Dragons’ Den season 13 auditions are starting

By Samantha Garner | February 3, 2018

dragons' den auditions

​Dragons’ Den is calling on all aspiring entrepreneurs to present their business pitches for a chance to be featured next season on CBC. Auditions are starting on February 10! Auditions will be open to the public, as producers hit the road visiting Canadian cities coast-to-coast in search of the country’s best business ideas in need of a Dragon investment.

Check out their website for a full list of dates, times, and cities.

The audition tour welcomes participants of all ages, with businesses at any stage of development. Hopeful entrepreneurs should prepare to pitch their concept to ​producers in five minutes or less. If they show the producers they have what it takes to pitch in the Den, they could be invited to Toronto to face the Dragons. Prospective pitchers are encouraged to apply online and bring a completed application form to the audition.

Good luck!

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5 tips for writing marketing emails that work

By Samantha Garner | January 27, 2018

business email

In our always-online, always-connected world, the marketing cold call is becoming relegated to history. These days, many of us turn to email or other forms of social messaging to develop new business relationships or seek new partnerships. When done properly, the “cold email” can work wonders in our small business marketing. But, like the cold call, it can also hinder your efforts.

Keep these five marketing email tips in mind before you hit Send:

1) Research the person or company you’re emailing

You’re a clothing designer who’s just found a local influencer that could be perfect to help you promote and review your products on their blog. Great! But before you do anything, make sure you’ve done your research. Who is the best person for you to email – the blogger directly, or a member of their team? Do any of your competitors appear on the site – and if so, how can you set yourself apart? Does this blogger even work with independent designers, or do they focus on bigger names?

2) Don’t start your message with with “Dear sir”

Let’s be honest – it’s the 21st century. Approximately 46% of small-to-medium businesses in Canada have some degree of female ownership – and what about the other non-sir employees who may be the ones reading your email? If you don’t know the name of the person to best address your email to, call the company and ask, or look for a staff directory on their website. Failing that, a generic greeting will do. But don’t irritate your potential partner or client before they even get to the content of your email.

3) Don’t write a generic message

What message appeals to you more:

“Hi. I’m a notebook manufacturer who would love to work with you at www.yourstationeryfriend.com. Please contact me to set up a meeting.”


“Hi Ashley. My name is Lee and I’m a notebook manufacturer. I came across an article you wrote on the Notebook News site, and was very interested to hear about Stationery Friend’s commitment to forming partnerships with manufacturers of animal-shaped notebooks. I’ve been creating elephant-shaped notebooks since 2013, and I would love to schedule a meeting to discuss this more.”

Now, these are just quick examples and not meant to be exhaustive. But you probably would be more drawn to the second email, where the sender has clearly done basic research on you and your company. This is important – a generic fill-in-the-blanks style of email will save time, but it can also put forth the impression that you don’t even really care about who you do business with – anyone will do. Probably not what you intended!

4) Think about your subject line

Try to strike a balance between a spammy, too-good-to-be-true subject line and one that gives no information whatsoever. Remember that this is your first chance to grab the attention of someone who likely sees dozens of emails a day. Read what our GoForth Expert and Fast Company have to say about effective email subject lines.

5) Keep it short and sweet

Your introductory email is not the time to describe how you have always wanted to be a greenhouse architect, or share your business’ origin story – get your foot in the virtual door first. Depending on how “cold” this email is, your recipient might be wary. They might also just scan your email for key words. Keep your eye on the goal and don’t wander too far off track. And don’t bury your lede – ask the relevant question or make the relevant statement as soon as possible. Once you’ve developed an initial connection with someone, then you can go into more detail.

Do you have any email marketing tips that have worked for you?

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Five tips for a user-friendly website

By Samantha Garner | January 20, 2018

Your small business’ website is often your customers’ first stop to find out about your business: its goals, its products and services, and how they can find you.

But how do you make sure your website is actually appealing to your customers? Here are five tips to keep your website user-friendly – ensuring people will stick around.

Ways to keep your small business’ website user-friendly

While there’s no hard and fast rule about what makes a successful website, there are a few things that are generally recognized as best practices.

  • Keep your text and background colours calm and easy on the eyes. Blue text on a black background, for example, is impossible to read – and nobody will try. Avoid distracting backgrounds as well.
  • Make sure your website’s navigation is streamlined and makes sense. Think of it from your customer’s perspective – do they want to click through five pages in order to find your hours?
  • Keep your site’s content concise. Readers should be able to find exactly what they’re looking for without cramping their scrolling finger. You may think your business’ origin story is important, but your customer likely cares more about your contact information or rates.
  • Make sure your website loads quickly and doesn’t drain your customers’ patience – or their bandwidth.
  • Avoid autoplay videos or music. According to Google, “one of the most frequent user concerns is unexpected media playback, which can use data, consume power, and make unwanted noise while browsing.”


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Small business blog posts we liked this week

By Samantha Garner | January 13, 2018

We hope your New Year is off to a swimming start! Here are some blog posts and small business articles we liked this week – hope you can find some entrepreneurship inspiration!

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Perks and snags of running a virtual office

By Samantha Garner | January 6, 2018

Has the thought of running a virtual office ever crossed your mind? Whether this is the first you’ve considered it, or you’ve been mulling it over for a while, here are some pros and cons you should know before you make your decision.

Perks of running a virtual office

  • Reduced overhead. Running your small business with remote workers means you don’t have to worry about leasing office space. Employees working from home can be eligible for tax deductions so there is an added incentive for them, too.
  • Increased talent pool. If the perfect candidate for a position lives four towns over, great! With a traditional office, that employee would most likely not love the idea of commuting to work – and in fact would probably never apply. Removing the need for a commute means you can cast a wider HR net.
  • Greater quality of life. Working remotely offers a wealth of advantages that can make life easier. For example, you and your employees can make important personal appointments during the day, you’ll save money on gas or transit, and you can lower your day care costs.
  • Increased happiness. A recent survey by Upwork (formerly oDesk), shows that 92% of remote workers saw an increase in happiness. Happy employees are productive and engaged employees!

Snags of running a virtual office

  • Risk of distraction. Many people are unfamiliar with remote working. This can mean that neighbours drop by and expect a chat, children want to play, or perhaps Netflix appears extra tempting. Virtual workers must be self-motivated, and able to work independently without supervision, while still meeting their deadlines.
  • Reduced communication. With a virtual office, there’s no walking next door to chat with an employee about a project. You’ll need to be more creative with your communication tools. Many offices rely on video chat programs like Skype, messaging programs like Slack, or project management tools like Teamwork.
  • Isolation. Not only are employees unable to talk in-person about work, but they also often lack the benefits of social interaction with their coworkers. As an employer, you should take steps to encourage a healthy work-life balance. This can include implementing flexible hours, encouraging employees to work in coworking locations, or holding regular team get-togethers if geography allows.
  • Technical issues. When employees are all working on their own computers, using their own internet connections, with software they installed themselves, issues may arise. In a traditional office environment, troubleshooting and fixing tech problems is often quicker and more straightforward than in a virtual office.

For more on running a virtual office, check out our previous blog posts: Is your small business ready for virtual workers? and How to manage a virtual office.

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