As written and presented for the Athena Leadership talk, September 15, 2016.
When I thought about what I could talk about today, I thought of many things. Surviving divorce. Single parenting. Living my dream. Losing it all. And Making Everyday Special. I am all of these things. And to share just one, felt untruthful. Because the greatest thing I have learned is that in life you cannot have one without the other.
And the thing about failure is that we have it all wrong. Failure is what catapults us in another direction, it teaches us what not to do. The greatest harm you can do to yourself is to give up, when it feels like you should.
My story started the day I was born. In a small rural town, a mennonite town. From a very young age, I longed to see what was beyond the boundaries of that small town. I had big dreams, I longed to make a difference, somehow.
I grew up with hard working mennonite immigrant parents, with a “we can do anything, what do we need an education for” mentality. There wasn't a thing my dad couldn't create. My dad was the first cabinet maker in the southern Manitoba area and most nights after dinner, our entire family was in his shop staining cabinets. And if we weren’t doing that, we were in the strawberry fields (his part-time passion) weeding the rows. Other hobbies of my dad’s included Grandfather clock making, we had clocks everywhere. And to this day there are many clocks hanging on every single wall of my parents home. And when our neighbour lady complained that her dentures were coming loose, my dad learned how to make dentures. Yes. On any given day, my father would haul out all of his supplies and cook up the moulds in large pots on my mother's kitchen stove, and fit all the ladies in town.
Later, my dad sold his cabinet business and when the late Mr. PW Enns (the founder of the very successful Manitoba-based Triple E motor home company) came to him to talk of a vacation trailer he was hoping to build, he and my father envisioned it and my dad built the mould for the first trailer. My dad told me recently, “Mr. Enns was my mentor. He would come into the shop, look at my mould and say no let’s break it up, it’s not right. My dad said at first he was a bit put off, but when he reworked it, it was perfect. The greatest thing Mr Enns taught him that day was, “Sometimes you have to break everything apart to have it come together perfectly.”
My mother on the other hand, was truly the greatest homemaker. She tended a large garden behind our house and always took the time to make our food special. And anything she couldn't make herself, like eggs, milk and cream came from the neighbours down the street. Beef, chicken and pork were all lovingly prepared by a gathering of relatives, in a joint effort to stock their freezers for the season. I always say long before organic became fashionable, I was privileged to enjoy this was of life.
On divorce and single parenting, both terms I really dislike, I will say it is not an easy road. And I will leave it at that. But I will say, that regardless of your circumstances you can choose to Make Everyday Special. This is how ANNA Magazine began. When I was going through my divorce, and the darkest of days, dealing with the idea that I would be parenting on my own, I had a 9 month old, a career that never felt right, never enough money to go around. I desperately needed a shift.
I read every quote and every inspirational article I could get my hands on. I wanted so much to be happy. I remember thinking if this isn’t the time to make a change when? I had a lifetime of sketches I had never had the courage to begin. At home I was a baker, a photographer, a dressmaker, I painted and repainted my house, I rearranged my furniture every week. When I did these things I felt fulfilled.
The idea of a magazine came to mind, but how insane, isn’t this everyone’s idea? One day I shared my idea with my friend Hilary Druxman and she said. “Just start something.” It was a profound moment. One morning I cut my daughter’s toast into the shape of a heart. And I watched her face light up. It was a simple little thing that made her day special. It was an ah-ha moment.
In 2005 ANNA Magazine was borne in my River Heights kitchen. Designed to inspire readers to Make Everyday Special, with beautiful recipes, inspiring editorial, exceptional photography and design. Although named after my mother, my father's entrepreneurial spirit taught me anything is possible.
Not confident enough to approach the writers I really wanted, I decided to write from my heart. Interestingly enough I became the voice of the magazine. It quickly became successful, with readership throughout North America. I had my hand in everything, sketching every page of the magazine before it went into production, overseeing every aspect, proofing recipes. Pitching advertising campaigns and working with advertisers to bring them to life. Every 12 weeks we had to produce another 100 pages, like a freight train coming at you and you know it’s coming and you gotta come up with a whole lot of great stuff. The pressure. 26 beautiful issues. The brand was strong and readers loved it.
But the economy shifted and print was on the decline. I knew in my heart we were in trouble. I felt like I was on a treadmill that I simply couldn’t step off of. I felt such responsibility to my readers, my advertisers, my staff. It was overwhelming. I visualized what a digital magazine could look like, and we worked with outside developers to try to make it happen, but the timing was just off. Technology wasn’t working and advertisers weren't ready.
We tried to recover by opening our magazine studio into a private event space, which was amazing for a short time, but permit restrictions wouldn't allow us to operate. It felt like a downward spiral. It was paralyzing, I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I just wanted to pull my covers over my head and never get out of bed.
One day I was watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and she was interviewing Marie Forleo naming her a marketing expert and thought leader for the next generation. I immediately jumped on her website and watched all of her shows, read all I could read and I knew this was my answer. Take control of your business, was the most amazing thing I heard Marie say.
We had 10 years of subscribers in our database, they were begging to hear from us. I knew we had a business there. For $3,000 I enrolled in Marie Forleo’s BSchool, and I glued myself to my desk and began the awesome journey of migrating ANNA Magazine in print to a digital platform.
With a 35-55 aged demographic, who were in love with a beautiful coffee table magazine, I knew the transition would not be easy. I created a digital newsletter called Monday Morning Inspiration and it immediately caught on. Readers loved it and there we began our direct relationship with our reader. Suddenly everything shifted.
Today we are 100% digital EVERYTHING-ANNA.COM. We are focused on page views and have partnered with an agency in New York, Say Media and publish on their platform called Tempest. It offers beautiful reading experiences, tools to grow and engage with our audience, and yield management that drives revenue. It also allows us publishing and monetization partnerships with brands like Hilary Druxman, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, and Food52 to name a few. On our ANNA SHOP side we developed an e-commerce platform of curated products we know our readers will love and find useful. On our client side, we have launched ANNA MEDIA, a digital agency helping clients make the full leap into the digital world with what we call Business in a Box. The online world is still very complicated for a business owner and how to make money online, is even a bigger mystery. So we feel very passionate about helping them make that leap in the most efficient way. And then bring them over and introduce them to our very loyal ANNA online reader.
Today, I love working again. I just love it. Every part of it. I love curating our editorial, our shop of goods and I love working with clients. And our goal is as it always was–To encourage our readers to Make Everyday Special, and to celebrate the homemakers role in the home with recipes that work, editorial that is useful and informative and a platform that works as beautifully as it looks. We create authentic daily content, and a weekly newsletter. And we open the path for our clients to join us there.
At the end of the day, I feel like I have survived. I feel so grateful, for taking a dream and making it happen. For hanging in there when I wanted to give up. I have an amazing 19 year old who I am madly in love with, a business I can run from anywhere in the world, and peace of mind knowing that I have the power to make my day special.
Mostly, I feel in control and understand what my dad meant when he said, “Sometimes you have to break everything apart to have it come together perfectly.”