Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

Tell stories of strength, growth, and resilience. Inspire readers by asking founders the hard questions and creating “a-ha” moments and conversations within the CM community.

Willful – https://willful.co/ – create a legal will online.

Erin Bury, CEO and Co-Founder

It’s difficult to determine exactly how COVID-19 has impacted the Canadian economy. With Canada’s unemployment rate reaching a record 13.7% in May, and with one in seven small businesses at risk of going under, it’s hard to imagine any business owner trying to set any milestone other than ‘survive’.

Online estate planning startup Willful entered the pandemic like most businesses, prepared for the worst but hopeful for the best.

But unlike most businesses entering the pandemic, Willful experienced a 500% spike in demand for its product, and shortly after COVID-19 shut down the economy this Spring, the Toronto-based company raised $1 million to grow its business.

Erin Bury, CEO and Co-Founder of Willful, admits that fundraising in the middle of a global pandemic was “a bit of a roller coaster.” The company signed a term sheet (a document outlining the terms of an investment between an investor and a startup) at the end of February, but by the time COVID-19 hit hard in March, several investors had pulled out of the deal.

Although it took some time to convince investors that “death-tech” is recession proof, Bury said the moment she knew the business would be OK was a few days after the pandemic hit, when she saw sales and traffic go through the roof.

“Unfortunately, it [the pandemic] caused a lot of fear and anxiety and caused people to think ‘oh my God, I need to get my will in order,’” Bury explained. Willful officially closed their seed financing in June.

So, what exactly is “death-tech”?

Willful’s story starts like most startups, from a personal need that can’t be fulfilled by anything out in the market.

In 2012, Willful’s Co-Founder and Bury’s husband, Kevin Oulds, experienced a family death that changed his life forever. In the months that followed Oulds’ uncle’s death, Bury recalls how difficult it was for the family to make decisions during a really tough time. The inevitability and unpredictability of death led to the birth of Willful in 2017.

Willful is an estate planning platform that aims to make it easier to plan for the end of life and aims to destigmatize that conversation with Canadian families.

“Estate planning hasn’t changed in decades,” said Bury. “We’re disrupting the status quo by moving the process online and making it more accessible to people regardless of their location, income, and ability.”

Since joining the company in 2019, Bury has led Willful’s expansion into multiple provinces across Canada, and recently helped launch a petition to allow for digital signing and storing of wills (yes, that’s all still paper-based).

But Bury didn’t grow up wanting to become an entrepreneur. In fact, she wanted to climb the corporate ladder and dreamed of becoming a marketing executive at a fortune 500 company.

The “Sliding Doors” moment

After graduating with a journalism degree and working briefly as an entry level employee at a PR agency, Bury was recruited by a woman entrepreneur and left with a tough choice; she could continue to work hard and get promoted in her current role, or she could take a risk and leave a comfortable job to work at a startup.

“We were at the height of a recession and it was actually a really tough decision.” Bury remembers thinking, “you aren’t good enough, you can’t do this; what are you doing leaving a stable job?”

Bury credits her Mom for pushing her to take the role at Sprouter, a Toronto-based startup that was eventually acquired by Postmedia. Bury worked as the company’s Director of Content and Communications.

The experience led her to an executive role at a communications agency called Eighty Eight, where she worked for six years. Today, Bury is an entrepreneur, speaker, and startup investor and advisor.

No regrets

Another “Sliding Doors” moment happened when Bury left her role at Eighty Eight in 2019. At the time, her husband, Oulds, was in the early stages of building Willful and was largely managing the company on his own. When he asked Bury to join him, she told him she’d only join as the CEO.

Today, as the CEO, Bury says she has no regrets. She loves her job and says Oulds, along with the rest of the Willful team, keep her balanced and positive. When the pandemic hit, Bury says the company’s executive team gave them the foundation to keep building.

“When I was working at a PR agency, they used to say, ‘it’s PR, not ER’,” Bury explained. “I take that with me now. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

That resilience is what helped the Willful team stay focused even after months of pitching to investors, hundreds of “nos”, and a signed term sheet that ultimately fell through because of the global pandemic.

Bury remembers VCs (Venture Capitalists) saying that Willful isn’t sexy enough, not global enough, too ‘direct-to-consumer’. But the team kept chipping away. They started with an angel round of about $100K, then raised another round with Shopify executives in their network, before meeting investors at startup accelerator FounderFuel who ultimately led their most recent $1 million round.

Bury recognizes that she is privileged to even have Shopify executives in her network, but when it came down to it, it was Willful’s bump in sales that convinced investors to hand over their money in the middle of a global pandemic.

Don’t follow the lead

Although raising money was the right path for Willful, Bury says the biggest myth in the startup community is that everyone should go through the same round of funding. “There are so many great companies that just bootstrap. Business success is as much about what you don’t do as it is what you do,” Bury said.

“Part of the reason we wanted to raise money was for the experience of it,” Bury explained.

In Canada, female founders only receive 4% of venture capital. In the U.S., that number drops to just 2.2%.

At home, Bury was able to garner support from Tactico, a Montreal-based VC firm that makes investments through targeted special purpose vehicles. Willful’s latest seed round was also supported by York Angels and Real Ventures.

For startups that do decide to raise money, Bury says the most important thing to understand is your cap table. “Know how much you own and how much you will give away,” Bury advises. “The average founder only owns 7% of their company once they sell. Map this out from the beginning.”

Also, Bury says, “read the book ‘Venture Deals’ by Brad Feld. It’s the bible for startup raising.”

Planning ahead

These days, Bury and the Willful team are planning ahead by “looking at ourselves as consumers and asking, ‘what do we need?’”

At a time when it’s hard to predict whether it’s even safe to go into an office, building resilience is key to maintaining a positive attitude, especially at work.

Whenever someone on her team is having a bad day, Bury reminds them that “the only way through is through. Exercise is the best reminder of that – when I go for a run away from my house, I know I have to turn around to get back. Just put one foot in front of the other and things will work themselves out.”

ThinkHatch helps startups strategize and execute effective business plans. We THINK about the plan and HATCH the ideas. Learn more.

4 Cost Effective Marketing Ideas for Startups

Written by: Roshni Wijayasinha

Budgets can be lean at a start-up but that doesn’t mean that smart strategies can’t help smaller companies punch above their weight. By leveraging imagination and hard work, Marketing can be accessible to companies of all sizes, even those with modest (or non-existent) budgets. I meet many companies that feel handcuffed by their budgets, but with tight constraints can come creative ideas that can be even more effective than traditional “big budget” marketing.

Here are some strategies I’ve tried to get you started:

Leverage your network

Do you have any business partners that have complimentary offerings that you can cross promote / sell together? With similar customer bases, you can both pool your resources for a bigger campaign and wider distribution. Leverage your mentors, advisors, shareholders, incubator and / or co-working space to promote you to the other companies they work with and see if there are opportunities for synergies or cross-selling. Do your employees (or friends) have skills or hobbies that could be helpful to the business, like social media or graphic design? Finally, have your various stakeholders share your content with their friends and family – or better yet, start a referral program. In fact, “People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend” according to Nielsen.

Create multi-purpose, shareable content

From infographics, to quotes, to contests, to useful tips and even drives for social causes, creating content that can be used across many different channels and that appeals to your target audiences can be great to not only get customers’ attention, but also establish your brand and improve recognition even with a lean budget, by not spreading your message too thin. To begin, create a content strategy that addresses your messaging, and how you want to tell your story through creative assets and their distribution plan (across various channels like social, your website, or Google ads). Make sure to include “Share” buttons where ever possible to remind people to spread the word, leveraging the power of their networks as just mentioned.

Email Marketing

If you have a list of people who have already expressed some sort of interest in your company, products or services, consider emailing them, providing they’ve provided their explicit or implicit consent properly according to CASL rules – Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (learn more about them here. These are warm leads you can access without incremental costs of acquisition. Selling more to your existing customer base through email can also increase your customers’ lifetime value without spending. Think about what data you have on your customers’ preferences and behaviours so you can send personalized offers to them at the right time in their buying process for improved conversion rates.

Optimize your Marketing team

Consider an intern to help heavy lifting on tasks like social media, partner outreach and customer feedback. Outsourcing certain activities can also help reduce costs, in fact 59% of businesses surveyed in a Deloitte study cited reducing or controlling costs as their top reason to outsource. Leveraging in-house generalists and supplementing with external experts can greatly reduce your Marketing overheads. There are many different types of Marketing partners that help you start out without having to pay the full cost of hiring a full time Marketer – for example, Fractional CMOs, PR companies and Digital or Social Media freelancers.

There are so many more ways that you can optimize your budget for maximum results. If you’re looking to brainstorm, want to discuss your Marketing Strategy, or are looking for a Fractional Marketing CMO, my team at Prosh Marketing would love to help – we’re offering City MOGULS Members a free 1 Hour consultation with one of our Marketing Strategists. To book your session, email us and mention you’re a member here.

Roshni Wijayasinha is a Marketing leader with 15 years of experience, having launched over 50 products and brands in over markets worldwide, and helped companies attain 9 investment rounds. She started her career working on top consumer brands on the agency side, and has built her reputation by bringing creativity and strategic insights to leading global technology companies such as Microsoft, Sony & Kobo. Most recently, she has built out Marketing teams and brands at technology leaders like Juice Mobile, Thinking Capital, Benecaid and Foxquilt, and has founded Prosh Marketing, a Marketing Consulting agency that specializes in Strategy, Planning and Communications for SMBs and Start-ups.

Will Pinterest actually help me grow my business?

Written by: Irina Lerner and Blair Mlotek

We all know how useful Pinterest is when you’re trying to decorate your living room or plan a big event, but is it useful to grow your brand?

Pinterest can be used to grow brand awareness, product sales and even leads for service-based businesses (did someone say organic web clicks?). What makes Pinterest so powerful is that over 367M+ users are already looking for ideas, products and business solutions–so when someone connects with your brand on Pinterest they are already (p)interested!

Pinners use the platform to inform their purchases, with 84% of weekly users using Pinterest as a research tool for shopping. If you want to be a part of a community that is actively searching for your products and services, Pinterest is just the place to make a name for your brand.

So, how do you do it?

1. Use keywords to appear in organic searches

If you’re not sure what keywords will help boost your pins, search for a similar brand or topic and use the suggested (see: often-searched) words that populate under the Pinterest search bar as your guide. Keywords can be included directly in your pin descriptions or titles, enabling them to do the SEO work behind the scenes. To double up on that power you can include relevant hashtags in your pin descriptions as well.

2. Create useful, visually appealing content

Similar to Instagram, Pinterest is a visually driven platform. Curation is key and it’s important to stick with your brand guidelines. Educational pins are a great value add to your brand since pinners are often looking to learn something new or find the perfect product to make their lives easier. Creating graphics (or adding graphics to existing images) on programs like Canva can also bring viewers to your pin while they scroll through their search results.

3. Repin with a strategy

A lot of your brand’s Pinterest presence is built on what you repin. The reason to repin is twofold: it’s a way to engage with others to create a community and it helps build your brand’s boards, keeping your account active and resulting in your pins being shown to more users.

But how do you know what to repin? Keep in mind your brand values and ensure that everything you’re pinning aligns with those. The pins should also be similar to your brand voice. For example, if your brand is very classic and chic, adding in a pin focused on humour may not make sense, even if it does make you laugh!

Just like all your content, you want to make sure that everything you’re adding to your boards, owned or repinned, adds value for your audience.

4. Keep the algorithm happy

It’s important that you consistently add new pins a few times a week, and try to repin daily if possible, since the Pinterest algorithm is more likely to pull up recent pins in a search result. Once visitors click on your pin, they may be led to click on your link or look through your boards to see what else they can find, and if they see you are consistently adding useful content, are more likely to follow you as well.

5. Consider putting some of your ad dollars towards the platform

The value of Pinterest ads come from the fact that they show up in the user’s search results. You can send already interested users directly to your website through a promoted pin. They’re already searching for something related to your ad, and now you’ve supplied it for them.

Irina Lerner and Blair Mlotek are longtime friends and creatives, and the co-founders of Cleo Social – an everything-social agency based in Toronto. Cleo is named after the original girl boss – Cleopatra. A woman with serious flair who wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted: her desire to be heard and seen, and that’s exactly what Cleo will do for you: give your brand a distinct influential voice on the platforms that matter most. We are not a full service agency: we know what we’re good at and we only give you our best. We manage our clients’ social media platforms from strategy, to content, to execution and community management, ensuring they stay relevant on the channels that matter most to help them meet their goals.

CL Designs on 3 Ways to Boost Your Holistic Branding

Written by: Christine Lieu

When you think of branding, you may have it on the bottom of your to-do list with all those hats you’re juggling in your business, while trying to get at least 8 hours of sleep a day. But with the focused time you do have towards your branding and marketing efforts, isn’t it about time that you have a brand that reflects who you really are and generates more sales?A brand-360 is the solution to go from surviving to thriving.

What is 360-degree branding?

It’s a holistic approach so that whichever touch-point and visibility you have with your brand’s customers, it’s on-brand and creates that trust at all times. Whether someone engages with your brand and business on social, to your website, to a ZOOM call or in-person at events, you want to ensure there is consistency and cohesion.

The reality is that your brand goes beyond a visual solution. It embodies everything from your brand voice and messaging, to your visual communications, to the customer experience that they’ll remember.

Here are 3 ways you can boost your brand-360 NOW:

1. People buy your story, not your product or service

Get clear with who you’re speaking to! Use the language that your dream customers are using in your brand messaging to ensure it’s relatable. Your brand messaging and visuals should help bring your story to life. When you’re clear of your core values you want to evoke with your business, you’re embodying those traits to put your best foot forward.

2. Get intentional with your visuals

It isn’t just your logo or colour choices. Your branding should embody that overall look and feel that you want to capture with your business. Understanding that your choices have consequences and different colour choices can have different cultural associations and symbolism, to the various styles that you choose to portray your logo with can have a different interpretation of how your audience makes their first impression to forget you or develop that trust and credibility to keep them coming back.

3. Focus on your process, not just your end result

Your dream customers should feel supported every step of the way. By determining your customer journey, whether someone follows you on Instagram, appreciate and recognize how you can help them in the next step with your solutions. They may be approaching you for your product, but acknowledge that if they have a positive experience from that initial outreach to post-delivery, they’re more likely to refer you to others and continue that cycle of quality leads.

Give your brand the power to not only speak, but sell. Make it easy for people to like, know, trust, AND buy from you with your brand-360 approach.

Christine Lieu is the expert behind CL Designs. She is a graphic designer who’s traded in climbing the corporate ladder for climbing mountains around the world. Christine helps social impact businesses realize their vision and connect with the people most important to you through branding, web design, and social content creation through a holistic brand-360 approach. She’s also the host of the Brand Party Podcast where she and her guests deliver fun, honest, to-the-point advice that you can implement RIGHT AWAY in your entrepreneurial journey.

Ready to create your bold legacy today? Get your free brand consistency checklist to implement this brand-360 approach, get guided support every step of the way through the Visionary Accelerator, or reach out about your next project at christineldesigns.com

4 Ways to Connect with Your Clients in a Human Voice

Written by: Tara MacIntosh

As business owners in these uncertain times, we have all had to re-create the way our products and services are packaged and sold. Communicating your newly minted offers with kindness and compassion is how you will remain connected to your valued clients and your community. Speaking from the heart, in a human voice, will allow your clients to see your efforts and solutions to accommodate their needs. It is not the time to be consumed with being perfectly polished; we are all in this together and are doing our best to work within the constraints of social distancing.

Follow these four ways to connect with your clients in a human voice:

#1 Speak with Kindness

It is impossible to understand what each valued client is going through. We will all experience self-isolation differently based on our coping skills and required lifestyle changes. As you offer new safe ways to engage with your products and services, communicate with kindness. People need to see the human side of the business, share how abrupt changes impacted your business, and how you were innovative with solutions to help your clients, and others in need. Offering solutions to a problem will allow you to show the value you are bringing to your community in this time of need.

#2 Create Content that will Educate and Inform

Knowing your niche as you do, use your content to help navigate issues that pertain to their specific situation. Now is the time to nurture your client base by catering to their niche needs. You may be able to deconstruct a concept in the news or a government directive that affects your industry, to help others understand how their niche clients can benefit. It is important to remember you are the expert, and your clients are looking to you to provide content that is relevant to your industry. Leadership requires you to take responsibility by stepping up to provide comfort in a time of uncertainty.

#3 Find Your Business Language of Love

Each business has a language of love. What’s yours? You may express love to your clients with discounts, value-add offers, no-charge webinars, community support, or free delivery. Showing your love and appreciation for their support will go a long way in connecting with your client base. If you can use your language of love to provide value to your niche, your content will be regarded as helpful, informative, and valuable. Providing answers in a world filled with uncertainty will elevate you as a leader in your community and your industry.

#4 Be Honest with Your Words

Being honest is always far superior to being perfect. There was no warning or manual for COVID-19; we are all doing the best we can with what we have. It is helpful to show how social distancing is presenting challenges and how your business has overcome those challenges. Sharing how you’ve managed to adapt your business to take care of your employees or revamp your offering will bring you closer to your client base by exposing your vulnerabilities. Perfect images are rarely respected as they create distance between the struggles of your clients and the solutions you are providing.

Connect with your clients through joy and heartbreak. Share your struggles and your success stories. As things change quickly, almost daily, there is no shortage of topics or information to share. Be generous when supporting your clients, and they will be generous when supporting you.

Tara MacIntosh is the Founder of The Writing Suite and Blog Bootcamp Workshops. Tara helps her clients understand language choices on a deeper level resulting in clear and concise messaging for their niche clients. Join Tara for Blog Bootcamp (new version launching in June!) to learn how to blog effectively and write impactful content by focusing and strengthening the messaging, language choice, and voice. Words motivate, inspire, and engage – choose wisely!

Tara MacIntosh is a professional writer, workshop leader, and speaker. She has been publishing work for over 20 years, including a recent piece on City MOGULS – MOGUL Mindset: City MOGULS Runway Show. She loves words and language and believes a brilliantly crafted message can change the world! For information on writing services or Blog Bootcamp Workshops contact Tara @thewritingsuite, www.thewritingsuite.com or 416-902-1319.