September 24, 2013


When you’re running a non-business event, finding a free venue is a challenge. We’re using Toronto as the example but the ideas apply elsewhere too.

You’d think you could get free space at taxpayer-funded locations like libraries or community centres. Unfortunately, the nice ones often charge user fees. In Toronto, nonprofit and charitable groups can get free space if sponsored by a city councillor.

If your group doesn’t qualify, you can meet at a coffee shop but you’re not guaranteed seating. Some locations are large or have a separate room. Just don’t count on getting a whiteboard, privacy or silence.

You might get space in a restaurant or bar if your group makes minimum purchases. I was once invited to debate in a semi-private restaurant room on a slow evening. The attendance was great (50+) but there was a party at tables nearby and we didn’t have microphones. Good for the restaurant. Not so good for us.

Thompson Block - ING DIRECT Cafe in Downtown TorontoCorporate Space

You might be able to get free space at an ING DIRECT Cafe (might change now that Scotiabank bought them).
“The Thompson Block as well as the ING DIRECT CafĂ© space are available at no charge to community groups for public meetings and events every day of the week.”
What if you’re not a community group? What if you want to hold regular meetings?

Nontraditional Ideas

Can you meet in the evening? There’s lots of space in cafeterias and food courts outside of lunch time. I wouldn’t pick the mall food court but a nonprofit like a university, college or hospital may work. If they’re large, they are likely relatively quiet.

Maybe you can commandeer a study room or lecture hall at a university or college. Again, evenings are best. Unless they check ID or have overzealous security, this might work. Advertising the location may be a problem. The gathering group could attract questions.

If you don’t want to be a trespasser, the safer option is to pay for reserved space. You don’t need to ask for permission. You’ve got a guaranteed spot.

Rent a room at the Toronto Public Library (click to enlarge)Affordable

If you’re part of a real nonprofit, you may be able to get lower rates. For instance, the Toronto Public Library rents rooms starting at
  • $20.40/hour for nonprofit groups
  • $122.40/hour for commercial use
If you’re an insider or can connect with insiders, you might get lower rates (or even free space). For instance, the University of Toronto rents rooms starting at
  • $8/hour for internal groups including audio-visual equipment (seats 80)
  • $26/hour for external groups plus audio visual equipment (seats 25)
Rent a room at the University of Toronto (click to enlarge)Ryerson University has a history of hosting many free community-based events like Podcamp Toronto. However, their normal rates look pricey (minimum half-day plus setup fee).


I’ve been looking for a proper spot for a campus for Krypton Community College (see a genuine innovation in free lifelong education). Here “proper” means a room with tables, a whiteboard and a door.

Overall, the University of Toronto looks like the best place after work. The classrooms are affordable (under $10 a week based on 10 attendees). There’s subway access (north/south and west/east lines). Parking is plentiful and relatively cheap. The environment feels right. There’s lots of space outside the room. Perfect.

Picking the right venue helps attract the right people. Maybe they're the ones willing to pay for the room?


PS Do you know of amazing free or low cost venues?

September 17, 2013


under the microscopeThe hiring process consumes vast resources — especially attention. Yet you can't tell if you're hiring the right person. Sorry.

As the divorce rates show, we’re not great at picking a mate either. We’re easy to fool.

Public Face or Private Place?

Candidates construct a facade and provide references from well-meaning sources who cannot be objective. As the mutual fund fineprint says, past performance doesn't guarantee future results. Yet the past get used to imply a future at least as bright. Your biases get in the way too.

Malcolm Gladwell says we learn more in minutes in a private place (not meant to be seen) than from months examining a public face (meant to be seen). Employers can’t examine bedrooms but there is a substitute.

What’s more private than your thoughts?

Granted, we self-censor what we communicate but hints of the truth peek through as the quantity grows. Online content forms a digital tapestry that’s quick and easy to examine.

Then Now and Then

You're hiring today for an unpredictable future. On 9/10, you can't tell how a candidate will perform on your equivalent of 9/11 and 9/12.

Given the right (or wrong) circumstances, great candidates flounder while the lousy-but-lucky flourish. As with politicians, we can't tell who's who until afterwards. Deciding is tough.
The WRAP methodology
I've hired badly and have seen too many bad hires. The basic experience, credentials, skills and fit were in place. The ability to adapt was not.

When hiring people who work remotely (say in sales), you can't see them regularly and their self-reporting is biased. There's always a big opportunity on the way ... and explanations for what went wrong due to circumstances which could not be controlled. It's easier to dismiss poor performance than dismiss a poor hire (Entrepreneur, mistake #4).

Signs To Mind

When hiring, look for proof of

The "Free Prize"

When the hiring process identifies more than one candidate who can do the basic work well, how to decide? As with an Android phone, the extras make the difference (ease of use with Moto X vs better specs with Samsung). As books and movies show, it's difficult to identify who will matter later. Gollum would fail the interview process but make a better guide than Google Maps or Mordor.

When you hire wrong, the big cost comes from the opportunities lost. Those we can’t quantify until we're able to run simulations in parallel universes.


PS There’s also the risk of losing your great hires (see

September 10, 2013


vegetables are healthyBoo hoo.
We don't have time.
We don't know how.
We might make mistakes.

These common explanations or reasons or excuses hold us back. Except when a sickness or another emergency rearranges our priorities


When you're sick, you're forced to make time. You're forced to learn how to get the  treatment. You’re motivated to overcome mistakes that could delay or complicate your recovery. Sickness makes us equal. Even billionaires have to adjust (Steve Jobs “buttoned up”), though having money buys more attention and brings more options.


How strange that we have time for sickness but not for health.

For health, we face no crisis or deadline. When sickness strikes fast, it's easy to blame bad luck, especially if you catch the latest disease that’s in the news. When the consequences come slowly (e.g. from poor diet, inadequate exercise, excessive stress) we know who suffers. It’s tougher to tell who’s to blame.

Lest We Forget

Soon enough, we go back to our normal. We forget that …
… we have lots of time.
… we have lots of know how.
… we we learn from mistakes.

You know of actions you could take to make your business better. Just because the steps aren’t urgent doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Even today, you can do business without a website, without being on LinkedIn, without having a smartphone. It's just that your results will likely suffer. The longer you wait, the further behind you get. Once you decide to act, you're at a significant disadvantage. Spending money may not be enough. As with exercise, you need time and what you learn along the way.

As Bruce Cockburn sang, the trouble with normal is it always gets worse. That means we better get better.


PS Start today. Tomorrow is 9/11.

September 3, 2013


Is recycling your target?You want people to read and share your content but lives are busy. They may not even notice, lack immediate interest or forget.

When you recycle content, you help them re-discover what you’ve already done.

1. Build To Last

To warrant future attention, your content needs to last. You can write about something which is of the moment but for similar effort, you can write something with future appeal too.

You may need to explain the interconnections.

For instance, my recent post about whether it’s better to pre-announce or ship compares strategies at Apple, Blackberry, Google and Microsoft. Blackberry had just announced they were for sale, which made the post timely. There are still ways to refer back to this post years later. Perhaps a company will have disappeared or changed strategies.

2. Build To Find

If your content is easy to find with a web search, you increase the chances of rediscovery with no further action from you (e.g., case study). You can’t count on this though.

You help with rediscovery when you embed links in your new content. I put links throughout my posts and at the bottom too. This allows readers to easily click to read something else (though not all links are to content I’ve created).

3. Build To Share

Content is easiest to share when all that’s needed is a click of a button. Social networks are your friend. You expand your reach when you have already built audiences on them. A newsletter is another mechanism, though sharing is often more complicated.

You may like creating PDFs, but they are awkward to read on a smartphone, consume bandwidth and take up storage space. Copy/pasting can be a hassle too. How do you track readership? Instead, you could put highlights in an easy-to-share-and-track blog post with links to the PDF.


When I write a blog post, here are the steps for initial readership
  • automatic tweet
  • manual posting on Google+
  • manual update on LinkedIn
  • inclusion in a monthly newsletter
School restarted today. I re-shared content from prior years (this and this) rather than writing something fresh.

This is Life Insurance Awareness Month. My new post about Boomer Esiason has links to timeless posts about prior spokespeople like Buddy Valastro, Lamar Odom and Leslie Bibb.

When there's a major storm, I've got ready-to-go content about inaccurate weather forecasts or snow plows or power failures or the aftermath.

As you create more content, you'll see more connections between what’s happening and you’ve already got. That creates more opportunities to recycle.


PS It’s A Wonderful Life gets recycled each Christmas.