Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to Acquire a New Skill

We are blessed to live in an extraordinary epoch of human history. At our fingertips is a repository of information (the internet) that most of our ancestors could scarcely have imagined. On the other hand, ours in an era in which the aptitudes demanded by employers and businesses is in near-constant flux. The ability to adapt and acquire new skills is a necessity for anyone who aspires to get ahead in the modern economy.

But the benefits of acquiring a new skill extend far beyond the professional realm. By picking up a new hobby, learning a new language, or mastering a new technique, you can broaden your social circle and increase your understanding of the world. You may even stand a better chance of avoiding dementia later in life.

At first, the task of learning something new will often seem daunting. However, if you approach the challenge the right way, the process needn’t be all that complicated.

  Break it down.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice for anyone who faces a seemingly enormous endeavour. Many big projects comprise a series of smaller, discrete components, each of which may be completed with relative ease.

  Baby steps.

This point flows naturally from the last. Once you have deconstructed a major endeavour into a series of constituent parts, set a reasonable pace for yourself as you work toward completing each one. If your object is to learn a foreign language, or how to encode computer software, limit yourself to a lesson or two every day. Don’t concern yourself too much with the destination; focus instead on the process, and on mastering the specific baby step you’re taking right now.


Can you think of a person who excels at the skill you’re attempting to cultivate? What does that individual do very well? What are her habits? How did she get so good?

The practice of inheriting aptitudes by observation and emulation, also known as modeling, is a pattern of behaviour common to both humans and animals. Children practice a form of modeling instinctively when they learn to speak, read, write, and recognize important features of their environment. When striving to gain a new skill, it helps to think like a child (where modeling is concerned, at least).

  Be patient.

Few skills can be acquired overnight, and everyone learns at her own pace. By placing undue pressure on yourself to develop a skill rapidly, you will risk sapping the fun out of the activity. This is counterproductive; your brain won’t build new neural pathways as effectively if you allow yourself to become frustrated or distracted by “If only” thoughts. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes in the course of learning.

  Be disciplined.

Set aside a certain amount of time each day for the acquisition of the desired skill. Make a habit of it, and stick to the plan. Even if you can spare no more than ten minutes per day for the activity in question, you will find that your progress, albeit slow, will be positive and fairly constant. However, if you neglect to exercise the proper mental (or physical) muscles for a while, rust will start to form, and you may experience setbacks in the learning process.

  Look forward, and occasionally...back.

While it’s obviously important to have a goal in mind and “keep your eyes on the prize,” it can be very gratifying to occasionally reflect on the progress you’ve made so far. This can be particularly heartening in those moments when you feel you’re struggling. After all, there’s little point in giving up if you’re already halfway to your goal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Guidelines for Pitching to the Media

There is arguably no form of advertising more effective than a favourable news story, broadcast segment, or article in an industry publication. The endorsement of a trusted media professional can expand your prospective market, and engender public trust and goodwill toward you and your business. Many businesspeople appreciate the importance of effective media relations, but there is a right way, and countless wrong ways, to communicate with media outlets.

This post will recommend some general best practices for business marketing communications with the media, and detail a few “pet peeves” to avoid.

  #1 rule of thumb: Respect media professionals’ time.

Media professionals tend to have full schedules, and are obliged to keep their interactions with PR and marketing departments brief. If you respect their time—or better yet, can save them time—there is a greater likelihood that they will respond positively to your pitch.

  Personalize your communications with media professionals.

Many journalists and industry writers specialize in a particular subject area—or, in media lingo, a beat. How familiar are you with the recent work of the journalist, publication, or news organization you hope to reach? Have you been in touch with anyone at that that outlet before? Who are its competitors?

Before you pitch story ideas to writers, editors, or broadcasters, make a point of getting to know them and the sort of stories they cover. This will improve your chances of delivering information that is both relevant to them, and of interest to their regular readers/audience.

Each e-mail should be tailored specifically to one individual—avoid sending identical bulk e-mails to many different people.

Always confirm the name, gender, and appropriate honorific of the person to whom your e-mail is addressed before you hit the “send” button.

Don’t pitch to a media professional unless you’re reasonably confident that person will be interested, and hasn’t recently covered a very similar or identical topic. Otherwise, you will give the impression that you’re a self-promoter who can’t be bothered to do your homework—not a good start.

  Get right to the point.

The majority of “hard news” stories are written in the inverted-pyramid format—the most compelling pieces of information appear in the lead sentence, and then greater detail and context follow. Likewise, marketing communications on behalf of your business should be succinct and lead with the most eye-catching pieces of news right away. Toward the end of the text, provide times, locations, and contact information to facilitate follow-up calls and/or e-mails.

Some marketing departments try to entice media professionals to pursue a story by strategically withholding information. Don’t do this. The people you’re trying to reach will rarely take the bait, and may even resent your efforts to sidetrack them.

  Learn each media professional’s preferred mode of interaction.

Many media professionals don’t mind follow-up phone calls, but some prefer to confine all of their interactions with marketing departments to e-mail. Once you know the preferred medium of the person you’re trying to reach, make a note of it. Don’t call up people who prefer not to receive phone calls, or send the same e-mail to the same person multiple times over the course of a day.

When the time comes, be prepared to take “no” for an answer.

  Clarity, concision, and quality are important.

Try to convey your message in as few words as possible, while avoiding insider jargon and rambling. In many cases, time-constrained media professionals will simply re-purpose press releases and publish them as news or advertorial stories, or transform them into broadcast segments. The better they understand the content of your communicational materials, the quicker and easier this will be for them.

  When in doubt, hold off.

It is not unusual for some media professionals to receive hundreds of e-mails and dozens of phone calls each day. So pick your spots, and hold off unless you’re reasonably confident that your pitch is buzz-worthy. If possible, seek the opinion of a disinterested third party whom you trust not to leak privileged information. Is s/he as excited about the story as you are?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Professional Corporations

A professional corporation is a corporation engaged in providing professional services where a member of a profession governed by its professional body allows its members to practice through a corporation as opposed to a sole proprietorship or partnership. Each professional governing body may have its own set of rules requiring certain formalities to be respected. Below are the typical requirements of professional corporations. However, it is suggested that you contact your governing body before you proceed with the incorporation of a professional corporation.

Which professions can incorporate a professional corporation?

Legislation typically requires that only those professions that are governed by a professional governing body or association as provided by law can incorporate a professional corporation. Each province has different laws and rules as to which professions have these governing bodies. Generally, professions that can incorporate a professional corporation include: Accountants, Architects, Attorneys, Physicians, Dentists, Veterinarians and Engineers among others.

Formation and Operation

A professional corporation resembles a business corporation, requiring compliance with corporate law and the rules and regulations of professional licensing bodies. A professional corporation is formed in the same manner as a business corporation, except that it typically has one or several of the following additional limitations, depending on the jurisdiction:
  1. All shares of stock of the corporation (or a minimum percentage) must be owned and held by individuals licensed in the profession of the corporation.
  2. At least one incorporator must be licensed in the profession.
  3. At least one director (or a majority, or even exclusively) must be licensed in the profession.
  4. The articles of incorporation, in addition to all other requirements, must limit the activities of the corporation to the profession.
  5. The professional corporation may be required to obtain from the appropriate professional body a certification that the shares of stock are owned by individuals who are duly licensed in the profession.
  6. Professional corporations are typically required to use the name of the professional as part of the corporate name. They are also required to have the words "Professional Corporation" as part of its legal name.
Moreover, the professional corporation may be required to obtain a certificate of registration from the professional body finding that no disciplinary action is pending before the professional body against any of the licensed directors, shareholders, or employees of the corporation. The certificate of registration may be required to be renewed as often as required by law or by the regulations of the professional body. Professional corporations may be subject to additional limitations and regulations imposed by their respective professional bodies.

Liability Issues

A professional corporation offers its shareholders limited liability in certain areas. Generally, a shareholder is liable for the debts and liabilities of the corporation to the extent of his or her investment. Personal assets usually are not at risk. Exceptions include:
  • The shareholder personally guarantees a business debt.
  • Piercing of the corporate veil.
  • Professional malpractice.
Liability for professional malpractice is typically limited to three circumstances: (a) the liability arises from the malpractice of the individual owner; (b) The individual owner supervised or directed the person who committed the malpractice; or (c) the individual owner was directly involved in the specific activity which resulted in the malpractice.

Officers, directors, employees, and agents of the corporation may be held personally responsible for liabilities arising out of their services to the corporation. The corporation may indemnify its officers, directors, employees, and agents for costs and expenses incurred as a result of such liabilities. Also, the corporation may buy insurance covering its officers, directors, employees, and agents for liabilities arising out of their services to the corporation.

If the business poses a threat of personal injury or property damage, limited liability may be important. However, adequate business insurance is essential to protect the business from overwhelming legal liabilities resulting from personal injury or property damage.

Period of Existence

A professional corporation has a less stable business life than a business corporation due to the dependence on its members. For example:
  1. The death or disqualification of a shareholder or employee may result in the dissolution of the corporation.
  2. If a licensed officer, shareholder, agent, or employee of a professional corporation becomes disqualified to provide professional services, he or she must sever all employment with and financial interest in the corporation. Failure to comply may be grounds for forfeiture of the corporation's certificate of incorporation and its dissolution.
  3. A professional corporation must report the death of a shareholder to the appropriate professional body within 30 days of the date of death. Within one year, all shares owned by the deceased shareholder must be acquired by the professional corporation or by persons qualified to own them.
  4. A professional body may suspend or revoke the certificate of registration of the professional corporation if :
    1. The corporation fails to remove or discharge an officer, director, shareholder, or employee whose license to practice is suspended or revoked.
    2. The professional corporation has failed to comply with provisions of the Professional Corporation Act or the regulations of the professional body.
If the certificate of registration is suspended or revoked, the corporation must stop providing professional services, and the Secretary of State will remove the corporation from active status.

To proceed with the incorporation of a professional corporation, click here.