How B-School saved my business.

In 2014, I was having the toughest time I'd ever had in business. I had employees and big print bills, but I never seemed to be able to get out of barely getting by—a line of credit was the only thing that kept things going, issue after issue, but I wasn’t able to get to the plus side of zero. I was tired of working so hard to barely break even.

I desperately needed a mentor: someone to help me figure out what to do next. I couldn't find that sort of guidance locally and so I began looking for it online.

Before I signed up for B-School, I had a gut feeling that I'd need to make some big changes to my business. I wasn't sure what they would be, but as I went through the course, it became ever more clear that I would have to take back the control of EVERY aspect of my business. Including, in particular, the marketing and voice of my company.

With the help of Marie Forleo's amazing course and excellent advice, I decided to reboot my company—even though it meant facing some unpleasant realities. I was $50,000 in debt with the line of credit and wouldn’t have enough funds for the next print bill, let alone paying myself a salary (and I was the sole earner in my family.) Letting go of my employees was particularly painful. But I returned to a company of one to start over.

After taking a week to settle into the feelings of sadness and failure, I began to rebuild. Long-term readers might remember my very first newsletter. From that vulnerable spot, I began again.

I became more productive, my stress level went way down and I was inspired and happy to grow personally and in the business.

Taking B-School was a turning point. It let me discover the joy of business and the potential for living generously.

B-School has made such a difference in my life that I would like to share this with my community. I'm thrilled that Marie's team accepted my application of being an affiliate for a second time this year!

My readers are creative entrepreneurs like me—graphic designers, craftspeople, artisans, illustrators, makers... and like me, you've probably no official higher education in business or marketing. We've been learning by doing. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone help you through it?

Though on first impression some of the content seems geared at more of the coaching or mentoring type business, I've found that it is all applicable in one way or another and I've been able to use what I've learned in UPPERCASE as product-based business very successfully. And in the years since I took B-School, Marie Forleo and team have been adding to the course content and have built up many resources for product-based business models. I've truly benefited from the knowledge and tools that B-School offers and I revisit the course year after year to gain more insight and find new ways of connecting with my readership.

I invite you to sign up for Marie's free 3-video workshop series. Each video is around 30 minutes and full of good, actionable content.

I'm an affiliate for B-School, so I will earn a generous portion of every registration that results because of promotional efforts. I applied to be an affiliate because B-School had such a tremendously positive effect on my business and I value what I've learned.

Clever and well-designed

As one can see from UPPERCASE magazine and the books that I publish, I'm a very visual person. I love colour and typography and enjoy creating an experience with these elements. I was a freelance graphic designer for a dozen years before I transitioned into using those skills into my own products.

I’m definitely someone who judges a book by its cover—but also what’s inside! How content is presented, designed and arranged is also very important.

If you’ve been mulling over the possibility of taking B-School, I thought it might be helpful to know that the actual course environment is top notch with excellent navigation, nice typography and clear communication. There is a lot of information packed into the site, through videos, instruction, downloads and bonuses. It’s really clever how the course is sequenced. Through the interface, copy writing and fun little surprises, the B-School site excels at engaging the student—which is great, because you’ll be spending a lot of time there!

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There is a lot of content on the site, but the B-School designers manage to keep it well-organized through tabs, navigation and visual cues that show you where you are within a module and within the course overall.

In addition to the modules, there are more resources available on specific areas of building your business. After 9 years and 40,000 students, the Answer Vault really will have the most common questions answered handily.

As you can see from their launch website graphics and materials (plus check out Marie Forleo’s Stories on Instagram) B-School is very well-designed. The learning environment is unique to B-School and that is certainly one of its strengths. 

What's all this stuff about B-School? I took the course and it changed my business for the better so this year I'm an affiliate. Read my B-School story on this page.

3 things that helped me to decide about B-School

Looking back to my own decision-making process 4 years ago, here are the 3 things that helped me decide:

1. Testimonials from other B-Schoolers Reading the personal stories of other B-Schoolers was how I first was introduced to Marie Forleo and B-School. I heard about it via an email from Beth Kempton from Do What You Love, whom I had featured in a previous issue of the magazine. Once I got onto the B-School site, I went down the rabbit hole of testimonials, videos and reviews. I spent hours pouring through everything. I'd never taken such a course before and was a little wary so I read everything thoroughly and searched the web for other reviews.

2. Free Training Videos Once I was signed up to Marie's email list, the quality of information of the free training videos was really convincing. There was actionable good advice that I found really inspiring and motivating.

3. The Expense B-School is expensive ($1999 USD). This is likely the biggest obstacle to taking the course. For me, I signed up precisely when money was super tight and used my Visa to pay in full (you save a bit this way, rather than the monthly payment option). I had a new office space with big rent to pay plus employees to support. I really didn't have any extra money to spare, but I was also feeling so stressed about my business that I needed some sort of lifeline. In my mind, the investment into the course was equivalent to the seriousness in which I viewed my business. By spending that sort of money, I demonstrated my faith in the quality of what I would be taught but also that I would follow through on making it worthwhile.

So those are the things that were weighing on my mind as I was trying to decide. I'm really glad that I took that leap. I'm sure you have lots to consider, too. It's a big decision!

B-School registration is open... but just for a short time! The cart closes on March 1. After that date, you'll have to wait another calendar year before the chance to take B-School comes around again.

(IMPORTANT: if you've been looking at other affiliates' offers, please note that referrals are tracked by last click. So if you want to receive my bonus offers and for me to be credited for the referral, use my link to the registration page. Thanks!)

Something extra when you sign up for B-School through me...

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When you use my affiliate link to register, you'll also receive these UPPERCASE B-School Bonuses:

  • A complimentary one-year subscription/renewal to UPPERCASE magazine.
  • A pair of Everyday notebooks to jot down your B-School a-ha moments.
  • Access to a private UPPERCASE + B-School community and discussion board.
  • Online conference call with Janine to ask questions and share your progress with the encouraging UPPERCASE B-School community.
  • The opportunity to pitch your ideas or business concept to be published in issue 40 of UPPERCASE magazine (3 profiles available)
  • Access to creative entrepreneur productivity e-course to be released by Janine Vangool / UPPERCASE

If you'd like access to these perks, make sure that you click on my link to sign up for B-School (they track on the "last click" and attribute the sale to whichever site or link referred the sale.) Thank you, I appreciate it!

Integrity Rainbows (B-School registration is open now!)

B-School registration is open today and will remain open until March 1 at 6pm EST. Registration happens only once a year! (But once you've registered, you can take B-School every year or as often as you like. I'll be taking it for a third time this year and each time I learn something new.)

Registration includes instant access to some training videos:

#1. Start The Right Business Program

Marie calls herself a multi-passionate entrepreneur. Sometimes you have so many ideas that you're not sure where to start. This program will show you "step-by-step, how to strategically and intelligently vet your ideas to see which will have the best chance of success." It is really great to start of B-School with this sort of focus.

#2. The Follow-Through Formula Productivity Program

Marie talks you through some habits and techniques to help you succeed in B-School and in your own business and life. Following through is the only way to get things done!

If you register through my link, I will receive an affiliate commission. And you'll get some bonuses from me, too!

UPPERCASE + B-School BONUSES

  • A complimentary one-year subscription/renewal to UPPERCASE magazine.

  • A pair of Everyday notebooks to jot down your B-School a-ha moments.

  • Access to a private UPPERCASE + B-School community and discussion board.

  • Online conference call with Janine to ask questions and share your progress with the encouraging UPPERCASE B-School community.

  • The opportunity to pitch your ideas or business concept to be published in issue 40 of UPPERCASE magazine (3 profiles available)

  • Access to creative entrepreneur productivity e-course to be released by Janine Vangool / UPPERCASE

Need more information about B-School? Take a tour of the program here to see what's included in the course. If you have questions about payment plans, refunds and if B-School is right for you, please visit this page. And to read about my B-School experience and why I'm an affiliate, please visit my dedicated page. Thanks!

Entrepreneurship Q+A with Janine Vangool

Earlier this month, I was contacted by Catrina Auger, a fourth-year student at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. She's working on her Bachelor of Design and is taking a class called Creative Practice and Change. Catrina writes, "We are learning about how to better our selves for our possible future entrepreneurship. For the assignment that I am currently working on, our task is to interview entrepreneurs that we believe are great role models. UPPERCASE has been a large source of inspiration for myself during the past four years—my mother and I share a subscription and just adore all of the work you create."

Here's our conversation:

 

How did you know that you were ready to take on and start your own business? 

After graduating from the Alberta College of Art in 1995, I had a “real” job working for a design company in Calgary for about 9 months. Just long enough to realize that that particular firm was not a good fit for me! I had a few freelance opportunities and left that day job to pursue my own path. I wasn’t particularly ready to start my own business, but I was ready to leave an environment where I wasn’t valued or treated respectfully. I’ve been my own boss ever since.


Do you feel that freelancing gave you enough experience to create your own business?

I was fortunate that my first freelance contract was a long-term one, and one that introduced me to lots of really nice people who continued to hire me for other projects. So my first business, Vangool Design + Typography, started off immediately with my first freelance gig.


Did you have any prior knowledge of business before starting? Such as taking a course in business and or finance.

Zero training! It was learn by doing, trial and error.


When did you realize and or discover what type of business you wanted to create?

I had always thought I’d have my own design firm—I just didn’t imagine it would happen so soon. I was only 22 or 23 when I started my company. I thought I’d work for someone else (my dream job was to work for a publisher like Chronicle Books) for a few years to gain experience before setting off on my own. I loved having my own design firm (company of one!) and I had excellent clients in the arts, culture and publishing fields. I was fortunate to work with nice people and good companies.

I did freelance for a dozen years before starting to yearn for different challenges. In 2005, I opened a space downtown called UPPERCASE gallery, books & papergoods in Art Central. It was a 3-storey complex with artist studios, galleries and creative companies. I continued to do freelance design from that space, but the front-facing and public aspect was that of a gallery and bookstore. It was a fun and exciting challenge to fill the retail aspect and I began to design and make products to sell. I dabbled in greeting card designs that were available wholesale across Canada, handmade notebooks, sewn objects, vintage type packages, workshops… I tried lots of things.

In 2007, I organized a funny gallery show about William Shatner featuring 76 illustrations of him. To accompany the show, I published my first book. A hardcover tome featuring the artwork plus commentary. Through that project, I realized my dream of becoming a publisher. From then, I experimented with other ways to publish books and, eventually, UPPERCASE magazine.

By 2010, UPPERCASE magazine was a year old and I had a baby, too. So I decided to close up the gallery and retail, officially retire from design for clients, and focus solely on publishing. (And being a mom, too!)


What are some key points that you believe a future entrepreneur should make sure to complete before starting their own business?

I don’t know if there’s anything that you need to “complete” necessarily, but creative entrepreneurs should have organizations skills, be good with scheduling and have a disciplined work ethic. You can be creative with the work that you do, but having structure to how you do the work is important.


Having your husband help and support you and your business, do you feel that it would be better for a new entrepreneur to have family and or friends to help them start off?

My husband has always been encouraging of my many ventures and helped out a great deal back in the gallery days, but it hasn’t been until just a couple years ago that he officially began working within UPPERCASE, handling customer support. In the earlier days of the magazine, his contribution was looking after our son during the day so that I could go to the studio to concentrate on getting things done. It is definitely nice to have a support system and encouragement, but not a requirement. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!


Through all of the projects that you have worked on, how do you find time for all of them? Are there any time management strategies that you use?

In publishing a quarterly magazine, I have to be very disciplined when it comes to timelines and schedules. My readers expect each issue to arrive at a certain time. Being committed to that schedule is one of the reasons I think UPPERCASE magazine is still around 9 years later. My readers can trust that I will deliver.

Over time—and 36 issues in—I have developed systems of organization that help me through the cycle of publishing. I don’t need to reinvent things time and again, I do things a certain way that works for me. I’ve also become a better editor and curator. So as I’ve honed my skills, I’ve create more time to explore additional projects like publishing more books in addition to the magazine.


With running your own business, is it hard to juggle your work and your personal life?

I don’t see it as a juggle. My business is part of my life, it is very personal to me. My family sees how UPPERCASE supports us and benefits us. My schedule is flexible in some of the day-to-day aspects, so I can spend time at home with my child or we can go on trips together. It’s integrated with our lives. There’s balance.


After having a period of time where the popularity of the magazine was low, and having to make the hard decision to lay off a team member; how did you accomplish to recover and grow your brand to where it is today?

It wasn’t that the popularity of the magazine was low, actually, but that having numerous employees was costing a lot of money. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to harness the time and investment of the team to grow the company large enough to keep up with their salaries. I thought more people would equal more productivity would equal more growth. It turns out that equation was wrong. 

It was an excruciating decision to lay people off, but it had reached a point where I wouldn’t be able to pay all the bills. During that time, I had invested in the first business training I’d ever had—I enrolled in Marie Forleo’s B-School. It’s an 8-week course that teaches marketing and connects you to your ideal customers and business model. The course gave me some practical and applicable skills while validating a lot of things I had been feeling I should be doing in my business but hadn’t been due to the burden of employee management and salaries. Because of that course, I had the courage to reboot my company, lay people off (which was unfortunate but necessary) and start with a fresh approach. Within months, I was out of the financial hole and my business was profitable again.

Full disclosure: this year I applied to be a B-School affiliate and was accepted! It was such a life and business-changing course that I want to help promote it. This year’s course starts in March and I’m sharing my experiences about it in my newsletter and on my blog.


Living in the digital age, did you find it necessary to market yourself and your brand through social media and the internet?

Yes, it is necessary to market oneself through social media. That’s just how it is. But having solid products and skills are the first order of business! I concentrate on making nice things and keeping my customers happy—and then positive testimonials from my readers is the best, natural form of promotion.


When starting your business, were there any goals that you set for yourself and your brand to achieve? Was there a point in the last nine years where you felt that UPPERCASE met and or surpassed your creative goals? 

I’ve set measurable goals over the years. When I launched the magazine, it was to reach 1,000 subscribers. Then it was to get to 3,000… 4,000. My subscriber base is at around 5,000 now, so I’m aiming for 6,000! I don’t necessarily have to reach that next milestone, but it is motivating to have a destination in mind. And I’ve always got multiple projects on the go. In the last two years, in addition to the magazine, I’ve published 3 books as part of the UPPERCASE Encylopedia of Inspiration. The reception for that project was great and I loved putting those books together. So I’m doing it again! The next 4 volumes of the Encyclopedia are in the works.

I’m also launching another magazine this year. Little U is the offspring of UPPERCASE, a smaller and cuter version for the young at heart. It will be published in April.


With having nearly 500 new subscriptions after partnering with Tree Era, do you find that it is necessary to keep up with public issues in order to keep growing and updating your business?

One of the benefits of having a financially stable business is that I can invest some funds into things that matter to me. So in addition to monthly donations to Unicef and Doctors without Borders, I am partnering with Calgary-based TreeEra. For every new subscription or renewal this year, a tree will be planted. So far, the equivalent of 477 trees have been purchased since the start of the year! I’m also factoring a donation to Unicef as part of my planning for Little U. Being a socially conscious human—and by extension business owner—is important to me. And I think it is important to my customers, too.

Catrina  sent me this lovely thank you note in the mail, a customized drawing of a vintage sign! Thanks, Catrina!

Catrina sent me this lovely thank you note in the mail, a customized drawing of a vintage sign! Thanks, Catrina!

Why I needed B-School—and how it helped me keep and grow my business.

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When I enrolled in B-School in 2014, I was having the toughest time I'd ever had in business. I had employees and big print bills, but I never seemed to be able to get out of barely getting by—a line of credit was the only thing that kept things going, issue after issue. I was searching for a mentor, someone to help me figure out what to do next. I couldn't find that sort of guidance locally and so I began looking for it online.

Before I signed up for B-School, I had a gut feeling that I'd need to make some big changes to my business. I wasn't sure what they would be, but as I went through the course, it become more clear that I would have to take back the control of EVERY aspect of my business. Including, in particular, the marketing and voice of my company.

Thanks to Marie Forleo's amazing course and excellent advice, I was able to "reboot" my company. Even though it meant facing some painful realities such as letting go of employees and returning to a company of one.

Read more about my B-School story...