss these as if there’s a competition between business and personal sectors.

Kreuger summarizes that when small businesses rent space from property owners, the cost of the taxes gets filtered into rent, making business unaffordable to the entrepreneur/small business owner, who then reverts to “home-based operations and reverse growth.”

As Wheelwright notes, small businesses pay all of their employees and only then take something home–if there is any profit left.

With such a small profit margin, many small businesses suffer isolation and struggle to find support amongst themselves.

Yet entrepreneurship shouldn’t be a solo activity. We all need to connect with networks. We need to reach out, talk and find people with like and diverse minds and find ways to work together, Kreuger challenges.

Can we give incentives to encourage small business activity that contributes to the GDP? Wheelwright cites the cost of parking in the downtown business district as debilitating, creating negative implications for community involvement, there.

The statistic Kreuger cites that “87%” of SK businesses are small, means that there are 150 K such bizzes in the province, as a whole. We fuel SK’s economy. The small business owner “is in SK forever. We stay and grow. That is not the case with large employers, who are not always here,” Kreuger says. For instance, consider the large potash industry giant, Nutrien, who recently announced that it was bringing two of its executives back to Saskatoon from their head office in Calgary. Kreuger laments that we continue to give incentives to large businesses to do such things, but seldom (if ever) to small ones, when it’s the latter which will always stay and grow. A 50% increase in growth is quickly achieved by and achievable for a small enterprise.

While the Provincial and Federal Governments must contribute far more, “Civically Speaking’s bold discussion (ably directed, as ever, by Lenore Swystun) offered that such civic services as better snow removal, subsidized/free parking passes for the downtown core and other, small business incentives would alone boost community life. The time is past due for the City of Saskatoon’s government–and its Provincial and Federal counterparts–to listen and act: For the future of our city and our province, we must do much more to raise the profiles and practices of the local small businesses on which we depend.

On “Capabilism”: Chris Kneeland Speaks at the 23rd Annual Raj Manek Memorial Banquet

Proteges and mentors of the annual Raj Manek Mentorship Program banquet (February 7th) enjoyed a keynote talk from Chris Kneeland, CEO of US-based “Cult Collective” (a marketing firm that reimagines how brands can engage both consumers and employees: http://cultideas.com) and a Co-founder of Communo (an online company that helps small agencies and solopreneurs find work in marketing: https://communo.com).

Kneeland held marketing roles early in his career at the headquarters of John Deere (with a $7M marketing budget) and, overnight, at The Home Depot (with a $70M marketing budget). He co-founded “Cult Collective in 2010 and “Communo” shortly after. He and his family lived in Calgary for eight years (Calgary), but prior to and after that period have been based in the US, where Kneeland is from. 

Borrowing from marketing guru Don Sullivan, Kneeland referred to a capacity that entrepreneurs need, as “capabilism,” or a combination of both “capability” (“the power or means to do something”) and “capitalism” (“an operating system whereby individuals can excel within a free marketplace”). He said that the neologism “capabilism” refers to entrepreneurs’ ability to thrive by exploiting their own unique talents and ambitions.

What’s “aspirational” becomes also “attainable” if we thrive, whereby we rise “to a level of which you’re capable.” Kneeland said that money is not itself the issue, but it is needed to buy us the freedom from having to worry about money.

Aspirational plans might involve living someplace warm (by contrast to SK’s winter!), participating in recreational activities more often, and being free from having to negotiate with an employer when we can take time off.

But Kneeland warned against entrepreneurs living beyond their means in the rush to succeed, whereby we take on extra work to pay our bills and ultimately become re-enslaved to the working world we earlier left.

He also suggested that entrepreneurial success is driven by ambition—not just doing what we love and what we’re naturally good at, but finding a way to practice it, so that we can excel at the work and with the money it earns us.
While he studied a first-class and innovative MBA degree from Northwestern (going into $100K debt, to finance it), Kneeland says there are more pathways to entrepreneurial success than mainstream, academic study.

For instance, he spoke of regularly calling on a panel of experts to advise him, even 20+ years in the field. He also recommended that we stop viewing retirement as a date we’ll stop working, when our work should bring us joy to continue, long after age 65. (Remember that life expectancy is longer than in previous generations—so that it’s not unreasonable to expect to live and work into one’s 80s or 90s.) If we don’t relish that prospect, Kneeland recommends a change in career or direction.

The skill of self-awareness is most needed by any business venture, Kneeland concluded, since fear of complacency should be far greater than our fear of failure. This is because only failure (and not resistance) enables us to learn from our mistakes.

These are some of Chris Kneeland’s best insights as the 2019 Raj Manek keynote speaker on February 7th.

And now it’s your turn:  Do you agree with the “take-away” insights that Chris Kneeland shared?  Would be be interested in learning more about the Raj Manek Mentorship Program? Please write back on the “contact” page of my website. I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.

Are You an Unhappy Blogger in Search of More Traffic? Five Questions to Get You There

Are you having trouble building readers and followers for your blog? As a blogger myself and when I teach the format to adults at the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship, I stress that building a healthy following for any blogger takes time and effort.

But the best way to increase traffic to your blog is to understand better the challenges, needs and wants of your targeted reader. UK-based copywriter and colleague Henneke Duistermaat recommends that writers ask these five questions, as they strive to increase their readership:

(1) Ask yourself: How can I write for my (ideal) reader? If you can imagine someone close to you as your reader and you aim to engage that person with personal and persuasive comments, you will more easily generate captivating ideas for your posts. This reader might be someone you’d call by phone, share a joke with, or whose criticism of your writing you would seek.

Whether this is an imaginary person or a composite of various people, try to understand their dreams, struggles, difficult decisions and empathize with their experiences. What industry topics do they follow, what mistakes have they made, what questions to they have that go unanswered and how could you change that?

(2) Ask yourself: Why would someone read my blog in the first place?
Keep in mind that even an enthusiastic follower will be motivated by what’s “in it for them,” by how you can solve their problems, increase their success and direct them to greater professional happiness.

When you consider what the purpose of your blog is, in the first place, you will recognize how to help your reader and how to focus on engaging and inspiring them.

Henneke recommends that we try to complete the following sentence, each time we plan a post: “My favourite fan reads my blog because I help them_________________________.” For me, many of my followers are small- and medium-sized business owners who read my blog because I help them to communicate more clearly and thereby to close more sales more profitably than they would without me.

How would you complete that sentence?

Once you know the purpose of your blog, it becomes easier to become a must-read resource in your niche.

(3) Often bloggers fall into the habit of writing for themselves or of just cranking out content, when they instead should ask: “Does my reader crave  more knowledge on the topic of this posting?” If not, get back to the drawing board.

(4) Can potential followers find you? If you’ve written quality content in your blog, you must also promote it, which often feels like an “energy drain,” or “time suck.” Consider being active on someone else’s blog (to gain profile), make connections on social media platforms where you can meet fans or followers. Over time, as your blog develops, measure your Search Engine Optimization numbers, to find out more of the choices of your demographic.

(5) Ask yourself: Do I reach out to my readers to build long-term relationships? In particular, do I invite them to join my email list? Do I have opt-in forms on my website? Do I ever send them a surface mail note with an article that would interest them? Do I share some of my personality in my writing and show empathy by providing inspiration and encouragement?”

Authentic engagement with our prospects and clients matters more than clicks, or likes, or shares over social media.

If you consistently try to engage your readers and serve their needs in what you write; and if your content helps them to know, like and trust you, then your authority will grow and your inbox fill up with prospects’ inquiries.

And now it’s your turn. Are you an unhappy blogger? Try asking yourself the above five questions to help you correct the course of your blog.

With clear strategy and a bit of effort, you should notice a difference. Please share your experience with me, on my “contact” page: As a blogger myself, I thrive on your feedback!

Is Marketing a Scam? Seth Godin on the service of those who see . . .

I’m always intrigued by the arguments of Seth Godin and read his books as soon as they’re published.

His approach to marketing, as he writes in This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See (New York: Penguin 2018), focuses on one “big idea”: great marketers don’t use consumers to solve their company’s problem (especially to increase its finances). He writes, instead that “[t]hey use marketing to solve other people’s problems. They don’t just make noise; they make the world better. Truly powerful marketing is grounded in generosity, empathy and emotional labour.”

We see the needs of our prospects and clients and work hard to meet them.

By contrast, we’ve all read about or watched dishonest marketing practices—whether an excoriating talk on the pharmaceutical industry, promoted on Facebook; or through investigative reporting, as in CBC’s “Marketplace.” Some people (for instance, some academics) associate all aspects of marketing with “snake oil” salespeople. These critics assume that all marketing is chicanery; and in the past, there has been much evidence of dishonesty. “Crooked” marketers, as in any profession, do still exist. One leads our neighbour to the South, with fresh lies, deceptions and predictable hatred and fear that unfold every day.

Yet for the last 25 years, Godin has argued for marketing work that gives people “the tools and stories they can use to achieve their goals.” So the “snake oil sales” approach to marketing is dying, if it’s not already dead, a throwback to the time of industrialization when workers were but “cogs in the wheel.” He urges those who sell that it’s “time to stop lying, spamming and feeling guilty about [our] work. It’s time to stop confusing social media metrics with true connections. It’s time to stop wasting money on stolen attention that won’t pay off in the long run.”

Marketers build connections between themselves, their products or services and consumers: we encourage consumers to use a product or service or to make a donation and each action is a part of the story we share with them. Instead of being “marketing-driven,” forcing a narrative over consumers, the best of us are “market-driven,” meaning that we see and listen to our customers, “bend” to them (accommodate them), to improve the quality of their lives.

We think about “the hopes and dreams of our customers and their friends . . . listen to their frustrations and invest in changing the culture.” Storytelling is a huge vehicle for this kind of marketing. And in this way, Godin reassures us, “being market-driven lasts.” There is longevity and integrity in stories.

Last week, at the opening of this new year, I rebranded my communications and marketing business as “Storytelling Communications,” positioning the experiences and needs of SMEs and individuals at the heart of every story I research and write. I do that by preparing website copy for a security start-up; by revising a resume for a new Canadian who is failing to get traction on the job market; or by leading workshops on how to blog better or prepare media releases that get accepted. I write and edit so that my clients (whom I vet for their integrity, as they do me) will succeed.

This is not chicanery and involves no snake oil. The practice of business writing and editing is a service and a calling, no less than Geophysics, Cardiac Surgery or Politics.

So when you next encounter evidence of disreputable marketing, or the  complaint that customer service has fallen to a low worse than ever before, please remember that many marketers deplore these things, too. Such stories hurt not only the consumers they exploit, but also the reputation of those of us who serve you. And who persevere with empathy, generosity and hard work.

And now it’s your turn: have you participated in sales/marketing exchanges that fail to meet your needs? Do you speak up to challenge the narrative created by that producer and to get your story fairly told?

Please write in: I’d be delighted to hear from you.