Warren Wilansky Believes In Creating A Culture That Works

Owner Stories: Warren Wilansky, Founder, Plank, Montreal, Quebec

This story is a really special one for us as Warren Wilansky and I go back over 30 years. We met at summer camp, where Warren lead a unit of 11- and 12-year old boys and staff aged 17 to 19. It was then that I started to appreciate Warren’s leadership abilities and knew that he would one day go on to create something special.

And that something special is Plank, the web design company he founded right here in Montreal over 20 years ago. What’s so amazing about Plank is not just the agency’s longevity, but how they thrive through their culture. It’s something very important to Warren and his partner Steve and they work hard to create an atmosphere that people want to be associated with. In this interview, we jump into the agency’s history and dive into the culture that makes it all work.

Our interview with Warren is below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, make sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series.

Interview with Warren Wilansky, Founder of Plank

10|20 Marketing: I appreciate you taking the time for us, Warren! How about we start with a little bit of background? How did you get into web development and how was Plank born?

Warren Wilansky: I had been a computer hobbyist since I bought my first Apple IIe in 1984, but it wasn’t until I started taking what was then called Multimedia classes in university that something clicked. I finally saw that my love of computers could translate into a platform for creativity and communication. Once I saw what the internet was developing into, I decided to teach myself HTML so that I could design and build websites. Shortly after, someone started to pay me as a freelancer and then a full-time employee, because of that skill, I was hooked. I was at first shocked that I could make a living at something I would have done for fun.

Over the first 18 months out of university, I worked a few different jobs and found that there wasn’t the same type of interest in the design and user experience of the websites we were building. I had the crazy idea that myself and a couple of friends could pool all of our freelance work together and start our own company building websites. It’s almost 23 years later, and I’m still here.

10|20 Marketing: What would you say some of your biggest challenges were when you started out? How did you get on a path to real growth and how long did that take?

Warren Wilansky: The biggest challenge was that we didn’t plan for or understand the fundamentals of running a company. We learned as we went along and assumed that we were doing the right things. It was only about a decade into running the company that I started to get to know some other peers and confirmed that some of what we were doing made sense and some didn’t!

As far as real growth, I was always quite hesitant about it, and we went out of our way to try and keep the team small (less than 15 people) and limit the number of projects that we took on. It’s only been in the last two years that our hesitancy has gone away, and it’s mainly not because of a need to grow or make much more money. We now have a team and culture that is at its strongest, and we want to share it with more people.

So, real growth took 20 years. 🙂

10|20 Marketing: Let’s delve into Plank’s culture, which I know is a big source of pride for you and the company as a whole. Can you talk a little bit about what’s important to you, your employees and why it all has come together to create such a strong culture and identity for Plank?

Warren Wilansky: One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt over the past few years is that we need to be extremely clear and honest about who we are and what matters to us. We didn’t articulate our vision or values for a long time because we assumed that everyone knew what they were or would figure them out. Our assumptions would always leave someone who joined the team feeling a bit lost and unsure of themselves.

So we identified five core values — Empathy, Collaboration, Evolution, Accountability and doing Work that Matters — and made it clear that everyone needs to live up to them. We offered a benchmark set of expectations for everyone to focus on.

Another element that the current team has fully embraced is that we need to have complete and total trust in each other to have a healthy culture. We needed to know that everyone could depend on everyone else. Being honest and transparent allowed for a culture of vulnerability and the space for everyone to flourish and grow.

10|20 Marketing: So what’s next for Plank? Where do you see the business headed in the next five to ten years?

Warren Wilansky: My answer to that question is probably more consequential than any other time in the company’s history. In addition to continuing on a steady but accelerated growth path, our goal is to prepare some people to become the next generation of leadership at Plank.

Our goal is to make sure that everything that Plank has become can continue with the same core values moving forward. In addition, we hope that we can develop a team that can also infuse the company with their energy and values. Finally, we want for decades to come to continue to create some of the highest quality digital projects for fantastic clients and partners.

10|20 Marketing: That’s awesome, Warren. Love how you see the future. Last question. What advice would you give people who are looking to break into your industry? What skills should they focus on, assuming they’re looking to build websites? What traits do you look for in a hire?

Warren Wilansky: Given how diverse the roles can be at Plank, there are many different ways to become a part of a team like ours. While one could be a generalist and try and manage all aspects of a website project, we get much better results by letting people specialize in different aspects such as Project Management, Design and Development. Each of those roles can also be broken down into even more defined roles.

As we are trying to hire people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, we will be open to as many different traits as we can be. But, on the other hand, being organized, helpful and present will mean that you will fit in great with our team.

10|20 Marketing: Thanks for your time, Warren! This has been great. Any last words of wisdom?

Warren Wilansky: I should share with you one of the most important initiatives we recently launched, our Ethical Web Design Framework. So my words of wisdom are, please join us in trying to make the internet a better place.

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This interview is part of our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to mark@10-twenty.com. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.

Blue Whale’s Nikki Gillingham Puts Content Into Marketing

Owner Stories, Nikki Gillingham, President, Blue Whale Communications, Kelowna, British Columbia

Nikki Gillingham is a content wizard, able to take a topic, learn all about it and turn a subject into likeable, relatable content. And that’s what social media, and in turn, Blue Whale Communications are all about. It’s the variety of clients that keeps Nikki buzzing, as she loves to learn about new people, industries and services and help clients of all different business types succeed online. From a personal standpoint, we’ve been working and collaborating with Nikki for over a year now, and we’re always impressed with Blue Whale’s output. So we were excited when she agreed to participate in our Owner Stories series.

Our interview with Nikki is below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, make sure to read our Owner Stories series and remember to support local businesses in any way you can while these physical distancing restrictions are in place.

10|20 Marketing: Thanks for participating, Nikki! So how did you get into social media, and what is the origin of your business?

Nikki Gillingham: Thanks for the opportunity, Mark!

When I was in school for Communications and PR, social media wasn’t even a part of our projects, aside from including some Tweets in our communication strategies! After graduating, I worked in marketing and communications for several years, from government agencies to national organizations to small non-profits. Social media was a growing but small aspect of the work I was doing.

4.5 years ago, when I started Blue Whale Communications, the intent was to be focused heavily on strategy development and content marketing. However, the requests I kept receiving were often for social media support. So I took the strategy and content and applied it to social media, focusing on gaining leads instead of followers, and things took off from there!

10|20 Marketing: That’s excellent, Nikki! Often the marketing dictates the direction you go in. I was once told that it would take at least five years to figure out what your business will be. Are you there yet? How do you see Blue Whale evolving?

Nikki Gillingham: That’s a good question! At the risk of putting words in my own mouth… I think we’re getting there! We are now at the point where social media management is the core of the business, and I’d like to see that continue to grow. I have brought on several freelance content creators to the team, and we’re really taking Blue Whale from ‘online business’ to ‘agency,’ which is exciting! The extra support allows me to work more on the business instead of in it. I’m taking the opportunity to coach those interested in learning and doing it themselves and launched an online course for those interested well. So I think Blue Whale has settled into a nice rhythm. We’ll continue to expand on the current business model, which is a combination of done-for-you social media management services and coaching or consulting. Of course, ask me again in 12 months, and my response might be totally different!

10|20 Marketing: I might ask you again next year! So what’s your wheelhouse in terms of clientele? Do you service a specific type of business, or is your client roster more random? An immediate follow-up to that question is, If you have an ideal client, how would you describe it?

Nikki Gillingham: One of the things I absolutely love about running an agency versus when I worked in the field as an employee is getting to work with clients in all different industries – it’s fascinating, I learn so much! The majority of our clients are small, service-based businesses, for example, laser and aesthetics clinics, wineries, dentists, real estate agents and brokerages, nutrition coaches, and even other communications agencies and consultants. It’s really all over the map, and it’s a lot of fun! An ideal client for social media management services is a business owner with an established business, already earning consistent revenue, and who wants to generate more leads with a smarter social media strategy.

For the coaching aspect, ideal clients are either new to business and entrepreneurship and want to create their own unique marketing strategy. They have an admin overseeing some of the marketing work and want them to optimize what they are already doing. We offer a 1-hour strategy call called a Power Hour. It’s an opportunity for anyone to hop on a video call and ask me any questions they have at all about marketing and social media. I get to chat with everyone from those whose businesses haven’t launched yet, to those with 20+ years of experience wanting a fresh perspective.

10|20 Marketing: Love it! You certainly know who you’re after and how to attract new clients. Let’s switch topics now. I want to ask you what your thoughts have been about the last year. How has your business adapted? Have you seen a change in how your clients are approaching their marketing?

Nikki Gillingham: The past year has been one for the books, hasn’t it? Initially, things really slowed for Blue Whale – marketing is always the first thing that gets cut from budgets! But that opened the door for me to pivot into the coaching space and allowed me to create the online course and other offers at a lower price point. So the second arm of Blue Whale really grew out of the pandemic. I don’t know if marketing, in particular, has changed so much as life in general has – of course, many had to move online, and that change in operations changed the overall messaging.

Instead of booking appointments, salons are suggesting products that to purchase for at-home care. Instead of promoting gym memberships, health and fitness experts share at-home workouts, renting equipment out, or offering virtual classes. The other big question is, when you go from seeing loyal customers regularly to not at all, how do you maintain that relationship? Maybe that’s where the marketing has shifted (or rather, more businesses are embracing the online side of it). We see more faces on social media as owners go there to share their stories and stay connected with their audiences.

10|20 Marketing: Do you see a one-size-fits-all approach with social media for your clients, or do you see some networks work better for certain types of businesses? Do you have favourite networks? What else do you do? Email, content writing, other approaches?

Nikki Gillingham: I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach, but I think all platforms can work for all businesses. Even when we’re in the B2B – or Business to Business – market, at the end of the day, a human is on the other end making those decisions for the company. That human goes home at the end of the day and scrolls through Instagram, watches videos on YouTube, or chats with friends on Facebook. All places where they can inadvertently discover your business when they’re not thinking about business. That’s why messaging and understanding your audience is so important, more so than the platform you’re on. That’s not to say all businesses should be on all platforms, but I don’t think one platform over another will make or break a business.

Personally, I love Instagram. It has a higher engagement rate than other platforms, meaning users are more likely to interact with content than elsewhere. I’ve built real, genuine connections on that platform and have made new friends, business connections and generated leads from showing up and talking to people. THAT’S what social media for business is all about – having fun, building connections, and generating leads in the process.

Besides social media, we also manage email marketing, blogging and copywriting, and even basic website design.

10|20 Marketing: Nikki, thanks so much for taking the time for us. We loved spending this time with you!

Nikki Gillingham: Thank you! I had fun too!

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This interview is part of our Owner Stories series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to mark@10-twenty.com. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.

Sorin Pavelesco knows how to tell a story with the right frame of mind

Owner Stories: Sorin Pavelesco, Creative Director/Owner, Sorin Media, Montreal, Quebec

We met Sorin Pavelesco through our membership in The Networking Club here in the West Island of Montreal. Sorin has had an important impact on our group and he regularly shares the importance of visual branding and storytelling to further a company’s message. He understands how vital it it is to not only listen to his clients, but distil the information he’s been given into beautifully shot videos that highlight the client’s business. Through the process of putting together this interview, we’ve gotten to know Sorin a little bit better too, seeing his meticulous thought process put to action via the answers to these questions. We encourage you to read all about Sorin’s business below and reach out to him should you have any video needs.

Our interview with Sorin is below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, make sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. Also remember to support local businesses in any way you can while these physical distancing restrictions are in place.

Interview with Sorin Pavelesco, branding specialist (design, video and music)

10|20 Marketing: Hi, Sorin! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. So tell me a little bit about your business and core services.

Sorin Pavelesco: I am a digital content producer, which means that I create content for my clients to help them brand themselves on social media platforms and the web. Because of my vast experience in branding and advertising I realized along the way that I’m very good at listening to the client’s story, distilling the information and identifying the key points and messages that need to be brought forth. Having taken journalism classes way back and having collaborated with many talented copywriters throughout the years I also realized that I have strong writing skills and this has really helped me when I need to write a script or narrative for my clients’ promotional videos. The real skill is to say a lot with few words. Everybody is competing for your attention and you don’t have a lot of time to tell your story. Classic elevator pitch!

Once the script is solid and agreed upon I start filming.

10|20 Marketing: What kind of videos do you make?

Sorin Pavelesco: I have filmed corporate testimonials, product launches, events, concerts, business spotlights, music videos and short documentaries. The range is quite varied as you can see. The editing is the third part of the process and this is where everything comes to life. The magic happens here. I also happen to be an accomplished music producer with my own recording studio and so I naturally compose the music to all my videos… this is extremely rewarding!

10|20 Marketing: So tell me a little bit about how your business has evolved over the years.

Sorin Pavelesco: Regarding the evolution of my business I would say this: 20 years ago people said that if you didn’t have a website you might as well not exist. This is when the white and yellow pages were starting to disappear and the big shift was towards advertising online. And so people spent thousands of dollars on their website only to realize that they also needed to give people a reason to come back to their site. Consequently the LATEST NEWS section became trendy for a while because it gave website owners the ability to quickly make daily updates—they thought that would suffice but that wasn’t nearly enough!

Social media eventually came along and companies were happy because they could interact directly with their clients but they were also faced with a new reality: the need to feed the media machine! After a few years companies finally realized you couldn’t just post anything, they needed to provide quality content because, after all, their brand was at stake by process of association. Not a single company wants bad publicity or negative comments on social media. It is like a cancer… one unhappy customer can destroy years of dedicated hard work because his negativity will spread to others.

10|20 Marketing: And in comes video…

Sorin Pavelesco: And so now we are here. If you don’t have a good quality video content with a coherent message that is relevant to your brand and your customers then you might as well not exist. As you all know Google (which owns Youtube) gives priority to videos that are featured on websites. If you do not rank on the first page on search results you are in trouble. Most likely your competition has a video, either on their website, Youtube channel, Facebook business page or Instagram page. If you do not… well… you are severely behind! Business-wise there are so many opportunities to create videos today for my clients, it is the greatest time for digital content creators in history. Almost overnight online communications transitioned from a supplement to the main form of reaching audiences. There will be a reduction in business travel, conferences, trade shows, in-person meetings, and with the increase in working remotely it becomes quite evident that digital content will only grow exponentially.

10|20 Marketing: And let’s not forget about the potential of video post to Google My Business!

Sorin Pavelesco: Let’s not!

10|20 Marketing: Do you have some concrete examples of how your videos have helped customers increase awareness, sales?

Sorin Pavelesco: A few weeks ago one of my clients started manufacturing high-quality homemade masks to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I realized right away what made his models different from many other local productions was that his featured a front pocket with a high-density protective filter. I knew this was the greatest selling point and I made sure to highlight this key point in the 30 second video. We arranged the safe-distancing pick-up of the product, the briefing was done by phone and it was all filmed at my studio without ever needing to meet in person. He has been using this video to advertise online locally and nationally (Toronto Star and Globe & Mail) and the feedback has been fabulous. He is delighted!

Another example is a corporate video I produced for BASF (Black Academic Scholarship Fund). This organization helps young black adults complete their post-secondary education by way of grants. This cause truly moved me as I realized how only a few thousands dollars can directly impact someone’s life. Yes, corporations donate millions of dollars to combat disease, famine and poverty worldwide, it is important and we will always need that, but on a small local scale, to be able to help a young adult obtain his/her University degree… well that resonated with me greatly!!! It turns out their main fundraising event is a yearly golf tournament, the Jackie Robinson Charity Golf Tournament. I couldn’t believe they didn’t have a corporate video to showcase their wonderful organization!!!

Then again I wasn’t so surprised… there are so many worthy and important organizations that simply do not have a budget for professional video productions and so I donated about 30 hours of my time to produce a video worthy of their cause. I met with the Director, helped her write a heartfelt message that eventually became the introduction to the video and recorded her in her beautiful backyard garden. The other portion of the video was me filming the entire golf tournament at the St-Raphael Golf Club, starting with the 8am golf registration process to the end of the dinner ceremony at around 9pm. It was a very long but equally rewarding day. If my first video example was about sales then this one was all about bringing awareness to a great organization by donating my time, talent and services to make a difference locally.

10|20 Marketing: That’s amazing, Sorin, and so great to hear. What are some of the goals you typically aim for when embarking on a new video project?

Sorin Pavelesco: As far as goals are concerned I always strive to make my clients look good by elevating the perception of their service or product and hopefully make them look even better than they are! That means finding the best camera angle, the most flattering light, the strongest marketing message, the most poignant narrative or story to tell. The end result has to be memorable and hopefully incite the viewer to respond either emotionally or physically by purchasing, calling or emailing. Obtaining likes, positive comments and sharing is also highly desired on social media as you have to be “top of mind” to your customers. This is in the case of a commercial video of course… if I am doing something more artistic and personal then my goals are less focused on the marketing message and the call-to-action. For example I am currently developing a web series on artisans and the primary goal is to capture the beauty of their craftsmanship through the music, the narration and the visuals. The episodes are about 12-15 minutes long and I want them to be entertaining so I can afford to be more artistic and have the camera dwell on certain beautiful details if need be.

10|20 Marketing: Can I ask you what your advice is for small business owners in this new COVID-19 climate we’re in now?

Sorin Pavelesco: It has become quite clear during this global pandemic that the companies who had a digital strategy in place have fared better than the ones who did not. Posting relevant content on a regular basis on social media helps businesses to remain “top of mind” to their customers and this naturally implies strategic decisions regarding tone and messaging. I have seen some local small businesses in the health & wellness industry selling online gift certificates with a 20-30% discount but redeemable at full value once their business reopens and this is a great initiative especially since there is a growing trend to support local economy.

Another example is the local restaurants who have delivered free food to hospitals and caregivers… this wonderful and generous gesture also helps these businesses to gain new potential customers and provides them with the opportunity to be featured on local blogs. People will remember the ones who were there to help during the hard times and I think there is still a potential for many businesses to be relevant during this crisis, they just need to deliver the right content with the proper message. A personal fitness trainer can give free tips on how to stay active at home… A wedding photographer can celebrate the one-year anniversary of a newly married couple by posting the pictures they took last year… A chef can share photos of new, exciting recipes they are testing at home right now while their kitchen is closed… these are just a few simple examples off the top of my head on how you can stay relevant and “top of mind” right now.

10|20 Marketing: And how have you adapted your business as a result?

Sorin Pavelesco: For myself I have had three live events so far that I was supposed to film that were cancelled: two fundraising golf tournaments and one very important gala showcase in June, the highly-publicized Strangers In The Night benefit concert with Loverboy.—quite disappointed with that!!! Consequently I have shifted my focus to products and services, connecting with people that are selling products and offering certain essential services.

10|20 Marketing: It’s been really good having you participate in our series, Sorin. We appreciate you taking the time to so thoughtfully answer our questions.

Sorin Pavelesco: It’s been my pleasure, Mark. Thank you and all the best to you!

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Here are some examples of Sorin’s work:

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This interview is part of our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to mark@10-twenty.com. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.

Kim Hannah really knows the art of woodworking

Owner Stories: Kim Hannah, Artist, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

We’re big fans of Kim Hannah and her work. Through her company Ampersand Designs, Kim works with wood in true artistic fashion to make gifts for her clients that have lasting emotional connections. And we should know, as Kim was responsible for reimagining our logo as a sign, literally taking our vision and making it come to life. While Kim does have an impressive roster of corporate clients, she also has a loyal and growing following among those who are looking for gifts for friends and family. Kim runs her business through her home workshop and has maintained a solid and consistent presence on social media to help her promote her work.

We spent a few days going back and forth with Kim via email to discuss her business, her favourite kinds of work and what makes her business tick. Our interview with Kim is below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Also, make sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series and support local businesses in any way you can while these physical distancing restrictions are in place.

Interview with Kim Hannah, Artist

10|20 Marketing: Hi, Kim! So happy you’ve agreed to this interview! Can you tell me about Ampersand Designs and how you first became interested in woodworking?

Kim Hannah: Thank you for taking the time to spotlight local businesses, this is a great initiative! Woodworking has always been an interest of mine. I come from a long line of wood workers. My grandfather and his many siblings all did wood carving, and I grew up watching my dad carry on their family tradition.

I started Ampersand Designs almost three years ago when I found myself out of a job. I wanted something that would afford me the flexibility to be home for my kids after school, and that would allow me to do something I love. As a result, I decided the best way to have my own hours was to work for myself. I’ve always seen myself as being creative, in fact when my children were much smaller I had my own mural business called Off the Wall murals.

The question was how did I turn my passion into a profitable business? After some brainstorming I decided on making hand painted items in wood. I started making a few gift ideas for friends and family and slowly through social media and word of mouth I was able to develop a small following. Since then I have met a lot of great people and expanded my product offering. I am continuously teaching myself new techniques and tools in order to improve and expand my business.

10|20 Marketing: That’s awesome, Kim! Can you describe some of the items you make and which techniques you specialize in?

Kim Hannah: All of my work is custom. I decided to take this approach for my business model for two key reasons:

  1. It allows my customers to be able to create a fully customized, personalized item.
  2. It allows me to pour money back into my business instead of it being held up in inventory.

I have been very fortunate to have dealt with many customers over the years and have created over 500 custom items. They range from personalized signs to commemorate the birth of a new baby, decorative trays, family trees, growth charts and more! Last year I invested in a new tool called a scroll saw which has allowed me to expand my offering to now include three-dimensional wood cutouts that are very popular for room decor and company logos.

If I had to choose one item as my specialty I think it would be the scroll saw items. The market of handcrafted wood items is growing each day, and a lot of these small businesses produce very similar items. I am always watching what the competition is doing, and part of my focus is on differentiating myself from the rest.

10|20 Marketing: Two follow up questions: 1) Would you say that you’re primarily in the gift-giving business and 2) how has business been over the last months or so with the lockdown in place? I would think other than the challenge of getting supplies, you should be able to turn out orders. Safe assumption or not?

Kim Hannah: Without actually crunching the numbers I would say it’s 50% gifts and 50% of people are purchasing for themselves.

At the beginning of COVID I saw a huge drop in business. Which to me was understandable given that many people were becoming unemployed and with the economic uncertainty. As the weeks have progressed, and people have more free time, business has picked up. I am still accepting orders as long as I can obtain the raw materials that I need to complete my work.

10|20 Marketing: So what’s the most creative things you’ve made? What is your favourite?

Kim Hannah: Wow that’s a tough question! I would say everything I make requires at least some degree of creativity, it would be more of which were the most challenging. Logo signs always test my skills because I am trying to replicate a businesses’ existing logo.
And any new woodworking project where I have to create the design build from scratch.

The word scrambles really test my creativity because I have to incorporate many words in various fonts and sizes to come up with an overall design that is pleasing to the eye. The sound wave was like nothing I’ve ever done before so it is one of my favourites, but
I would have to say my all time favourite project was the replica I did of my grandmothers recipe in her actual handwriting. That one hangs in my office. 🥰

10|20 Marketing: These are amazing, Kim. So well done. Well thanks for all these great answers and pictures and, of course, for doing our logo as well! Any last words?

Kim Hannah: Just a special thank you to you for not only supporting my business this past year, but for taking the time to spotlight it on this platform!

10|20 Marketing: It’s our pleasure! And by the way, this is the sign that Kim made for us!

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This interview is part of our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to mark@10-twenty.com. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.

Meet Neal Caminsky, the web developer who has mastered client servicing

Owner Stories: Neal Caminsky, Red Dream Studios in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Neal Caminsky has been a friend of 10|20 Marketing for as long as we’ve been around. We work on common clients and often refer each other’s services to contacts. Due to this time collaborating, the one thing that is most evident about Neal is his attention to detail and quick turnaround time on client requests with the highest quality output. His responsiveness consistently blows us away.

Our interview with Neal is below. Please be sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series and support local businesses in any way you can during these days of COVID-19.

Interview with Neal Caminsky of Red Dream Studios

10|20 Marketing: I remember reading somewhere that you’ve built hundreds of websites for your clients. Tell me about your first one!

Neal Caminsky: I’ve personally built well over 200 websites – so many that I’ve stopped keeping track. I’m very proud that in my almost 20 years of business, I’ve been able to cater to over 375 entrepreneurs, small, and medium-sized businesses. The first one I remember building was Aquatica Digital, an underwater camera housing company in Saint-Laurent. I was pretty green in creating websites for clients at the time, however I was introduced to the company owner who wanted to get his products online – and he had a very large inventory to showcase.

The process took several months, from design to execution, and it became more of learning process for me rather than anything, especially since the website was built dynamically using a now obsolete scripting language called ASP. But the end result was a success, and Aquatica and I are still actively working together, and are hopefully planning to execute a new revamp (their 4th redesign) of their website sometime in late 2020 or early 2021.

10|20 Marketing: So we’ve been working together on projects for a little while now and I see how efficient and responsive you are. 

Neal Caminsky: The most important aspect of my business are by far my clients, and I put as much effort as possible to provide the utmost in customer care. I like to think of every one of my clients as partners, rather than paychecks. The more I can cater to your needs, as quickly as possible, the more likely I believe you will want to keep working with me. Agencies like mine are quite prevalent, so it’s important for me to make sure that I don’t give you a reason to look elsewhere. Over the years I’ve been able to accumulate well over 40 glowing testimonials and accolades from my clients, which is something I’m extremely proud of, as is the fact that many of my clients have been working with me for over 10 years.

10|20 Marketing: So given all the testimonials you get, is that how you generally win new business – through word of mouth? Or do your leads come from other sources?

Neal Caminsky: I would say that two-thirds of my projects are a direct results of person-to-person referrals, whereas the other third is through online searches, newsletter marketing, or social media postings. I don’t think it’s a big secret that the most likely way to win favour with a new client is by a strong testimonial from “someone you know.” In my line of work, influence marketing is highly coveted, which is why I aim to please every single one of my clients as much as possible, so that they can become a small army of virtual salespeople for my business.

10|20 Marketing: Ok, so let’s shift gears here for a bit. Servicing clients in the ultra-responsive way that you do must mean you carry a certain amount of stress. What do you do to relieve your stress? How do you manage it?

Neal Caminsky: Truth be told, I’m actually more stressed when there’s less to do during my day – although if there are multiple projects on a deadline, those situations can get a little hairy. I’ve developed excellent time management skills over the years which helps to alleviate a lot of the pressure (although my reluctance to say “no” to a client is often counter-productive!). I dislike seeing emails in my inbox, so to alleviate any anxieties, I often tackle the quicker-to-do requests first, just to get them out of the way. Other tasks are then broken down into smaller and more manageable chunks, making them easier to digest. It’s less of a shock to the system that way. If I have a single project that I know will take up an entire day or two to complete, my clients are generally understanding if I have to push them out of the queue for a very short period, especially if their needs aren’t deadline-specific.

What I try my best to do is maintain an appropriate work-life balance. I rarely work past 5:30pm, and do my best to not answer emails after 7:00pm, unless there’s some crisis management to attend to. The time outside of work hours is reserved exclusively for family time and over the years, most of my clients have become accustomed to those minor constraints – especially since I’m quite efficient during regular work hours.

10|20 Marketing: That’s a really good answer, one I envy! So what do you do for fun then? Do you play sports? Like movies? Long walks along the beach?

Neal Caminsky: My favorite pastime in the winter is playing ball hockey with a group of guys that have been playing together for well over 10 years now. It’s a great release, but as time passes, it unfortunately reminds me that my body isn’t what it used to be In the summers, I’ve been playing first base in the Dollard Mixed Softball League which is run as a friendly, non-competitive league (other than bragging rights). I’m hoping that this year won’t be cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions.

As you might imagine given the field I’m in, I’m very much a geek, so I really enjoy watching movies, particularly science fiction (Live Long and Prosper). Speaking of the beach, I’m very fortunate that my wife’s family owns a cottage up in Saint-Donat that has its own small beach and boat dock, so occasionally spending the weekends there has been a huge factor in recharging my batteries over the years.

10|20 Marketing: Ok, so last question. What kind of advice do you have for people who are starting out on their entrepreneurial path?

Neal Caminsky: Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone and carries a lot of risk. It can drain you physically, emotionally, and financially. It requires a great deal of discipline, work ethics, and 24/7 dedication, and to some extent, some luck. It’s a well known fact that most businesses will fail within the first 2 years of operation – in my case, I was lucky that I was able to grow my client base slowly as a side project while still employed full time. I wasn’t yet married at the time so I had no issues putting in an extra hour or so of work every evening working for the few clients that I had when I first started. It was only when I realized that my “side” job was going to generate more revenue than my full time job that I decided to give it a go and leave the corporate world. At that point, I began to live, eat, and sleep about Red Dream Studios to help make it grow and be sustainable. I was also lucky in that I had already worked with over 60 clients at the time and so they had become a small but might virtual salesforce for me.

One important aspect of being an entrepreneur is being able to adapt to change, which for example, as the technology used to build online experiences in the online marketing industry changes rapidly. Maybe 10 years ago, I was building Flash-based websites, but once Apple decided to not support that technology, it became obsolete. And as mobile browsing became more commonplace than desktop experiences, responsive platforms like WordPress proliferated. I’ve been described as a left-brain-right-brain person, so that “lucky” aspect of my character helped me to adapt to change, learn, and inject my own creativity into all the projects that I’ve been lucky to produce over my almost 20 years of my company!

10|20 Marketing: Thanks for playing, Neal! This has been great. 

Neal Caminsky: Thank you!

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This interview is part of our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to mark@10-twenty.com. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.

Our interview with Marc David is hot off the press. 

Owner Stories: Marc David, Foilprint in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

I was introduced to Marc David by Neal Caminksy of Red Dream Studios. Marc is a real good guy who, along with his sister Martine, runs Foilprint, a leader in the process of decorating, imprinting & marking on manufacturer’s 3-dimensional parts since 1988. Over the years, as the company has grown, Foilprint has also adapted to the reality of the online market. Today, while the business is still true to its roots, Foilprint has changed in significant ways. 

Our interview with Marc is below. Please be sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series and support local businesses in any way you can during this difficult time. 

Interview with Marc David of Foilprint

10|20 Marketing: I know the story of Foilprint’s origins are on your website, but perhaps you can give me a little background about your experience prior to starting the business with your mother. What did you do before that? Where did you go to school? Why printing?

Marc David: I grew up on the West Island. My sister and I were raised by our mother after our father passed away at a young age. Martine was six years old and I was eight. My mother always encouraged my entrepreneurial leanings. Starting at age nine, I delivered the Montreal Gazette every morning, The Montreal Star in the afternoons and the News & Chronicle on Thursdays. I cut grass for six apartment blocks in the summer; in the winter I went door to door in our neighbourhood looking for people that needed their driveways and door steps shovelled. Also sold greeting cards door to door and babysat for several Montreal Expos players that lived in our apartment building complex (by this time I was 12 years old).

I went to John Rennie High School in Pointe Claire and then John Abbott CEPEG. In 1977, I went to university at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota and graduated in 1980 with a BA in business and economics. From there, I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota until 1985 and survived by painting houses and starting a few businesses that failed. In 1985, I moved back to Montreal after my mother was diagnosed with cancer. While I loved living in Minnesota, I loved my mother more. Upon returning to Montreal, I started a business based on a product that I had seen in Minneapolis. It was a “Call Police” banner that a driver would affix to their rear windshield if they had broken down on the road and needed assistance. The business was moderately successful. I was able to get the banner into Canadian Tire and Woolco for the retail sector, and also sold it to Block Parents (Parents Secours) to be able for them to use it as a fundraising tool.

The banner had run its course by 1987 as cell phones were starting to gain in popularity and people could call for roadside help with their phones. In the Fall of 1987, I saw an advertisement in the Montreal Gazette placed by a company in Denmark that was starting to tour Canada with their new, small, hand operated hot stamping press. I went downtown to see a demonstration of the machine and ended up buying one. We had it set it up in the living room of my mother’s apartment, which was a stone’s throw away from the old Montreal Forum, and thus Foilprint was established. Our official start date was January 1, 1988.

10|20 Marketing: What a great story! So tell me a little bit about how Foilprint went from startup to where you are today. What were some of your challenges? How did you grow your business? When did you move to your current location in DDO?

Marc David: After starting off in my mother’s apartment in January 1988, I moved Foilprint into a commercial space on Ste-Catherine Street in Sept. 1988. I did this because the second machine I purchased was air operated and required an air compressor that would create too much noise in a residential apartment. First customers were acquired bit by bit by visiting print shops and offering my hot stamping services as a sub-contractor. Growth was slow and steady. Sales revenues in the first year totalled $16,000 and by the end of the third year we broke the $100,000 mark.

My mother passed away due to her illness in 1991. My sister Martine left her managerial job and joined me upon our mother’s passing. In 1992, we moved the business into a building at Guy St. and Notre Dame St. that was better suited for manufacturing purposes. Our big break came in 1988 when Martine found a new client that had a very large requirement. Over a three-year period, we printed and packaged over 7 million telecommunications parts. This order prompted a move to our current location in October 2000.

The aforementioned large order allowed us to continue making other equipment purchases which gave us the capacity to acquire new, large clients. That being said, servicing the manufacturing sector has been challenging. Apart from the economic slowdown after 9/11 and the 2009 financial crisis, our biggest challenge has been countering the effects of many manufacturers moving their production needs offshore. To counter this, we have added other product decorating processes to offer a one-stop-shop solution to print onto products. In 2010, we purchased our first UV LED product digital printer. In 2013, we purchased equipment to be able to offer drinkware products that we could sublimate our client’s logos and other images. In 2018, we purchased a digital inkjet printer/cutter to be able to offer labels and also to print heat transfers used to decorate apparel products. Our next planned equipment purchase is a direct-to-garment printer (DTG) to expand our apparel decorating department. This department is now our fastest growing segment of the business.

Although we started out as a sub-contract hot stamping company, we now have several different departments within the company that offers a wide range of product decorating processes. The result of this has been a more diversified client base and a reduced dependency on a small handful of very large clients. The irony of Foilprint now is that we no longer offer hot stamping services even though this is a process that launched the business.

10|20 Marketing: This is great stuff, Marc! Can I ask how many people you employ now? And what are your plans for the next several years?

Marc David: Foilprint’s staff currently numbers 21 full time and 2 part time. These numbers have held steady for the past few years. The business plan moving forward is to continue to grow our custom decorated apparel and accessories business. An investment into our first DTG printer (direct to garment) is scheduled for this coming summer. DTG printing is the most current apparel decorating technology available.

The plan also includes increasing our capacity to manufacture custom printed labels and using our label printing equipment to offer signage products including posters and window clings.  We currently have three print & cut printers that are very versatile allowing us to offer a wide variety of custom printed products in quantities as low as one unit.

In 2018 we opened our first online store on Etsy offering products based on memes. We have just completed the build out of our second online store using the Shopify platform. This store offers products based on yoga dogs and yoga cats themed products. A third online store will start to be built by late Spring/early Summer on a yet to be determined theme. The versatility of Foilprint’s product decorating processes allows us to produce individual personalized products that have increased in popularity and are uniquely suited to online sales.

10|20 Marketing: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Marc!

Marc David: My pleasure! Thank you!

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This is the second in a series of Local Business Owner Spotlight posts. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to mark@10-twenty.com. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.