Falling Back in Love with Halloween

Halloween, and the Fall in general, was always my favourite time of year.  Cosy layers of my Dad’s old cashmere and my mom’s Cowichan sweaters.  Brilliant colours of red and yellow maple leaves set against a crisp blue sky.  Freshly picked Macintosh apples with gooey Kraft caramels.  The smell of wood burning fireplaces and maple and rosemary in buttered yams.  Mmmmm.  What’s not to love?

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FeeFiFoFun.ca Sponsored Toronto Zombie Walk 2014 and I found a rare moment to pose with TZW Rock Stars Thea and Adam. [L-R] Thea Munster, Franken Me, Adam Paradox.

… and Halloween, which is rooted in ancient Gaelic tradition called Samhuin literally meaning the “end of summer”.  It is a time when the veil separating the worlds of the living and dead softens and the dead can cross over.  The only way to keep your milk from going sour or from getting a wart, it is said, is to disguise yourself like the dead or demons to avoid their attention.

I love disguise and Halloween so much that I opened a costume business, FeeFiFoFun, in 2010.  Most people I meet believe that costumes are just for Halloween.  They are surprised when they find their way back to me desperately needing a costume piece for a birthday gift, a business event, but mostly for their children’s school performances.

Every day for the past four years I have lived and breathed the business of costume play.  It starts with the Halloween & Party Show every January.  There I walk miles of corridors displaying bright balloons and party table wear, gory Halloween decor and tall smiling half naked girls who are modeling the costume trends their manufacturers believe will be profitable for me.  Stock arrives weekly throughout August and September allowing me time to organize for the frantic last two weeks in October when every child changes their mind and all the Halloween business happens.

The rest of the year does pale in comparison to my Halloween sales, but I’m amazed still at the abrupt transitions into Christmas, New Years, the School Year and Fan Conventions.  Like a switch on and off.

I wake up at 3:30 a.m. every day with my mind full of ideas and my heart racing with worry and excitement.  This is normal I understand from my Mom Biz Coaches Lara and Sheila.  Normal for entrepreneurs whose  perfectionism and incredible passion clashes with our sense of self preservation.  In my case, my sleepless night’s are also the drive to find meaning in my life.

My father, mother and little sister Jo died all died around my birthday in September 1994, 2004 and 2007 respectively.  Cancer sucks.  I’ve pretty much let this ruin the Fall for me.  It came into sharp contrast when last Halloween a neighbour came to the door with his two children after the pumpkin light was put out.  I thought, how rude, but then he remarked, “We thought, you being in the costume business, that your place would be the one all dressed up and out til the wee hours.”

He was right.  I’d spent so much time on others costumes and decor that I had little energy left for myself.  I had ruined Halloween.   I love my work, but I was exhausted.  Then came my granddaughter and at four she is now able to share all of her innocence and wonder with me about dress up and Halloween.

I’m not there yet.  I’m still struggling, but the mindfulness of finding meaning in every day life and watching my granddaughter is helping me slowly get back to loving the Fall and Halloween.

Creative Collaboration in Small Business

My teeth were cut in the 80’s as an ad executive in traditional advertising and public relations and opening a costume concierge business in 2010, I embraced social media.    I’ve noted,  working with other new entrepreneurs, especially women, that cash poor and product heavy businesses choose collaboration or cross promotion to market themselves.

However, these collaborations fail or are horribly unsatisfying for the Entrepreneur and this is why.

Entrepreneurs are creative, passionate and energetic … and hopeful.  You feel if you offer a quality product for free, including your time, that the collaborating company will give you something equal in kind.  Right?  Wrong.  How could you not help but be disappointed with yourself or the result?

Here are some tips and case studies about entrepreneurial collaboration that work for different reasons.

Tip 1 – The Six W’s.  Whose going to be there that is important to me?  When am I expected to be at this event?  What do I have to provide for this event?  Where in the event am I situated?  Why am I going to this event?  HoW the hell do I get the most out of this collaboration?

Case Study 1 – Hockey School Fundraiser  – The question Where found me in a private venue for an adult-only event with lots of food, drink and dim lighting.   The challenge was how to feature my product amongst hundreds of others.  With my mannequin dressed in as Elsa [the hottest 2014 costume] beside a rotating photo frame of my product, the event coordinator said it was a total hit, attracting attention to my table while improving the overall quality of her event.

Tip 2 – Value can be measured in many ways. Contradicting myself, sometimes a charitable event meets your company’s mission statement, or free product for a photo shoot gives you lifestyle shots of your product.

Case Study 2 – Photography Collaboration – I invited my co-op students to a participate in a free photo shoot.   The goal for the photographer and myself was to break creative boredom by working in a new genre called Cosplay.  I agreed to let the students pose in their own costumes as long as they were holding/wearing at least one of my products and if I could use the photographs in social media.   I learned a great deal about Cosplay and how I might make money from these young adults and was cool by association.

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Photo Shoot with Welcome Aboard Photography

Tip 3 – Ask for what you want out of the deal.  They will either say yes or no.

Case Study 3 – Library Workshop Collaboration –  I’d hoped this event would give me data on how to proceed with the development of additional teaching units for middle schools and private playgrounds.   I asked if the Mississauga Public Library would use their substantial electronic and paper distribution systems to publicize the events.  They said yes, and I thought I was a shoe-in.    After six weeks of marketing, we had only six teens attend the workshop, a total bust.  I’m still not sure why the marketing failed, but the positive outcome was testing the ideas without having to carry the entire cost. #BigGuysCanAlsobeNiceGuys

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Costume Workshop at Local Library

Tip 4 – Don’t just value your products.  Put a value your time.

Case Study 4 – Sponsorship of The Toronto Zombie Walk & Halloween Parade.  Not exactly a “collaborative” event since I am paying for vendor space and banner placement, but with this group IF you are creative the opportunity over and above the sponsorship is substantial.  What did I get?  Sponsorship means that my advertising banner, on TZW web site, is linked to my web store for a full year.   TZW has other events all year long that I can springboard from.  TZW also pimps me in other ways.

I zombify Blindsighted Host Kelly Macdonald for TZW 2014

I zombify Blindsighted Host Kelly Macdonald for TZW 2014

For example, they introduced me to AMI whose one hour filming on site with Blindsighted Host Kelly Macdonald, airs in January 2015, not in October when I am over saturated with “opportunities”.  Finally, the buttons I give away annually at TZW have my website address.  Because the TZW event, like Cosplay, is a highly photographed event,  people with our buttons will show up in photographs until digital kingdom is done.   The bang for my buck of time is amazing value. #ExploitinaNiceway

Cole Arthur, and our 2011 button complete with web address, appears ad infinitum, thanks to photographer Henry Chan

Cole Arthur, and our 2011 button complete with web address, appears ad infinitum, thanks to photographer Henry Chan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case Study 5 – Through Twitter I met Murder Mystery Maven, Leigh Clements.   Having made custom flapper head bands for many of her guests at a Toronto event she hosted, I impressed photographer Wales Wong.  With Wales and her team, on a rainy day in Toronto, I helped style a photo shoot published in Dark Beauty Magazine.  My credit styling this event, again, appears on the internet in multiple places giving weight to my store’s web metrics in ways I will never understand and making me feel very cool, just by association. #FollowtheThread

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Case Study 6 – St Joseph’s Health Centre HallowSuperJohnsoneen fundraising campaign in Bloor West Village.  I created looks and styled five families as super heroes.   The ad campaign would appear on a web site, posters, banners, elevator doors.  I did it because my kids went there for every major crisis, it was a challenge and it was very cool. #CommunityService #Volunteer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip 5 – Some people or companies may just be dicks.  If they are really all that and it’s worth riding on their coat tails, just be grateful.  If they think they are all that, you either bought into it or were naive and in either case, you’ve got to just accept it and move on.

Case Study 5 – Shall Remain Nameless Collaboration.  I was invited to do something cool, a workshop on prosthetics and make-up and I spent months designing and over $1,000 in products, staff and hotel with a promise of reciprocal social media promotion, being in the paper program, blah blah blah.  I was so excited I said yes, pulled out all the stops, created an amazing event, fizzle, burn, nadda in return.  It was humiliating.  It was embarrassing and … my ego and enthusiasm is definitely to blame.

I’m sure I will make more mistakes in this entrepreneurial journey at FeeFiFoFun Costumes and in my blogging Off the Porch, Black Oaks and In Disguise, but if I enter with my eyes wide open I can enjoy the best and throw away the rest.

Small Business and Social Media

Before the 1990’s, a business owner  placed a sandwich board on the street, or ran an ad in the classifieds or hired an agency to prepare their print, radio or television ads.  Now technology has allowed us to DIY everything, but just because we can DIY media, doesn’t mean we should.

Just because I love gardening, doesn’t mean I’m good at it.  I’ve accepted that sometimes I can buy and plant, sometimes I hire a gardener and sometimes I just admire other peoples gardens.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned in the three years since I entered the social media world with my online FeeFiFoFun Costume Concierge business and with my blogs In Disguise, Black Oaks and Off the Porch.   First is is that as a small business owner, you are thinking you don’t have the time, money or skill to do social media at all.

Yet I found out that you MUST  be prepared to give Time,  to invest Money in others and  to Practice your own skills in social media.

To more effectively manage your time start with a rudimentary understanding about what social media “platforms” have to offer.  Learn who is hanging in those platforms and how, or if, it might be helpful to you.   I began with a social media workshop by Jennifer Powell and Susie Parker where I learned that different platforms  attract different audiences.

I also realize that my “audience” in social media is not just about customers.  There are other people that can help build my career or my sales and understanding where they are helps me decide at any given moment where to put my time.

Twitter is where I network with other small business owners of products and services and with authors and bloggers.  It’s also where I meet people from all around the world who inspire me in arts, science, benevolent works, food, travel, parenting, film and philosophy.  LinkedIn is where I find connections with larger businesses and forums for professionals, particularly in costuming and manufacturing.  Facebook is where I found my female adult customers, but the future customer is actually found on Tumblr.   I’m still building an audience with Instagram, mostly using it as a visual tool that I link to Facebook.  I’ve dabbled but not meaningfully, yet, on Pinterest etc.

I’ve learned to see social media time in another way, in the way of building relationships not just sales.   It’s taken me three years to build 1,000 followers on Twitter and 600 on Facebook and I am just now starting to see meaningful engagement with these “Followers” and “Fans” that can translate into sales.   I’ve seen businesses buy friends, followers and fans, but those are not real customers because they were not motivated by your philosophy, product or service.  Bought customers are fussy and fickle.

The second thing I embraced is that social media is not a panacea for any business, large or small.   I learned from people like Jennifer Frezza Beauregard how to use the platforms I had chosen.  For example, Jen keeps reminding me not just to talk about the interesting products I have on  twitter and facebook, but to link them to my web store.  Doh!  Like Hart and Galla, Sparker Strategy Group and the Social Fairy Godmother, there are many excellent resource people out there and I highly recommend you invest the money because it will save you time and money and frustration.

If you interested in the DIY, every platform uses a different set of skills.  For example, I  love taking photographs and fell in love with Instagram.  I learned how to rock Instagram, by stalking people like Katja Wulfers, but if you suck at technology you’ll save time by paying somebody else to  link that Instagram feed to your Facebook business account and Twitter.

Since I like technology and learning, I’ve opted for the DIY approach.  The third thing I recommend instead of committing to a specific social media plan or ad campaign immediately with customers, practice on family, friends and peers.  I became members of groups like Melissa Shannon’s Toronto Mompreneurs on Facebook and Twitter to learn the ropes with friendlies.  I also hooked up with local Tweeps IRL at a MississaugaTweetUp.  There we pulled out our phones and laptops to engage on cyber platforms while also being physically located next to each other … and yes, coffee, lunch or drinks were usually involved.

I’m not sure if this is an urban myth, but I  heard that a major executive, who had no intention of actually running the company’s social media campaigns, spent a month using it himself before he let the arrow fly.   Like traditional 1980’s advertising, Social Media takes time and money and provides the opportunity for good and bad customer engagement.    The only difference is today’s entrepreneur can chose do all or none of the actual work, but he or she should at least know of it.  That’s just good business.

The Photo Shoot

Closing my bricks and mortar store, but keeping the business of FeeFiFoFun Costumes, has opened lots of creative opportunities.  One was working with photographer Wales Wong and her team to create a photography editorial, this month featured in Dark Beauty magazine.

Wales talked about the idea she was dreaming, this kind of vamp, a deadly beauty.  She asked me to bring a selection of clothing and props to her photo shoot, but I had no idea what I was actually supposed to be doing.  I just knew that it was a creative endeavour and something I had never done before … a perfect combo of fear and elan.

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Carlos Spellbound took this wonderful selfie with us in the background.

The day was rainy, but Wales made each shot lush.  Alayna Kellett, a model, instructor and choreographer, was amazingly creative and professional ~ even while naked and being stalked by Ontario sized mosquitoes.  Carlos and Vivienne teamed up on transformative hair and make-up, so that I did not recognize the model from one scene to the next.

That’s me in the I heart Zombies hoodie and Heidi braids.  A fifty something Grandmother leaning into the mud of a Toronto ravine and holding up the lighting while Wales make the shot.  It was hard, messy and grand!

Today, after yoga class, we talked about creation.  My peers were so in awe of the things I am doing.  I asked one gal, what had she created.  She froze and said “nothing”.  It came to the fore that she had spent 25 years journal writing, but afraid her family would read it she destroyed all of the books.  She hasn’t written since then.

I find it incredible, not that she destroyed the journals, but that she felt she had not created. The conversation ensued about child birth, parenting, grandparenting, business, art and not once did we talk about “work”.

Never ever let your age, income, gender, class, race stop you from finding the next chapter of your creative life.  Creation is not just about fine arts hanging in the National Gallery, a Giller prize for writing or a good run at the Shaw.  Creation is about expression in meaningful ways for your pleasure and by appreciating creation of your fellow humans.

High School Co-Op Programs – Giving Youth Real Life Experience

Co op programs are standard curriculum in high schools across Canada and I’ve been privileged to intern three students at my business, Fee Fi Fo Fun Costumes, since 2012.  While the program may vary slightly from province to school board and by teacher, the goal is the same – to provide students with life experiences in a working business.  In the contract between myself and the students there was a commitment to a set schedule and a job description, but there was no salary involved unless the student was working for me outside the contract.  The school board handled the insurance while the student was on site.  The attending teachers were rigorous in assessing the location, safety, work and suitability of the student to each job and contact was kept between student-teacher-business to ensure students were on track and that the business was actually teaching them something!

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Emma models Japanese Kai Lolita at our Cosplay Photoshoot

My first student, Emma, was 16 years of age, yet an old soul.  Quiet and intuitive, she introduced me to an exciting new world of costuming, pop culture, new forms of literature and social media technology.  She was such an amazing second in command, I thought it would be hard to follow in her footsteps.

In the next go round, I was lucky to take on two students, Remi and Elissa, both 18.  Curious, funny and methodical, Elissa asked provocative questions that required research and thoughtful answers and that really improved my teaching ability.  Remi was energetic, chaotic and talented.  I benefited immensely from her artistic works on my websites and other materials for the company, but it was the conversations about myth, music, film and the macabre that made time pass quickly.

Because I had moved my business from a bricks and mortar store, my husband and I, the school, the students and their parents had to be comfortable working from a home-based business.  Many days were spent in drudgery, as Elissa found out, like organizing the costume and props room.  Punctuated by exciting events like our pop-up store at the Toronto Zombie Walk or being a guest on Rogers Brampton “Today’s Talk” television show.  Most of our time, however, was spent around my dining room table talking, designing or sewing, drawing drawing drawing by Remi, leather and other crafting, and doing computer work.

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L-R Elissa, Remi and me, Getting Silly on the Last Day

I jokingly called the girls my slaves and one of the parents commented, “I don’t know how you’d run your business without these  girls.”  It is true.  I am grateful for their help and that they let me into their world, but a lot of the work they do is because of the experience created by me specifically for these students.  Liaising with teachers, designing curriculum, assignments and events takes time.  There were many teen moments of lateness, missing school work, poor quality of work, trash talk, wet boots on the floor, no lunch and falling asleep at the table.

It is becoming more difficult for our children to have meaningful experiences that prepare them for life outside the constructs of heavily structured school and play.  Most students are shocked when employers are not regimenting their days and not praising each and every move.

Even freelancers, home-based and other small businesses can offer a co op program as a reciprocal experience that is fully immersed, challenging and rewarding for the student and business owner.  You can do no better service to our youth than give them a honest look at a day in the life of a Canadian entrepreneur, especially one while keeping home and raising children.

If you think you are up for the challenge, I would start by directly contacting the local public or private high school co-op program teacher.