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  • Rae

Part 2: The plan is in place...

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

There are a lot of logistics involved to move across the country. The first was a plan to get all our stuff there, protect our delicate studio gear and instruments but still live in Calgary for a year and be able to work. We can’t say enough positive things about PODS first POD was dropped right after our house sold. We spent a few days packing it really well with strap-downs and bungie cords, everything in heavy duty bins… Alan even constructed a bracket for my kayak.

That POD went into storage in Alberta so that it would only be 5% tax for a year, and then ship to our property in Nova Scotia when we were ready for it. PODs makes it so easy – you can store for any length of time, have it shipped whenever you need it and then keep it on your property as long as you want. The condo was furnished but we had the owners remove the dining table so that we could fit the grand piano.

All the rest of the instruments, studio equipment, computers, office equipment and photography gear as well as selected sports gear came with us to the condo – we had to think through what we would need for a year. Our plan was to rent a u-haul and drive ourselves with all our sensitive gear when we were ready to move.

For the next 13 months, we lived in the condo in Mission – a great area in downtown Calgary – lots of restaurants, shops… really vibrant area. A huge sports complex was right behind our building – we had a membership there and enjoyed the pool, steam room, gym, and yoga classes – it was so convenient. We walked a lot – we were right by the river – and tended to go out for dinner quite often because of the sheer convenience of it. And in July, we lived through Stampede! The grounds were right across the street from us and we 'enjoyed' the fireworks every night... for 10 nights in a row. LOL

The condo was nice, we had a small bedroom that we shared as an office, we had room for the piano, we had a nice big kitchen with a long counter to eat at, and we had room to store all our gear. It allowed us to be rather carefree. We could lock the door and leave for a weekend or a holiday and not worry about anything. However, over time, I really disliked parking underground and taking an elevator to my home. I missed not having an outdoor space. And I hated all the constant noise that comes with living in an area with a couple buildings that constantly have lawn care, weed blowers, garbage trucks... the sounds drove me to wear my headphones almost daily. The dream of living on a quiet rural property was sounding more appealing every day.

(Side note: Some people when looking to retire think that downsizing to a condo will be awesome. My advice? Rent one for at least 6 months first and make sure. I thought it would be awesome too and I'll never live in one again. It's not for everyone.)

It was an interesting time. Before we sold the house, business had really dropped. The decision to stay in Calgary for another year was partly made based on the need to build our business; nurture the contacts we already had in a town that we already knew. The slowdown of the oil and gas industry specifically and the slowdown in the economy in Alberta in general affected our revenue and we were finding it tough to land new work. In an effort to make new connections, we joined a networking group that was specifically for companies in the marketing/advertising world. The idea was to connect and collaborate with complimentary businesses, be able to offer more services to clients… and learn from each other. It seemed so perfect for us because part of our philosophy is to ‘build a bigger pie’, not be intimidated by competition but rather focus on providing the client with every service they need seamlessly. The approval stage was rigorous and we were impressed at first. However, it turned out to be a whole lot of fluff in our opinion. Several companies had only a few years’ experience and there was a big focus on social media marketing; and surprisingly, the website was terrible and they couldn’t get our categories right, the promises of quality connections was dubious… we ended up fighting with them and paying to get out of our contract. Lesson learned – no more contracts. It was a hit when we were down.

We were in ‘the trough of sorrow’ – a term we had heard at a presentation and could really relate. We were dealing with the anxiety of a slow time, less revenue, higher expenses with all our storage costs, condo rental, mortgage in Nova Scotia and a desire to enjoy Calgary, the mountains and the West in general before we moved from the area… BUT, and it’s a big BUT… we really believed in ourselves. We believed in our 30+ years of experience, our commitment to real quality work and expertise. And we really believed in our combination of skills and experience as something unique and valuable.

So, contrary to what most business owners would do, we took on one more expense. A business coach. We needed some help and we knew it. We are really good at what we do – we have confidence in our skills – but the sales part, and making new connections is a challenge for both of us. I had recently met Rich Grof at a Meetup and there was something about the quality of his contributions to a round table discussion that impressed me… I came home and talked to Alan about it and said ‘maybe we should meet with him together and you can see what you think and we’ll make a decision about it?’ So we did. Rich works in partnership with his daughter Phalan StokeGrowth, and we met with them and really liked the connection we felt. As Rich put it ‘we will have four heads around any problem instead of two’ and that’s exactly how it has gone… we use Zoom so we can see each other and talk openly; we’re able to share our fears and challenges with them – they are good listeners and the advice they offer is specific to what we need; there is no set program. The first stage was to improve our website and our messaging – be much more specific about the value we bring to our clients – not just about what we do but why we do it! If you like, check out our site:

We started to feel more confident. And whether by coincidence or because of their coaching, or a combination of both, our business started to blossom. Our focus was clearer – we had fine-tuned our message and defined who our ideal clients were. New opportunities started popping up, a big overseas project for Alan’s 3D animation work, and an increase in work from my long-term clients. With coaching help, we were starting to write blog posts and case studies, contributing more on LinkedIn to raise awareness – we’re still not great at this but we are working at it.

The last shoot we did in Calgary was for Shoe & Canoe. Loved it!

Unknown to most our industrial clients, we have a separate business that couldn't be more different from our main one. We photograph food. And while we lived in the condo, we landed 3 good food photography projects as well – our Love Bites Food Photography website was working very well for us too. If you are interested in checking out our work:

The 13 months spent living in the condo had its challenges – here we were in a very small office space, working face-to-face every day… and we got through it. We talked a lot – and I mean a lot – about our fears, our anxieties, our dreams… we built each other up when the other was low or sad or feeling too overwhelmed. We celebrated the small victories, we talked a lot about what we wanted our life to be in Nova Scotia, believing that if we imagined it, thought the details through, then we had a much better chance of making it a reality.

Over the winter, Alan worked on the design of our studio addition which included a garage, workshop and laundry/mudroom and we chose a builder to work with. We spent months fine-tuning the design, while our builder, Risser Design Build, secured the required building permits and finalized the quote.

Alan's design takes shape - the studio space

One major change we made in our plans came to me early one morning when I starting thinking about driving a u-haul while towing our car for 6 or 7 days – how comfortable would that be? and what about the logistics of trying to park or back up? How much money were we really going to save by taking this on? I contacted PODS and discovered that the cost was almost the same. Decision made. A second POD was ordered, and we could drive our own vehicle across the country in comfort. Looking back, that was a fantastic decision. As Alan often says,'always be ready to pivot.'

In June of that year, we celebrated our 4th anniversary by taking one more road trip. (I’m a really big fan of road trips!) I had never been to Vancouver Island so we planned a trip through Revelstoke to Vancouver, picked up Alan’s dad who loved the Island, and off we went to Tofino where we rented a luxury beach house that was just stunning, right on the beach for 4 nights. It was heavenly to walk that beach every day.

We went whale-watching and kayaking and had a wonderful time with Alan’s dad. On the return trip, we stayed in Osoyoos – a cool desert area of BC with delicious fruit and wine and then made our way to Fernie and home. It was a terrific road trip and rounded out our time living in the west. When I moved to Alberta, I had no idea that I would only live there for 8 years, so I’m really glad we did so much. We really had some great adventures and explored as much as we could. It’s a good reminder to live your life to the max. We had one last paddle on the Bow River, spent a lovely last Christmas in Alberta at The Deer Lodge – we skated on Lake Louise and just enjoyed not cooking or cleaning up for once... it was sweet. A few more trips to Banff and the ice sculptures at Lake Louise... one last ski day at Sunshine and a fantastic steak dinner at our favourite restaurant on 4th, Mercato.

Phalan said ‘you guys make marriage and working together seem easy!’ We self-consciously laughed and said, 'well, it hasn’t been easy but we really love each other and perhaps more importantly, we really believe in each other. We trust each other and love our similarities and differences'.

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