When you suddenly realize you are running out of money

The fear of being broke creeps in slowly. Stress about what you can and can’t afford, the “daily deals” emails you automatically delete, the sudden tendency to never leave the house because then you won’t be at risk of accidentally spending something extra while wandering through a grocery store.

That used to be my favourite way to kill stress. On a bad day, I would walk through the aisles of a No Frills or FreshCo discount supermarket, picking up sale items. Grabbing a container of coconut Liberté was my favourite indulgence. The bill would rarely top $40 and I figured the whole exercise was better than if I had wandered through a mall for the same shopping high. I could consume everything I bought. I couldn’t do that with a sweater from the Gap.

But ever since I realized I had been out of work for more than six months and that my attempts at freelancing consisted mostly of sending out emails and job applications with few replies, my pile of savings started to look much smaller than I remembered.

The other day, I wondered if I could afford $2 protein bars or a $3 pack of Oreos I’d normally give to my sister.

“Did I eat too much just now?” is something I now often think to myself. “Should I have saved that for later?”

When you are worried about money, you can no longer be as generous to others. When I had a job, I tried to live frugally so I wouldn’t think twice about giving money to my local food bank, buying chocolate for my mother or baking cookies for an event.

“I get it,” my roommate said. “You’re in survival mode.”

I know I am one of the fortunate ones. I have parents willing to help me out while I try to figure out what to do next. But I am embarrassed by how much they pay for. I recently turned 27 and feel like I should be trying to pay them back by now for everything they’ve done for me. Instead, they worry about how I’m continuing to pay my rent.

People tell me not to give up on my aspirations of a long-term career in business reporting, to keep trying to pitch and apply to jobs, and that things will eventually turn around.

But I wonder if there’s a point when I’m going to be tired of struggling to make writing and reporting the thing that enables me to pay my bills, maybe get married and have kids.

One journalist advised me, “You’re young! It’s okay not to be making a lot of money now, just get published in lots of places.” Another one suggested I move back home to my parents’ house in Scarborough to save on expenses. But I know I would be even less productive if I relocated to my childhood room.

I’ve been told that in normal circumstances, I would be qualified enough to get hired in a newsroom. “But nothing is normal anymore,” said a man who offered to connect me with the publisher of a major national newspaper for further advice.

I  have thought about “writing for exposure” to build up my clippings. But this increasingly looks like reporting entire pieces on spec. Even if my pitches are accepted and these stories are published, I don’t know how much that helps beyond making me look great on paper. So many places I know have hiring freezes and whatever positions are available can expect to receive hundreds of applications.

Toronto writer Shawn Micallef recently revealed on Twitter that he had temped for a while to make things work financially. He said a good person at an agency could find him interesting jobs that still had a loose enough commitment that they allowed him to work on writing and art projects. It was a lesson I wished someone had taught me in journalism school: “If you freelance, it’s not uncommon to do other things to pay rent.”

All I know is, I have to try and keep busy. I try to have a daily routine where I work at pitching and applying to jobs. I keep trying to work on the magazine piece I got a contract for a week before I was laid off. Sometimes I think about other careers. But now I always carefully count whatever money I have left.

Update

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Shimaneko and I are here to tell you what’s up. (Roppongi Hills, Tokyo)

In mid-August of last year, YourMississaugaBiz.com and its sister site YourHamiltonBiz.com were both shut down by Star Media Group. Fifteen people, including myself, were laid off.

Soon afterwards, all of the news articles were removed, leaving no online archive available for the general public or subscribers. As a result, I have uploaded more than 200 articles I wrote for the online business subscription news service here using the tag #yourmississaugabiz.

Since the layoff, I have had the opportunity to become a part of the Asian American Journalists’ Association through their national conference in New York, as well as go on a eye-opening month-long trip to Hong Kong and Japan.

I am now freelancing full-time and available to work on projects. For inquiries about writing, editing or fact-checking, feel free to email me at karen [at] karenho [dot] ca.

What can you expect from a continuing education class at UTM

This story was originally published on YourMississaugaBiz.com.

Local entrepreneur Bill Smalley has been teaching a business course on negotiating skills in the University of Toronto Mississauga’s continuing education program for the past three years.

The president and CEO of Oakville-based consultancy firm Route Five International Inc. has a background in sales and marketing, teaching leadership and team building, as well as 13 years of experience as a corporate trainer and professional speaker.

Smalley explained to YourMississaugaBiz.com why more business professionals should sign up for con-ed classes, and what they should expect once they’re on campus.

Your classmates can come from all over

Whether it be cultural experience, ethnicity, industry or career stage, Smalley said the variety in peers will give additional, unexpected value to a class. “I’ve had people exchange business cards and keep in touch afterwards and help build their networks,” he said.

It’s normal to have low expectations

This is a common thing in Smalley’s course evaluations. “They’re often surprised at the quality of the content and how useful and relevant it is,” he said. “How much it helps them.”

Pursuit of education is a big trend

“More and more we’re seeing people who realize it’s a competitive environment out there, careers and jobs aren’t a static situation, it’s a fluid environment and there are always other people that are learning and growing around you so you need to keep your skills sharp and stay relevant.”

It’s not like when you were last in school

“It can be fun,” Smalley said simply, contrasting it with his own experience in school as being incredibly boring. “[As an instructor,] you want to make it fun, you want to make it engaging, so it can be a really enriching experience.”

It looks great on your resume

A specific course or program might give you skills particularly relevant to your particular industry, but Smalley said pursuing additional education also helps someone stand out in the hiring process.

“Employers look for people that want to better themselves,” he said, explaining the inclusion of continuing education shows someone’s initiative, desire to grow themselves, and be better. “That will definitely give you an edge.”

Some results can happen right away

“People go back to their existing jobs and do better,” Smalley said of some of his past students, who passed on news of promotions or other kinds of professional growth as a result of his class.

It might not cost you anything

Many of Smalley’s students actually have the cost of their classes reimbursed by their employers. It’s worth looking into if your workplace has some sort of education subsidy or other program that can help offset class fees.

However, Smalley said for students who were responsible for all of their fees, the benefits always far outweigh any financial costs. “I have never had any student say to me that they rejected the investment or the time invested,” he said.

UTM continuing education classes offer skills training

This story was originally published on YourMississaugaBiz.com.

Local entrepreneur Bill Smalley said that more managers and business professionals should think about taking continuing education classes.

“Employers look for people that want to better themselves,” he told YourMississaugaBiz.com. “It’s a desirable trait.”

The president and CEO of Oakville-based consultancy firm Route Five International Inc. speaks from personal experience. Smalley has been an instructor at the continuing studies program at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) for the past three years, teaching interspace negotiation skills to hundreds of students.

Smalley said there are many personal and professional benefits to be gained from taking courses like his at UTM.

“I’ve had people exchange business cards and keep in touch afterwards and help build their networks,” he said speaking about his students. “People go back to their existing jobs and do better. And it can be fun.”

Smalley said a large number of the people who take his classes are international students.

He and other School of Continuing Studies instructors are able to factor in their professional experience as consultants, speakers and trainers in the corporate world into what they teach, Smalley said.

Some SCS courses are fairly short at only five to six weeks long. “You’ve got to make sure the content is useful and relevant,” Smalley said, emphasizing the addition of a lot of verbal content and practical casework in his classes.

Since all the instructors are still practicing business owners or professionals, Smalley said they’re helping the students understand the needs of employers and become more marketable and relevant.

“Really grounding the content in practical knowledge means when these students are being interviewed by these employers, they can see very clearly where they can fit in and help them,” Smalley said, citing his own experience teaching and training companies across North America for more than a decade. “And their learning curves are shorter once they do get hired.”

One practical approach Smalley uses is having his students take in content and theory and apply it to events in the news, such as a major union negotiation. “I’ll say, ‘How did they handle that? Is this a productive approach? What’s wrong with this picture?’” he said.

With a “vibrant” learning environment comprised of high-quality, driven people, Smalley said the students also get exposed to other cultures.

So far student feedback from Smalley’s courses has been unanimously positive, both in terms of enjoyment and improvements in their professional lives. he said, “It’s clear that students are actually using what they’re learning and it’s making a difference for them.”

Employers and managers should also highly encourage their staff to sign up for classes. “There’s really no downside,” he said. “The feedback I get from other instructors is that it’s a really good investment. People are pleasantly surprised.”

Highlights of the new programs at UTM’s School of Continuing Studies

In the last few years, the University of Toronto Mississauga has introduced new programs, classes and space for students in the School of Continuing Studies.

Many have been designed for specifically to address the needs of local residents, nearby companies and key industries in Mississauga, such as pharma, finance, biotechnology and business.

YourMississaugaBiz.com asked SCS assistant director, Phil Schalm, for some of his highlights and what he’s most excited to see at the Mississauga campus this fall.

1. More complete programming in accounting

Students looking to complete all the courses needed for their Certified General Accountant or Certified Management Accountant designation can now do so without having to go to the St. George campus. “That was a big improvement for us,” Schalm said. “Previously we were offering [only] introductory courses.”

2. Certificate in Business Process Management

The program was designed to give people the skills to look at the detailed business processes in an organization in order to refine or improve them. It could be through technology or better utilizing staff resources.

Schalm said students have typically been junior or middle managers being asked to make their teams more efficient, maximizing their talent and increasing growth.

3. Academic Culture & English (ACE)

Introduced two years ago, ACE is designed for students who are residents of Canada and have received conditional acceptance to UTM but require additional English language skills training. Organized in partnership with the Registrar’s office, the program runs full-time in the summer and part-time during the rest of the school year.

Enrolment for this program grew rapidly from 59 students last summer, to 230 the same time this year.

Prices for SCS courses at UTM vary depending on type. Schalm said programs and classes for business are approximately $650-700, whereas the costs of English language offerings is about $300-$350.

YourMississaugaBiz is the property of Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Access to our content is provided exclusively for paid and free trial subscribers. If you are reading one of our articles without being a registered subscriber, you may be in violation of copyright laws. You can rectify this easily by selecting from our subscription options https://mississauga.yourcitybiz.ca/subscribe. Contact us at 1 (888) 857 3271 if you require more information about single or bulk subscriptions or licensing options.

UTM continuing education classes giving newcomers a leg up

University of Toronto Mississauga campus
(Tory Zimmerman/Toronto Star)

The University of Toronto Mississauga is expanding its continuing education classes to attract well-educated immigrants looking to improve their skill set and obtain Canadian credentials.

Led by the School of Continuing Studies (SCS), the campus has put serious effort into increasing the number of classes and programs they offer to address the needs of nearby companies and local industries, including biotechnology, pharma, the financial sector and import/export.

“We also try to work very hard with community agencies in order to reach immigrants,” SCS’s assistant director, Phil Schalm, told YourMississaugaBiz.com.

There is an increasing demand for the new classes and programs. Over the last five years, UTM has seen significant growth in the number of students enrolled in its SCS classes — especially its business offerings. Enrolment grew from 805 students in 2008-09 to 1,976 students in 2013-2014.

There has also been an explosion in enrolment in SCS’s Academic Culture & English (ACE) program. Introduced two years ago, the program is designed for students who are residents of Canada and have been admitted to UTM but require additional English language skills training.

Schalm said data from participants in SCS’s Certificate in Life Science Enterprise over the last three years has also been very positive.

Of the 127 internationally educated professionals who participated in the programs, Schalm said more than 50 per cent of participants found employment within 12 months of completing the program. By the summer of last year, 73 per cent of the participants were employed in their own or a related field.

Additionally, the majority of those jobs were within the Peel region. “This [program] had a strong pharmaceutical orientation and most of the pharma offices are in the Mississauga area,” Schalm said.

Schalm said SCS also developed additional training and skills resources specifically for its students normally offered through a career centre for undergraduates, such as mentoring programs and resume advice. “We gave them opportunities to go through practice interviews with people from industry,” he said. “It was really designed to understand the Canadian environment more carefully.”

The next goal of the SCS program is to increase enrolment through awareness, recruiting and additional marketing. “We’re really able to offer a much broader array of opportunities than three years ago,” Schalm said, estimating the current rate of capacity at 30 to 40 percent. “So there’s lots of opportunity for growth.”

The SCS is a member of the Mississauga Board of Trade.

YourMississaugaBiz is the property of Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Access to our content is provided exclusively for paid and free trial subscribers. If you are reading one of our articles without being a registered subscriber, you may be in violation of copyright laws. You can rectify this easily by selecting from our subscription options https://mississauga.yourcitybiz.ca/subscribe. Contact us at 1 (888) 857 3271 if you require more information about single or bulk subscriptions or licensing options.

TownPlace Suites helps Mississauga flood families

Aug. 9: TownePlace Suites Mississauga in the Airport Corporate Centre re-opened after a $17-million renovation. (Toronto Star)

A small group of families displaced by the massive July 8 storm have taken up residence at a Mississauga hotel designed for business travellers.

The TownPlace Suites by Marriott on Orbitor Drive has been hosting about five to ten families that were unable to return to their homes following the storm that downed trees, flooded basements and left thousands without power in Mississauga and the GTA.

“All of them were here within a week of the storm,” The hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Vijay Pahuja, told YourMississaugaBiz.com. “Some of them checked in the very same day.”

Pahuja said some of the clients independently checked in while other families were referred to the hotel by their insurance companies.

In fact, some of the hotel’s staff have become actively involved in helping the families deal with their storm-related insurance claims.

“Then they do not have to really take the time to go through their policies and talk to their insurance companies or the adjusters about their entitlement,” he said. “We took over that component of their policy.”

Families that do want to meet with insurance agents, contractors or other friends and family are able to use the hotel’s meeting rooms or lounges free of charge. “They don’t have to worry about paying for that space,” Pahuja said.

The hotel, which celebrated its one year anniversary on Wednesday, has also extended its complimentary shuttle service for the use by the displaced families far beyond the usual limit in distance of five kilometres.

“There were requests for the family to go to Square One or can they go to grocery shopping at their preferred store which was closer to their home,” Pahuja said, citing the location of a particular Loblaw’s 8-10km away from the hotel.

“The families appreciated that because they could keep their routine.”

With the hotel’s location at the Airport Corporate Centre, Pahuja said most of the property’s long-term clients typically work in the consulting and information technology.

And while the minimum booking requirement at TownPlus Suites is five nights, Pahuja said the month-plus stay by the displaced families isn’t that unusual. In fact, there is currently a team of people who have stayed at the hotel since it opened last year and are planning to continue until well into 2014.

 

‘Downsizing’ entrepreneur offers her keys to success

Fiona Hill has her own specialty organizing business aimed at helping seniors and older Canadians, with a growing number of customers coming from Mississauga and Oakville.

Becoming a successful entrepreneur was not easy for Hill but it has offered her unique insight into what it takes to help a small business get a foothold in a niche industry.

Hill, owner of Fiona Hill Downsizing shared her top tips and advice with YourMississaugaBiz.com:

Be connected to the goal of your business

Hill’s first experience in organizing and downsizing was helping to clean out her father’s house when he was moving into an assisted living facility. “All of a sudden he couldn’t live at home anymore,” she said, explaining the situation arose while she was between jobs. “And afterwards I thought, there has to be an easier way of doing this.”

Work for an established company to gain experience

Hill knew that she enjoyed the process of helping her father, but had no other experience with or knowledge about the organizing industry. So she worked for another Toronto cleaning company for nearly one year before setting out on her own. Doing so helped Hill see what other organizers and companies offered, and what she could do to set herself apart.

Don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth

While many house-related services like cleaners depend on online reviews, Hill said  her clients often talk about her services among friends and at social events. She estimated approximately 30 per cent of her business comes from referrals.

Partner with other organizations for referrals

Much of Hill’s business also comes from real estate agents who offer her services as an incentive to clients. “I’m one of the things they can use as tool or a value-add,” she said, noting the popularity of “free staging” services. “The smart ones are starting to offer downsizing.”

Be aware of the amount of work actually involved

While Hill has been able to turn her independent downsizing business into a full-time job, it means long hours, working weekends and often times underestimating the amount of work she is taking on in any given project.

 

YourMississaugaBiz is the property of Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Access to our content is provided exclusively for paid and free trial subscribers. If you are reading one of our articles without being a registered subscriber, you may be in violation of copyright laws. You can rectify this easily by selecting from our subscription options https://mississauga.yourcitybiz.ca/subscribe. Contact us at 1 (888) 857 3271 if you require more information about single or bulk subscriptions or licensing options.

Local entrepreneur downsizing for success

Fiona Hill

It was Fiona Hill‘s dad who got her into the business of downsizing.

“All of a sudden he couldn’t live at home anymore,” Hill told YourMississaugaBiz.com, citing a health issue. “As the daughter who was between jobs it was up to me to get the house ready for sale.”

The process was long and a lot of work, but Hill realized there had to be a need for this kind of service for other families with aging parents and she thought she could help fill it. “There was a part of me that found it very satisfying to impose order and treasure hunt,” she said.

Not long after working for another Toronto organizing company, she started Fiona Hill Downsizing last November.

“Basically, the phones started ringing fairly quickly,” Hill said.

Hill estimates about 35 per cent of her clients are from Oakville and Mississauga, including two cases this past week.

While approximately one-third of her business comes through word-of-mouth referals from her mostly female clients, Hill has also received a lot of references through real estate agents.

“I’m one of the things they can use as tool or a value-add,” she said, noting the popularity of “free-staging” services. “The smart ones are starting to offer downsizing.”

In addition to providing part-time employment for six people, much of Hill’s business is about connecting clients to other local companies, contractors and charitable organizations, including antique shops, movers and collectors.

In Oakville, Hill uses two local consignment stores, “It’s a Steal” and “The Millionaire’s Daughter” for high-end clothing items.

For other goods, Hill often makes large drop-offs to local branches of Value Village, The Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul, the Humane Society and other charitable organizations.

“If I have good quality, clean sheets and towels, that goes to the women’s shelters,” she said. “If there’s stacks of laminate flooring in the garage, or tools or construction material, that goes to Habitat for Humanity.”

Despite her three years of experience, there have been times Hill and her team have been caught by surprise. On two separate occasions she found guns and had to call the RCMP for advice on their disposal. “I opened the cupboard and there’s a Remington rifle, bullets and all,” she said.

Still, while the market for organizing and downsizing services is certainly growing, Hill strongly warned that good professional organizing requires a lot of experience and is definitely not a convenient part-time job.

“It’s very hard work and not always profitable,” she said, estimating she works anywhere from five to seven days a week.

“People who have literally taken a course online and they think they can just jump in and do it, both they and the client are going to get a nasty surprise when they finally get in there.”

 

YourMississaugaBiz is the property of Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Access to our content is provided exclusively for paid and free trial subscribers. If you are reading one of our articles without being a registered subscriber, you may be in violation of copyright laws. You can rectify this easily by selecting from our subscription options https://mississauga.yourcitybiz.ca/subscribe. Contact us at 1 (888) 857 3271 if you require more information about single or bulk subscriptions or licensing options.

Mississauga’s Roy Dirnbeck on being cast for Storage Wars Canada

Roy Dirnbeck

For local entrepreneur Roy Dirnbeck, a part-time hobby was the catalyst for a reality television debut.

Five years after the small business owner from Mississauga saw an episode of the show Storage Wars, Dirnbeck was cast as part of the Canadian spinoff.

“I fell in love with it because it was like modern-day treasure hunting,” he told YourMississaugaBiz.com during a break in filming.

Being part of Storage Wars Canada is a big change from Dirnbeck’s day job, a specialized, around-the-clock courier business that he runs with his wife. “I’ve been doing it ever since university,” he said. “I went on my own about 13 years ago with Critical Choice.”

The flexibility of his company allowed Dirnbeck to sneak off and see auctions for himself. “I couldn’t believe the units people were leaving behind and how much you could get it for and how much you could find in it,” he said. “It became addictive.”

After years of sneaking off and selling all sorts of items, Dirnbeck was ‘discovered’ and cast directly from a storage auction and given the nickname “The Instigator.”

Still, everything that Dirnbeck buys at auction that he intends to sell is sold at local auction houses. “One is Principle Liquidators in Mississauga off Laird Road,” he said, “And there’s another one in Brampton that’s called TNT Auctions.”

Many times a hot market and solid interest have helped Dirnbeck generate higher-than-expected profits. “I’ve brought things to an auction house and I thought it might be worth $100-$200,” he said. “You get two or three people there who really like it and the price can go up to $600 quickly.”

While filming the show takes up 20-30 hours of his week, Dirnbeck said he is still involved with Critical Choice on a near-daily basis.

“I still have to come home and do my paperwork, do the billing and a lot of other stuff people don’t realize,” he said, noting he employs four dedicated drivers and subcontracts work to other companies when needed.

That access to drivers and trucks has helped Dirnbeck with the most labourious part of storage auctions: cleaning out the actual units. “I can’t even tell you how much work is involved, it’s a lot,” he said, noting it’s the major reason why rookies often quit.  “They don’t know what to do with it [in the two ways] so they start dumping it and losing money.”

Failing to clean up a unit can lead to bans and some storage lockers are simply full of garbage. “You really have to know what you’re buying,” he said.

Even after being cast for the OLN show, Dirnbeck profiting from storage auctions isn’t something most people can quit their day job for, especially since the really lucrative $40,000- $50,000 lockers are fairly rare.

“You’re making about $1,000 a week and you’re doing a lot of work for it,” he said. “And that’s if you’re good.”

For now, Dirnbeck is still glad to have Critical Choice as his back up in case the auction market goes down.

“I’ve seen people who watch the show, quit their jobs and say they’re going to open up a store, they don’t last more than a year till reality bites them in the ass.”