Because I Said Yes

Because I Said Yes

I remember sliding my clothes off, the apprehension and excitement of not knowing what would come next. Thankfully, it wasn’t a full moon that night, but the half that was visible shone an ethereal glow that bounced off the Madre de Dios river; calm and quiet and tranquil.

We were a group of us, all from different countries. One of us was Dutch, the other German, another from France, if I recall correctly. I was the sole Canadian, non-white, and proud of it.

I stood fully bare, took in a deep breath, and ran into the water, wanting to cover up my nakedness and also knowing that if I waited long enough, I would change my mind. The four of us waded in the water, laughing and teasing one another. I floated on my back and let out the breath I subconsciously was holding in – here I am, looking up at a blanket of stars and moon, naked and skinny dipping in the Amazon Rainforest. What the fuck.

Some of the best memories of my life were exactly those: what the fuck. How did I end up here? How is this even possible?

When I think back to how any of it happened, it was because of a single word: yes.

I had said yes to travelling to Peru by myself, despite never having left North America since we immigrated from Philippines. Despite not knowing anything about travelling abroad or taking a flight by myself or knowing Spanish. My mom was livid and tried to discourage me, but supported me when I made the decision, and for that I love her. Upon landing and feeling my feet touch the ground, I knew. Anything I experience these next few months will hinge on that first yes.

That was over six years ago, and this year will make it seven, since I travelled to Peru. I still think back on that trip often, not because of what I said or did, but because of how I felt. I felt alive. I felt free. I felt like I had taken the best and worst parts of me and reorganized them into something brand new.

The next time I took such a plunge was in 2015, the year I said yes (or in this case no) to my corporate job, and said yes to starting my own business. I knew nothing about retail, knew nothing about fashion, knew nothing about sustainability or running a business. What the fuck.

Since then, I’ve learned and am still learning. Less than six months after launching our business, we travelled to Philippines to source products, and then Indonesia. This year, we’re going back and adding on Vietnam. I’ve rekindled friendships, ended unfruitful ones, and created new ones. I’ve fallen in love again and again with J, my partner in life and in business. I’ve challenged myself to grow in ways I never thought possible.

I feel like a nervous ball of energy teetering on that familiar edge between apprehension and excitement. Years from now, I won’t remember what I did or who I met, but I’ll remember how I feel: I feel alive, I feel free. I feel like me.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know that whatever comes is because of that one word: yes.

How starting my own business has made me a better person

How starting my own business has made me a better person

Now that it’s been a bit more than a month since I quit my 9-to-5 job to start my own business Cambio Market, I’ve had time to reflect on what being an entrepreneur really means and how it’s impacted my life beyond the typical “work for yourself” mantra.

For some context, Cambio Market is an online marketplace to connect consumers with socially responsible products and responsible businesses. Every purchase from our store directly gives back to a meaningful cause and helps socially responsible businesses grow. For those of you familiar with the concept of social enterprise, we are one. We just launched last week.

What I realize is I really do like myself more these days than before. That may be a weird thing to say, but I have to admit I think I’m a much better person. Here’s why:

1.  I’m much more informed. We research each of our partner suppliers to ensure their products are up to par and their social impact is real, positive, and authentic. As a result, I’ve been learning so much about business, international development, and the social issues facing different communities around the world as well as the creative ways social organizations attempt to address them. Being a business owner also means understanding how government policy, local, national, and international issues impact how we operate so I pay attention to the news and Reddit much more. I’m still not as informed as I’d like to be, but my knowledge has definitely improved over the past four weeks.

A photo from our Instagram account @Cambio_Market. For every selfie taken with hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood, Naked Juice company will donate 10 lbs. of produce to help communities in need.
A photo from our Instagram account @Cambio_Market. For every selfie taken with hashtag #DrinkGoodDoGood, Naked Juice company will donate 10 lbs. of produce to help communities in need.

2.  I’m much more connected. I barely used Facebook in the past and my friends used to have to text me reminders to check my Facebook messages (everyone has a friend like that, right?). These days I manage all the marketing and social media for Cambio Market, which means I’m constantly on social media. Not surprisingly, I’ve been much more up to date as a result and know more about what’s happening in my friend’s and family’s lives. This has significantly improved my personal relationships.

I also occasionally publish updates about Cambio Market, which has prompted several of my long lost friends to reach out to me and see how things are going. In the past month, I’ve been able to re-connect with at least four friends I haven’t seen in years. I’ve also forced myself to reach out to people and ask for their help (something I was always scared to do before). This has unexpectedly opened up amazing opportunities to re-connect with good friends and learn from them.

3.  I can have more meaningful conversations. When I was working in corporate, it felt like my conversation skills were going down the drain. Office talk always centres around plans for the weekend, what you did last night, what you ate (though 80% of my conversations are still about this :D), and plans for the holidays. These days, I’m catching up with old friends or meeting new people in the community which opens up opportunities for much more meaningful conversations. It’s been awesome.

Me at last night’s We Are Cities roundtable to discuss issues facing our city and how they can be addressed from a youth perspective.

4.  I’m more in touch with my creative side. Sometimes I forget how artsy I used to be as a kid. I used to take art classes on the weekends and would spend hours drawing. I even still have some of my old sketchbooks. It’s been about ten years since I’ve drawn something, so I’ve loved the opportunity to do all the creative work for Cambio Market. We’re literally just two people in our team and Jérôme is more on the technical side handling our IT, business compliance, shipping and logistics, so I do everything else. I designed our logo, create the creatives for our social media, write all our content, and even spent hours doing arts and crafts to package our orders. I love how I’ve been able to re-connect with that part of myself.

I spent hours doing arts and crafts to come up with our finalized packaging for Cambio Market!
I spent hours doing arts and crafts to come up with our finalized packaging for Cambio Market!

5.  I’ve been able to meet people outside of my regular circles. Networking is always important, regardless of your stage of life. As a social entrepreneur, it’s crucial. I’ve actively forced myself to attend various events in the city and meet new people. Last month, I attended a Creative Mornings Toronto event, a free speakers series in Toronto geared towards the creative community. Last night, I participated in a youth roundtable through We Are Cities to discuss issues facing our city and how these can be addressed through a youth perspective. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone for both events and some were better than others, but I’ve learned a lot from every single event I’ve attended and person I’ve met. It’s been awesome and I’ve become more aware of issues facing my community.

6. Last but not least, I’m happier. Not to say that happy people are necessarily better people, but I’m generally more optimistic than before and willing to fight for things I care about. It’s empowering.

If you’ve had a similar experience or thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them! 🙂 

Photo credit Bruno Ramos: http://brunoramos.es/puesta-de-sol/

Go Ahead – Make a Mess

Go Ahead – Make a Mess

It’s Day 11 of the Writing 101 course I’ve signed up for through Blogging U. In this span of time, I’ve written seven new blog posts. Seven! Nothing But Nerd is probably the fifth or sixth blog I’ve started since university, and I’ve always abandoned each one of them before the third post, until now. I also manage the blog for ChooseSocial.PH and occasionally write guest blogs for different sites.

Writing is fun but hugely time consuming and it can also make you kinda crazy. You end up spending a lot of time in your own head, which can be great, but not when you’re already down in the dumps and feeling sorry for yourself. In those gloomy periods, writing can sometimes dig you deeper into your hole of insecurities. Compound this by twelve when you’re starting your own business for the first time.

So, how do I keep myself in check and balanced? Disclaimer: I’m not a poster child for “balance”. With me, it’s either “all or nothing”, as my partner always tells me with a look of endearment and also disapproval. Work in progress, my friends.

I do hot yoga and pilates, but one thing I absolutely love is baking. I love discovering new recipes that are simple and healthy, and the excitement of mixing all these seemingly unappealing items together into a big bowl, sticking them into the oven, and seeing them transform into something delicious and unexpected. It’s like creating life in a way. The other night, I made peach cobbler (not super healthy) out of a mountain of peaches from my parents’ backyard, and I like to surprise people with how easy it is to make homemade raspberry white chocolate scones. I also love to make low carb desserts like the three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and this super amazing grain-free and vegan avocado lime cheesecake. I could talk about food for hours, as evidenced by my food-centric Pinterest account.

A snapshot of the homemade avocado lime cheesecake I made. Recipe courtesy of Hemsley + Hemsley
A snapshot of the homemade avocado lime cheesecake I made. Recipe courtesy of Hemsley + Hemsley

The funny thing is, I actually started baking only because I thought it was something everyone else in the world was good at except for me. I now realize that only a small number of my friends actually bake or cook, and the rest of them rely on pre-packaged foods or their parents. I don’t know how I got it into my head that people were born with the gift of baking.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that I’m actually quite a disaster in the kitchen. Things splatter everywhere, I always drop spoons and spatulas covered in the stickiest mixtures on our hardwood floor, I never have all the things I need and hate buying ingredients for a single recipe, so I substitute everything and haphazardly measure quantities. I’m quite a mess.

Baking is a science, but somehow, all the mess and disasters throughout still turn into this delicious and wondrous dessert (granted, usually a variation of what the original was supposed to be). Some might call those failures, but I like to think of it as an analogy for life – we make a big mess and things are rarely as simple as they seem, even with all the steps laid out – but somehow, it works and becomes something wonderful in return, even if it looks nothing like in the pictures.

This is a post inspired from Day 11 of course Writing 101: Writing and Not Writing through Blogging U

A Letter to Confusion

A Letter to Confusion

Dear Confused,

You may not want to hear this or believe what I’m about to say, but please trust me when I tell you  no, there is nothing wrong with you.

I know you grew up expecting your life to be a certain way. Throughout school, you were probably told you should work hard, get good grades, and graduate with honours. Then once you graduated, people told you to get a job, work your way up, get married and then somehow live happily ever after. I know you expected life to be like that, and I know you secretly hope it still will be.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if it’s not. Life, unlike the stories you’ve been fed, isn’t clean. The complexities of life can’t be resolved in thirty minutes, one hour, 75 years. The protagonist one day may be the antagonist the next, and you may not always be the main character. You change every day, and so does your vision of happily ever after.

To borrow the beautiful words of Mary Schmich:

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

So my dear confused friend, please trust me when I say… you are going to be okay.

Sincerely,

Wisdom

This is a post inspired from Day 9 of course Writing 101: Reinvent the Letter Format through Blogging U

The Cure for All Doubt

The Cure for All Doubt

This is a post inspired from Day 5 of course Writing 101: Let Social Media Inspire You through Blogging U

We’re cautious creatures, us humans. By nature, we’re risk-averse and when presented with opportunities, our minds automatically flit back and forth between the positives and the number of things that could drastically go wrong. How many times have you heard people say (or said yourself), “you’re so lucky. I would love to be doing something like that.”

As an entrepreneur, there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – that drives me just completely crazy more than that phrase. When I first told someone at work I was resigning to start my own business and return to school part-time, she actually said to me, “wow, you’re SO lucky!” Umm, no. Luck, by definition, means you had no control over the situation. Choice, decision, action – these are all verbs. After months of deliberation, I decided to forego the safety of a salary, a stable routine, a safe career path. I actively and willingly worked 18 hour days to set up the foundation for a business. I contacted entrepreneurs and industry professionals weeks in advance to meet them for coffee and learn as much as I could. Luck always has its time and place, but here it had no part to play.

When you’re watching from afar, it’s easy to see what people are doing and think, “wow, that’s amazing. I could never do anything like that.” Our brains are instinctively tuned in to develop all these theories of reasons why we shouldn’t do something, but we have to make the conscious decision to act, to choose, to decide. Even something as simple as dedicating 10 minutes a day to pursue your passion is a step – a small one but with a big footprint. All overnight successes take years in the making.

Before quitting my job, I met with a woman who left her 9-to-5 job years ago and has since launched two of her own businesses. When I asked her about her doubts early on, she answered:

“Once I quit, I just knew there were no other options. I knew I had to be resourceful and smart and hard-working enough to make this work.

There was no alternative.”

Note to Self: Do Not Be a Social Media Snob

Note to Self: Do Not Be a Social Media Snob

I’ve been learning a lot from renowned social media marketer Gary Vaynerchuk since I started reading his book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World (aka. JJJRH. Read it – you won’t regret it). I’ve previously written about how I’ve learned to justify the ROI of micro-content and the different nuances across platforms from this book, but there is one key thing I’ve learned from Vaynerchuk that beats out every other lesson:

Do not be a snob.

There it is. Simple. Your elementary school lessons repeated to you in five ink-black words laid out on page 30. The fact is, innovation is by its very nature, disruptive. And no matter how open we think we are, we all have some inherent biases that may cloud our judgement. Social media marketers especially, are not immune to this, particularly when it comes to new and emerging social media platforms.

When Snapchat first came out and my little brothers started using it to share photos with their friends, I didn’t think anything of it. Well, that’s not true. My first thought was, “sexting app?!!” I was dismissive and thought it was a phase. Then the platform grew and has exploded amongst teens and millennials.

Then Periscope edged Meerkat out and continues to grow in popularity, with more and more brands appearing each day. When I first proposed creating a Periscope account for employer branding purposes, my bosses were hesitant (eventually supportive), but struggled to understand how this livestreaming app with people contemplating life while sitting in hot tubs could be relevant to their brand. And despite Pinterest “producing four times the revenue-per-click of Twitter”* and “Pinterest users being 79% more likely to purchase something they spot on Pinterest than on Facebook”*, the number of brands leveraging this platform is a handful. Everyone is, in some sense or another, still playing catch up.

As Vaynerchuk concedes, there are a number of reasons brands aren’t on Pinterest. For one thing, many are still struggling to get the hang of Facebook and Twitter, as well as concerns about copyright infringements. Why add on yet another platform to manage? However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And frankly, many brands just don’t have the will or the foresight to understand how Pinterest could be used for more than wedding planning or recipe sharing.

Vaynerchuk so eloquently (and bluntly) says:

Ignoring platforms that have gained critical mass is a great way to look slow and out-of-touch. Do not cling to nostalgia. Do not put your principles above the reality of the market. Do not be a snob. You cannot win big in social media if you’re going to be afraid of emerging technology.

This brings me to my next thought – expectations. Oftentimes, when we think about great social media marketing, we think about getting the most clicks and all the ways that we can “go viral”. There was even this amazing video about how to go Buyralwhich is testament to brands’ obsessions of viral content (hat tip to my social media marketing professor Karen Schulman-Dupuis).

When you evaluate greatness of your content using a scale of virality, you set a pretty high bar. This can be an intimidating barrier for both new and seasoned marketers alike. There’s a mentality that your content is only good if it draws people to Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram, wherever you may be, or if that unique hashtag you created for your campaign starts trending. Only then are you a great marketer. Well, my friend, you gotta have a pretty great stash of genius to achieve that.

But… maybe there is no such thing as being a genius marketer. Maybe the genius lies in acceptance. Do not be a snob. Do not make your audience follow your content. It’s about going where your audience is. It’s about following and capitalizing on the trends, not creating them. It’s about joining the conversation about that viral video your audience has been talking about, instead of about creating the viral video

It’s about being human. Not about being genius.

Thanks for the wisdom, Vaynerchuk.

*Page 28 of JJJRH

Do It Right: Understanding the Differences Across Social Media Platforms

I’m continuing to read Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World (aka. JJJRH ) and wrote a post explaining my first impression of it here. One of the things Vaynerchuk constantly emphasizes is the need to “use a platform’s native language.” This means really getting the nuances of each social channel, understanding the audience, and knowing what type of content is suitable for each one. This may seem obvious to anyone who has any inkling of social media. But then Vaynerchuk delves into examples of each platform, and hiccups and achievements from different brands, and it quickly becomes clear that even the most reputable of us can get it wrong. You can check out good and bad examples of social media content and my critiques on Pinterest.

Despite all the differences between platforms, however, good content is good content. And by association, content that is bad will always be bad regardless of what platform you use and how you jazz it up.

Therefore, in order for content to be compelling, it must follow the golden rules as dictated by Vaynerchuk:

  • It must pay attention to context
  • Understand the nuances and subtle differences that make each platform unique
  • Adapt your content to match

“Right hooks” (the concept of jabs and right hooks are explained in my previous post) should meet the criteria above but must also:

  • Make the call to action simple and easy to understand
  • Be perfectly crafted for mobile and all digital devices
  • Respect the nuances of the social network for which you are making the content

When you read those, you might immediately think, “No, duh. Of course your content should be relevant to what’s happening, and of course everything has to be mobile optimized and fit the platform you’re using!” I thought the same thing. But even before my brain could finish the thought, my mind raced back to the time that we were about a hair close to using a hashtag for our Twitter chat which was already being used by a sex chat app. Talk about not paying attention to context. Or how about the time we posted a super long URL in our Instagram post to try to get people to apply to a job? We definitely missed the mark there when it came to Vaynerchuk’s golden rule of understanding the social platform’s nuances.

So let’s face it. Social media isn’t easy. It’s not magic or rocket science, but it’s definitely not as simple as copying and pasting from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest. To help us all out, here’s a super simplified overview and comparison of the social media platforms, informed from what I learned from JJJRH as well as my own social media experience.

Platform Summarized in 10 words or less Demographics* Key pointers Secret Superpower
Facebook The king of social media platforms Everyone and their mother are on it. Literally. Slight skew towards women, but good representation across demographic groups. Keep it highly visual

Minimize text

Link appropriately

Sponsored stories (use ‘em, they’re worth it if you choose your stories well)
Twitter The cocktail party of the internet 500M users worldwide. Slight skew towards men. Content is less valuable than context. Put your own spin & context to information.

Use hashtags responsibly (& strategically)

Listen well. Capitalize on trends to push your right hooks. Take advantage of promoted tweets.
Pinterest Satisfy & feed aspirations & inspirations Mostly women (70%) and half of them are mothers. Produce dual purpose pins: pinned image should double as an ad, or be the image for longer form content.

Content should be easy to categorize (re-pinnable)

Link appropriately

“Free your brand’s personality.” Create individual boards that explore lesser known aspects of your brand to appeal to a wider audience.
Instagram The modern day magazine ad Slight skew towards women. Fair representation across demographic groups. Be hipster-esque, artistic, and authentic. Corporations die here.

No such thing as too many hashtags

Get creative & find work-arounds to platform’s limitations.

Occasional right hooks are fine, but use Instagram primarily to reinforce your brand (jab, jab, jab).

Tumblr Be cool Skews very young, and very artsy. Slight skew towards women. Use GIFs and exciting images. Throw right hooks occasionally, but do so very quietly. Customize your profile & show why you’re unique. Tumblr offers endless branding opportunities.

 *Demographics information pulled from JJJRH and also informed by PEW Research Center.

What do you think? Is there anything I missed that you would add above? Let me know in the comments!