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the best tools for the non-marketer

Copy of Beach Thinking of You Instagram Post.png

Having an online presence is key to promoting your small business or practice, but keeping content fresh and updated can be intimidating. Fret not, a little goes a long way. 

There are so many tools out there it can be overwhelming to decide which to use. My suggestion is to keep it simple and stick to the basics. I've summarized some of the most useful marketing tools below that won't leave you feeling more confused. Many of these tools offer free base versions or at least 30-day trials, too. 


  1. Canva - This is a great tool for those who want to create nice looking designs (Facebook cover photos, business cards, Instagram posts, and more) but don't have design chops. There are many free, ready-to-use templates and you can create your own to keep a consistent look and feel for future posts. Plus it will automatically resize posts for you so you can use them across a variety of channels. I easily created this blog header and social shares using Canva. For the best free images, check this blog post
  2. Mailchimp - Mailchimp makes it very easy to create beautiful emails. Even if you don't plan to send email blasts, you can use Mailchimp to create the design and then copy/paste into the body of your email. They now offer marketing automation as well. 
  3. Grammarly - This is a great tool that links directly to your Chrome browser and proofreads/spellchecks your emails. 
  4. Boomerang for Gmail - Boomerang for Gmail is a tool that allows you to schedule emails or have emails come back to you so you remember to follow up on them. It's free for up to 10 uses per month and is a  Chrome extension for seamless email integration. 
  5. Squarespace - If you plan on updating your own personal website, I recommend Squarespace as it's easy to use and update once you get the hang of it. Plus their customer service is great. 
  6. Google Shortener - I track all links through Google Shortener so that I can see how much engagement each post gets. This helps me determine future content plans and posting times. 
  7. Hootsuite / Buffer - These are great options for scheduling posts to multiple platforms. I typically use Hootsuite for Twitter and Instagram but schedule natively within Facebook. I don't like to mess with the tricky algorithms on Facebook and Instagram, and since Instagram doesn't push posts automatically, you can pre-plan your posts and then are sent a reminder to publish it. Hootsuite recently limited the number of free posts you can do monthly in an account, so just something to keep in mind if you plan to schedule a lot. Plus, you can only manage three channels for free within Hootsuite.
  8. Images - Marketing is all about having great images to share. Check out my post about where to get the best free stock photos. 
  9. Google Docs and accounts. I manage multiple client accounts at once so I often toggle between accounts to save time on logins. You need to use Chrome to take advantage of this feature. To add accounts, simply click your name in the top right corner of your browser, click the gear icon and then choose "manage people". Add your various accounts and then easily toggle between them without logging in and out each time.  
  10. Slack - this one goes without saying. It's the best way to cut down on emails and keep communication flowing when working remotely or on multiple projects or teams. 
  11. Google Alerts - This is a great passive way to have content come to you. Simply schedule the keywords you'd like to focus on and the frequency with which you'd like to receive them and voila! An email comes to your inbox with content for you to read and share.

What are your favourite tools?

- Larissa 



Where to get the best free stock photos

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If you work in marketing or social media you probably need access to really great photography. Luckily, there are now many sites that offer beautiful and completely free photos covering a wide range of content.

If you plan to alter the images or use them for personal or commercial use, make sure they are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose, you can modify them, copy them, use them for commercial use, and don't need to provide attribution. That doesn't mean these are completely free of all restrictions, so ensure you've read up and understand the website's policy of use. If you plan to use the photos for your personal social media account where you drum up business, that's considered commercial use.

I've listed some of my favourite free stock photo sites below that are CC0 licensed (but always double check on this): 

  1. Pexels.com - I have found this one to provide beautiful photos with a really nice selection, especially if you need them for a curated Instagram feed. 
  2. Unsplash - This site is created by photographers who want people to have access to their work. You can follow photographers that you find and like so their feeds are readily available when you log in again. While you don't have to credit the photographer, it is encouraged.
  3. BURST - This is a site by Shopify that lets you browse topics, top photos, what's new, categories, and more. 
  4. StockSnap.io - This site is great because you can search by "trending" or "popular searches" which can make life just a bit easier (it's where I found the photo above).
  5. FoodiesFeed - If you run a food account, this is a great place to get supplemental imagery for your feed.

If you are using images from a particular site, it's always a good idea to provide a donation so that they can continue to operate. Now go ahead and save these links for future use! 

- Larissa 



Partner feature: Ordo Creative

Gordon Wong, Filmmaker and Principal at Ordo Creative (and master face-swapper)

Gordon Wong, Filmmaker and Principal at Ordo Creative (and master face-swapper)

Lush Cosmetics 2015 Hallowe'en shoot directed by Gordon

Lush Cosmetics 2015 Hallowe'en shoot directed by Gordon

I had the pleasure of working with Gordon for almost a year at Lush Cosmetics where he led the creative direction for the film and photo team. He is one of those talents with an eye for the aesthetic and knack for bringing out the creative in those around him. Not to mention, he's one of the funniest guys around, which is always appreciated when working on a long or stressful shoot. 

Before joining Lush, Gordon worked for Lululemon for many years on the film team producing hits such as, "Shit yogis say" and many other branded videos. Gordon is now a part of the Larissa Dundon &co. talent pool, so I had the chance to sit down with him and ask him about some of the things he's learned while running his own film company. 

What do you love most about your job?

It’s all about the collaboration. I love being able to ideate with a client and creatively bring their stories to life. Nothing’s more satisfying than experiencing the collective enthusiasm of the team I’m collaborating with on a new project. 

What's your creative approach?

My creative approach has always been organic and intuitive. I don’t have a formula or method per se, it’s more about listening, interpreting, and feeling the needs of the client. I’m also very inspired by music. Whenever I hear a song I usually can see accompanying visuals in my mind.

What advice would you give to others starting out?

That’s an interesting question. I feel like I’m always starting out. Every project I take on is new to me and my approach is never identical to the last. My advice to someone who is starting out is to identify what you love about what you do, the passion, the thing that lights you up inside, and let that be the driving force that gets you out of bed. Seek happiness not dollars. The dollars will become a by-product of your happiness. 

As always, great working with you, Gordon!





Partner Feature: Johnson & co.

One of the things I love about my job is working with creative people. They bring a unique angle to the table, especially crucial during the planning phase. Watching them bring to life that vision one shot or frame at a time is like watching magic unfold before your eyes. One such brilliant brain is Ben Johnson, one half of Johnson Studios which he runs with his wife, Danielle. Ben and I worked together a few years ago in the tech world where he was the creative lead for the brand's photo, video, and design identity.

Ben now focuses primarily on filmmaking where his passion for biking has led him to some notable clients including Cavalier Gastown, U Sports Canada, Hulse & Durrell, BrandFX, and Vancouver Club. 

His work also takes him to amazing places all over the world. He recently travelled to Thailand to film Cavalier Gastown’s video, How It’s Madethrough Italy with Vancouver Club, and to Spain to meet Cima Coppi. 

We had a chance to sit down recently so I could ask him a few questions about running his own filmmaking business.

What do you love about running your company? 

First and foremost, I love running my company because it continually exposes me to new work, new clients, and new challenges. One day I’m filming on a remote river in Thailand, and the next day I’m preparing a script for an animation project. The variety of work we’re presented ensures we never get comfortable; and, we’re not comfortable with being comfortable anyways. These new challenges are continually raising the bar, and we are motivated by opportunities to rise above it.

What's your approach that sets you apart from other filmmakers? 

Our size is what keeps us nimble. Take, for example, the difference between parallel parking a FIAT and a double-decker bus. The logistics for the FIAT are just simpler. We find this to be true for us as well - both internally and externally. The mobility and flexibility of our small but competent team has proven essential to our ability to meet a wide variety of client needs.

We are also curious people who desire to learn. These traits have inspired in us a pursuit for continual growth and development. For this reason we can say, Johnson Studios is a team of filmmakers, editors, designers, writers, artists, marketers, and scientists. The range of skills, interests, and passions we apply to every project has been key to pushing the creative limits of our work. 

What one piece of wisdom would you impart to others who are starting their own creative business? 

Dive in, but take one day at a time. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not as daunting when you break the whole into its parts.

Also, say “yes” to everything. It’s important to be hungry and passionate. Starting your own creative business demands too much time, energy, and persistence to be anything less than hungry and passionate. Over time, you’ll learn what projects you should and shouldn’t say “no” to. It is the learning that is crucial. 

Thanks for sharing, Ben!





Brands, show some personality

In an era of social media saturation, it's not enough to put pretty content out there and wait for the followers to come. Being proactive, showing personality, and joining conversations are what set smart brands apart (and allow them to go viral). How can brands show a little personality while still remaining professional and polished?

Don't be afraid to be a bit cheeky. After Balenciaga released a $2,145 blue bag, that many noted looked a lot like the $0.99 Frakta shopping bag from Ikea, Ikea released a tongue-in-cheek ad advising shoppers how they could tell the difference between the two bags. This ad has received a ton of positive attention on social and in digital media. 

Jump in on conversations. Recently, a tweet went viral after UK-based Lizzy Fenton sent a PowerPoint to her crush outlining all the reasons why he should date her. Microsoft joined the Twitter conversation, pointing out one character trait she forgot to include, that she is, "pretty dang great at PowerPoint." This is a great example of a brand joining a conversation in a funny and relevant way, with minimal effort required.

Have consistent spokespeople. This doesn't have to be an expensive celebrity or influencer. In fact, many of the most successful spokespeople work directly for the brand. Head office staff at Tarte Cosmetics routinely post makeup tutorials and how-to videos on Instagram Live. This consistent rotation of faces creates trust between the spokesperson and its customers, while these spokespeople build their credibility as subject-matter experts.

Show the behind-the-scenes. Giving behind-the-scenes access allows loyal fans to feel close to the brand. Everlane, the fashion brand, does a good job of this. On their Instagram, they show what is happening at their head office and factory, simultaneously showing off their trendy office space. They also host Transparency Tuesday on Instagram Live, where customers can ask questions and head office staff will answer them. This is a great way for engaged fans to feel more connected to the brand and the people producing their products.

How does your brand show personality?

- Larissa Dundon




Influencers are everywhere. So much so, they’re now a mainstream marketing avenue. When collaborating with influencers, how you work with them is as important as who you choose to work with.

Influencers fall somewhere between celebrity and traditional media outlets. They navigate the challenges of monetizing on a channel where they have built up an authentic following. For longevity, smart influencers know they need to stay true to their audience and personal brand. There are no advertising guidelines, no set rates, and the working parameters vary from person to person. So when embarking on an influencer program (paid or not), it is important to consider how and where your brand will show up.

As a brand, a great way to get the most out of working with influencers is by creating experiences for them. Influencers are always looking for opportunities to create content and share details of their day. Tarte Cosmetics takes influencers on trips to a beautiful, exotic location a few times a year to align with a product launch (#trippinwithtarte). Other successful brands bring influencers on sourcing trips or behind-the-scenes tours of their head office or manufacturing facility, or they simply invite influencers on a private shop tour.

Personalization is key. Influencers love to share experiences that are created specifically to their personality. The Bite Lip Labs in New York and Toronto allow customers to create their own shade of lipstick colour. Influencers have shared their experiences at the Lab widely on their social channels, really putting Bite's name on the map. While not all brands can open a pop-up shop, you can personalize elements of your brand when liaising with influencers. Unique send-outs and events with custom gifts are just a few examples of this.

Trends are awesome. If your brand can jump on something that is trending and create a product or experience in line with that trend, you're likely to see a lot more coverage. Unicorns are very trendy in the makeup world right now, while athleisure is something a lot of clothing brands have been capitalizing on for a while. As always, staying on top of trends and being reactive is key.

Challenges are fun. Launching a product or embarking on a campaign? Think about how you can have influencers add their voice through a challenge that is fun for them to do and draws attention to your brand. Challenges are fun, easy to follow, and allow influencers to engage with one another. Successful challenges include: the bean boozled challenge that launched with Harry Potter's flavoured jelly beans, ice bucket challenge that raised millions for ALS, and the Disney challenge that draws a lot of attention to the brand.

Engage with them. Liking and commenting on influencers' posts is so important as a brand and helps keep the relationship intact. This helps to keep your brand top-of-mind as working with influencers can ebb and flow, so keeping that consistent touch point is key to ongoing success.

Overall, it's important that you work with influencers who are passionate about your brand, or at least eager to learn more. With any influencer, it is important to consider not only their followers but engagement and comments on the content they produce.

- Larissa Dundon 




Newspapers are getting thinner. Pitches happen over Twitter. Advertorials are disguised as editorials. There's no question that the media landscape is changing. So how do we keep up in an ever competitive landscape?

Build relationships. Get to know the reporter or influencer, customize your approach, and make sure you are well versed on their beat. Knowing reporters' general likes and dislikes will help to build a strong relationship with them. I love the example of a a friend who was tirelessly pitching a reporter over email. Hearing nothing after multiple attempts, she dug deeper into the reporter's background. Discovering they had a mutual love for Seinfeld, she changed her subject line to, "They're real and they're spectacular" and got a reply within minutes, resulting in a feature story. 

Craft your story. You have one, you may just need some help unearthing it. Your story will be a part of your pitch going forward so consider finding a way to tell it creatively, such as video. 

Practice makes perfect. It's always a good idea to pitch a friend or family member first. Let them react, ask questions, and provide feedback. This will help you finesse your pitch. 

Cheat. A little. Online systems like Crystal can help you tailor your approach. Plug a reporter's details into the system and receive a unique personality profile for that reporter, so you can speak or write in their natural communication style. 

Provide the assets. A prepared Dropbox folder or press section on your website can go a long way. Reporters are operating with smaller teams, time, and budget. Be prepared with logos, photography, head shots, fact sheets, a corporate write-up, team bios, and video. Consider supplying social content for the reporter and packaging it up for them to share quickly and easily.  

Follow up. Send a tweet, email, or follow-up phone call thanking the reporter for their time. Media relationships aren't a one-and-done scenario. Like every good relationship, they take work. 

Larissa Dundon




One-way is the old way. The latest trend in e-commerce and internet marketing is the two-way rating system whereby the seller and the buyer rate each other. In theory this should hold both sides accountable, and in most cases it does. But is it skewing results?

Take the travel industry, for example. On TripAdvisor, which uses a one-way rating system, the average hotel rating given by users is 3.8. Airbnb, on the other hand, uses a two-way rating system and its average ratings are higher. Significantly higher.

"95% of Airbnb properties boast an average user-generated rating of either 4.5 or 5 stars (the maximum); virtually none have less than a 3.5 star rating", according to First Look at Online Reputation on Airbnb, Where Every Stay is Above Average. (source).

So why are these results so much higher?

Fear of retaliation. When your reputation is on the line, you're more likely to go easy on the review in the hopes that they will do the same for you.

The person is super nice, but their (fill in the blank) sucked. When your hotel room has bed bugs, giving a faceless organization a bad review is hardly unfair. How else to send a message through the ranks than a scathing review or tweet? Others should know about the abhorrent experience you had. But what if the faceless organization was a really nice person that you developed a great rapport with? Sure their Airbnb listing was not as stated but they were so sweet and helpful, what do you have to lose? In fact, you only serve to gain (see above).

So while two-way reviews might be skewing more highly, perhaps this relatively new business model is simultaneously creating a system built on honesty and accountability.

By design, two-way ratings protect everyone in a community. Airbnb knows that lending out your home to someone unknown is scary (so is renting someone's couch, but hey!), so by generating a feeling of community both parties are likely to feel a bit more comfortable and at ease.

(Not) Anonymous. On Airbnb, your reviews show up on your profile, so you can't leave an anonymous review like you see on some sites.

Perhaps the two-way rating systems go hand-in-hand with a new business model. A more appreciative, transparent model that holds both parties accountable to providing a better service. Or, perhaps not.

- Larissa Dundon




I recently asked my taxi driver what he thought of Uber. His response? “I love it; it costs me an arm and a leg to rent this taxi. I’ve been driving for 8 hours already and haven’t earned enough yet to cover the overhead of renting this taxi from the owner. The next four hours of my night are crucial to me making a profit.”

Just imagine what that looks like for a minute. You go into your office, grab a coffee, and start your day. At noon your boss says, "Okay, you can start getting paid for your work now; we’ve covered the cost of your desk and computer for the day."

In Vancouver, we are the only city who successfully kicked Uber out, much to the chagrin of the users (want to do something about it? click here). If you live or have lived in Vancouver, you know how challenging the taxi situation is here – good luck getting a taxi out of Gastown on a Saturday night.

Uber allows anyone with a clean car and a good attitude to sign up for the app (following a background check) to become a self-employed taxi driver. The driver has a lesser overhead and greater access to users, thereby earning more money. The user pays less than a typical taxi fee, and the driver/rider rating component provides a comfortable level of transparency for both parties. Uber takes a cut of the cost of the drive. It’s a win-win-win. Flipping a traditional industry on its head hasn’t been easy though, Uber has had its fair share of challenges entering various marketplaces. Legal battles, taxi protests, bad PR, and an unfriendly and bullish reputation to name a few.

So what is the sharing economy?

The sharing economy (sometimes also referred to as the peer-to-peer economy, mesh, collaborative economy, collaborative consumption) is a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources (source Wikipedia).

Technology has expanded this definition by opening up distribution. It has replaced the middle man with a distribution channel that provides a new, larger market that is accessible to many. Think of Airbnb. They are making more money than some of the largest hotel chains in the world, yet they don’t own a single hotel.

What does this new sharing economy look like?

  • Revamp the middle man. The middle man as the distributor is removed and replaced by a technological distribution mechanism.
  • It must be a win-win-win. The new middle man (technology distribution channel) takes a fee, but because they are doing business in large quantities, their fees are a fraction of what the traditional middle man would charge. This means that the end user and supplier benefit, the supplier can charge less, and the end user pays less.
  • It opens up a blue ocean of competition and accessibility. Hotel chains aren’t only competing with other hotels, they are now competing with John Smith’s apartment down the street, thanks to Airbnb. Think they saw that one coming? It also means that people who may not have been able to afford to travel take a black cab etc. before, now can.
  • New form of ownership. Airbnb, Uber, and many others don’t physically own a hotel or taxi, but they do own proprietary data and the ability to open up access, connecting the supplier and end user.
  • Transparency, accountability, and better customer service. Open and honest two-way ratings and reviews keep everyone on their toes and on their best behaviour, we hope.

What are your thoughts on the sharing economy? Do you participate?

- Larissa Dundon