Mardi Gras, King Cakes and Authenticity


Let’s say your business isn’t located in New Orleans, LA or Mobile, AL. It may not even be below the Mason-Dixon line. Location shouldn’t stop you – or your business – from enjoying Mardi Gras, translated from the French as Fat Tuesday. It’s celebration dating back to Medieval Europe for the day before Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras is a day of revelry that occurs before many people begin 40 days of sacrifice. Tuesday’s celebration can be fun for you, and it could be a boon to your business.

Consider the Marquette, Michigan bakery, The Huron Mountain Bakery. Located about as north as you can get and still be in the U.S., the bakery yearly celebrates Mardi Gras by serving some of the best paczkis in the state and creating scrumptious king cakes. For an area where most of the citizens have never strolled down Bourbon Street, the bakery gives people a reason to celebrate.

Create a Shared Experience

Here’s something to takeaway – when you give consumers a reason to have fun with a purchase, they will. It doesn’t have to be Mardi Gras. Businesses have been working President’s Day and Valentine’s Day in this way for decades, but, at this point, it feels like a gimmick. So, what does Huron Mountain Bakery do on Mardi Gras that’s different than what every other business does on St. Patrick’s Day?

They make it a shared experience, not a reason to buy something. Across this small city, families come together to eat a piece of brightly-colored cake, hoping it’s the one with the Baby Jesus hiding in it. No one feels like green, purple and gold is being pushed down their throats, forcing them to make a purchase. In fact, if someone hadn’t been jonesing for a loaf of fresh baked bread or a doughnut in February, you might not even know those Mardi Gras treats were there.

On Beyond Fat Tuesday

The way this bakery has celebrated Mardi Gras is fun, and they’ve made it a natural part of their business. It’s unique to this place, but what sells your business doesn’t have to be the same thing as a bakery.

Leverage a fun activity to boost your business – just make sure it matters to you. Don’t fight for Valentine’s Day dollars if you own a clothing store – it will feel inauthentic. And authenticity is the trick to creating a loyal customer base.

Set yourself apart. A pizza restaurant may want to celebrate Floral Design Day by making pizza toppings in the shape of favorite flowers. What matters isn’t what a business does, but that they care about it. When they create an experience, people will pay to be a part of it.

Businesses that marry some shared authentic experience with their product or service will organically create a better experience for their customers. And a better experience means more traffic. No one wants to patronize a company, but they do like to patronize people. When you share something that matters to you, it personalizes your businesses and becomes a place where people want to go.

Let the good times roll, and embrace what makes your business unique.


5 Great Reads for Middle School Girls – and Their Brothers


After slogging through The Lord of the Flies and A Separate Peace, middle school girls deserve books that put them center stage. While schools are getting better at varying some of the subject matter, girls as narrators or protagonists are still fairly rare. And when we do find them, they aren’t nearly as fun as the adventure stories that keep showing up on the bookshelves for boys.

Keep girl readers reading with these unique finds that your 9 – 13-year-old will love. Take a peek at our list of books with strong female characters.

  1. Trixie Belden and The Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell. Try not to judge Trixie by her name, which is much cuter than the self-possessed 13-year old who roams the pages of this mystery. She’s also much stronger, smarter and more interesting than her Nancy Drew counterpart. Written in 1948, this novel began a long series with several writers, and the early ones are surprisingly progressive for the time they were written. In fact, there is fan fiction still being written for the Trixie Belden series.
  1. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. A National Book Award finalist, this novel is set in 1847 and is told from the point of view of Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl who has been adopted by a family of fur traders. Despite the often difficult conditions of her life, she remains calm and pensive but is still a girl with fire inside. Erdrich writes serious fiction for adults as well, so don’t expect the grittiness of frontier life to be watered-down for the kid-set. This is a historical tale as well as one girl’s incredible story. Set near Lake Superior, this is a must-read for any kid who lives in the upper mid-west.
  1. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. A winner of the Newberry Honor Award, An Edgar Award Finalist and an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book, this book has gotten a lot of praise from critics and readers. One of the most compelling aspects of this book is the unique relationship the main character, Mo LoBeau, and her sidekick, Dale, share. While on the surface this is a compelling mystery, it’s also a study in family and friendship, and the deeper mysteries that surround those ties.
  1. Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. I’m confounded as to how Pippy Longstocking invaded our culture, but not the more strident rebel, Ronia. Ronia is the only child of Matt the robber, who, together with Matt’s band of robbers, live in a castle in the woods. This is a captivating story about the complex relationship between fathers and their strong-willed daughters. Amazon Prime just released an adaptation created by Studio Ghibli, which was famously founded by Hayao Miyazaki. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m excited about it.
  1. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This novel’s protagonist, Miranda, is a latch-key kid who is helping her hardworking mother get onto the gameshow, The 10,000 Pyramid. Set in the 1970s with beautiful nods to Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, this book surpasses its inspiration. Buy it for your middle-schooler, and read it while she’s away during the day, because this Newberry Winner is equally satisfying to adults who appreciate a bit of magic and redemption in their life.

What did we leave out? There are plenty out there. Let us know which books we should include on our next list, or find us on Facebook to stick up for Pippi Longstocking or L’Engle’s master opus.




The Unlikely Force Driving a Teen Revolution


How do you change the world? Apparently, one teen at a time.

I haven’t thought about Vogue since I could zip my skinny jeans – without lying down – but now it’s everywhere I look. It’s not the grown-up version I’m seeing, though. Teen Vogue, with articles ranging from a runway inspired nail polish to Trump’s cabinet picks, is changing what it means to be a modern-day magazine. With subscriptions across the board for magazines getting lower every day, Teen Vogue is actually gaining momentum.

Who knew that the leader of a revolution would be a teen fashion magazine?

How It All Started

In her beautifully-articulated – and cleverly named – How Trump Is Gaslighting America, Lauren Duca’s op-ed for the magazine went viral and ignited a revolution that Teen Vogue has been mounting the last year or so. From articles about the Black Lives Matter movement to issues involving gun control, the writers from Teen Vogue have been on the forefront of stories with national significance.

What’s truly surprising isn’t that the magazine – which has historically been solely about clothing lines and “does he like me” quizzes – is tackling complex and politically charged material. It’s that teenagers are down with it.

During a time when teens tend to be so self-absorbed they have trouble coming out of their bedrooms, their readership is giving the magazine legs. This generation, raised on the internet and a constantly embattled news feed, doesn’t shy away from social issues or civil involvement; we are raising a group of people who will have been civically active well before they could vote. For all our complaints about technology, here might be a shining ray of hope.

Better Business for Print Media

Teens like what’s happening with Teen Vogue, and that’s good, because it means subscription rates will go up. The magazine’s willingness to flirt with controversy has made for good business – in a world where no young person looks at print media anymore, this magazine is getting serious attention from teens to young adults, and, if I’m any indication, their mothers.

Teen Vogue got woke – and it’s already leading the charge of the next generation of voters.  What began as a way to grab the attention of an emerging market has led to a better business model. Perhaps the most important thing that it’s done is given young women permission to be both feminine and part of the political conversation.

How This Generation Offers Hope for the Rest of Us

Just like our parents before us, parents of today spend a lot of time bemoaning the state of the current generation, but the wave of popularity Teen Vogue is riding gives me real hope. They are driving the disruption that might be a to change politics as usual. Whatever your views, November’s election was a response to people tired of traditional politics, and, from what I see, this generation will have no patience for the inefficiency of the political machine.

Just because you want to know how to apply glitter nail polish the right way doesn’t mean you don’t care about why people in Trump’s administration keep getting fired. The articles assume girls are paying attention and that their voice will matter in issues of the future.  And I’m excited to see what they have to say.

Simple Tips to Improve Your SEO


Search engine optimization – SEO – isn’t static. Google consistently updates its algorithms to improve their ranking system. Today, previous strategies, such as black hat tactics like link-hiding and keyword stuffing, can get your website demoted and penalized. For a company to stay ahead of the competition, it’s crucial to implement best SEO tactics to your advantage. Here are some strategies that can improve your website’s ranking:

  • Integrate Across Channels. Businesses know they should be engaging with social media on many platforms – that’s called multi-channeling. When you integrate those channels to market your brand, it’s called cross-channeling. Cross-channeling depends on a strong multi-channeling strategy, so consider your target audience and decide which platforms best suits them.
  • Invest in Quality Content. With each new algorithm Google releases, quality content becomes more crucial. Your website should look clean, have well-written pieces, and include a bog. It should also be updated with some frequency – website content decays over time. Either revamp older content or create more. Don’t leave out content for your social media pages, and pay attention to prime time for postings.
  • Positive UX. Millennials and Gen-Xers don’t wait around for slow load times, especially when the competition is a click away and there’s no waiting. They may not be the only ones in your talent pool, but they are becoming a bigger part of the market every day. They will expect a positive UX, and they’ll move on if you don’t provide it.
  • Be Cautious with Keyword Strings. Leveraging keywords to your advantage is an important practice for SEO, but when you stuff content full of strings that don’t make logical sense, Google will ping you for it. Today, users find what they need through semantic searches, which means searches rely on the meaning of words. Use that to your advantage when creating content.
  • Optimize for Mobile. Last year’s statistics confirm what you may already have guessed – more people use their smartphones to seek out information than their desktops or laptops. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, it’s already behind.

When in Doubt, Delegate

When you are looking to improve your business’s website, it helps to know what’s working. Google Analytics offers real insight and can help your business make the most out of marketing solutions, but it’s equally important not to tackle it all on your own. Keeping your business competitive in the digital age is itself a full-time job. When you find tools to help, leverage them. Delegate tasks that stop you from doing the work of running your business.

Keep in mind that website design and upkeep aren’t really options in today’s industries. Technology is driving changes across industries, and while you don’t have to stay current on all the best practices, website upkeep is crucial.

5 Movies to See Before the Oscars


5 Movies From 2016 You Should See. Today

With the Oscars approaching, the world is abuzz with movie chatter. Some of the best films, however, are ignored by the Academy. Others are given a nomination but get little attention. For your consideration are some of the best movies of 2016 that may have gotten lost in the shuffle. If you are searching through Netflix or Prime and can’t decide what to watch, consider these gems that may have gone under your radar.

Sing Street. You’ve probably seen Once (2007), listened to the soundtrack and cried about the breakup. The director, John Carney, created a Hollywood version that simply wasn’t that good, at least compared to Once. He’s back at it, though, with Sing Street. It does hit a certain demographic who may be nostalgic about the 1980s, but it’s just as moving to the teen who you may be watching it with.

Hell or High Water. I’m constantly frustrated by the Oscars, but I’ve discovered a new strategy – find the one of the Oscar least that you’ve never heard of – in my experience, it will be the best. It happened in 2010 with Winter’s Bone (and that’s another to see if you haven’t). As an indictment of the banking industry, Hell or High Water is spot-on. As a modern-day western, it’ll make you forget to check for updates on your phone.

Kubo and The Two Strings. It’s an animated film, but you don’t have to have children to enjoy this imaginative and moving story. For anyone who has loved a mother, a father or a child, this is a must-see. It’s got some competition for its Best Animated Feature Film category, but I’ve never seen anything like it. Beautiful storytelling coupled with amazing stop-motion animation, it’s one to see today.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople. For a movie about an orphan who must live with new foster parents, this movie is surprisingly funny. It doesn’t manipulate its audience by making them sad for this kid – most of whom already understand what a difficulty this would be – instead, it gives them joy, then works to pull their heart strings. It’s a hopeful film that doesn’t force you to wallow in tragedy.

Swiss Army Man. Okay, I’ll admit it. I made fun of it too. I may have said something along the lines of – that’s ridiculous and should never have even been a concept. Now, I’m admitting to the world, I was wrong. The directors, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, have created a warm, funny, weird and thought-provoking film. I’m not even going to tell you what it’s about because you’re sure to skip it if I do.

Winter Blues and Movie Fun

We’ve still got a lot of winter to get through, and some of these days coming will be too wet for fun winter activities. After your skate-ski lesson or time at the hill, settle in with one of these overlooked films. It may make March feel a bit less long.



Easy Changes to Your Facebook Page – for NonProfits

Easy Changes to your Facebook Page – for NonProfits

Nonprofit organizations are entering the social media space at a rapid pace.  Many of these organizations don’t have personnel with the technical savvy or the time to make the most of this opportunity, let alone the budget to hire a marketing firm.  So how do you make your nonprofit stand out? Here are some quick tips to not only get you up and running, but help get you noticed.

Change Your Cover Photo

While it’s a good idea to have your logo as your profile picture for easy brand recognition, try updating your cover photo to the friendly faces that support your organization.  It could be a picture of your staff, your board of directors, or the people you serve.  Action shots are better than posed, smiles are a must! Many nonprofits serve local communities.  Seeing familiar faces engaged with your organization can increase support. It is called ‘Face’book after all.  

Add buttons

Facebook makes it easy to add buttons to lead donors to your website and to donate.  When people are moved by your facebook post, you want it to be easy for them to engage with your organization.  We all know how easy it is to find yourself clicking to the next link.  Here’s the simple steps for adding buttons:

Create Engaging Posts

Have some fun with your posts! Engage your followers by asking them to respond to open ended questions.  It’s no secret that responses move your posts up in newsfeeds.  People love to share their ideas and opinions, especially on social media!  Just by adding the word ‘comment’ encourages followers. Use it to your advantage by asking for a response on a current topic within your field or float an idea that you’re considering.  You will get a double effect, instant feedback and your post will get more exposure!  And don’t forget to engage back! Responding in a timely manner makes followers feel closer to your organization, and have we said it enough, will add exposure your post!

Add an Event

This is one of our favorites because it can bring you to Facebook users in many ways.  You create the event and share it, but you can also ‘invite’ people to it, they will see which of  their friends are interested/going, and they will get reminders as the event approaches.  Even if you don’t have a traditional event planned, get creative.  Many dates can be an ‘event.’  A local community foundation uses events to remind other nonprofits when grant applications are due or during their yearly fundraising drive.  

Create a Blog

You have so much going on in your organization!  How do you fit it all into a Facebook post? You don’t!  Your Facebook posts should be simple, quick, easy to digest information about your organization. For those that want more info, an easy click to “find out more” should lead them to your website blog updated monthly at the very least.  Fresh content on a regular basis keeps your supporters coming back again and again.  If the same thing is always there, your website traffic will slow.  

Go ahead – Boost a Post!

Have a great photo that is getting lots of responses? Consider “boosting” it! Boosting is the term Facebook uses for creating an ad that shows up in user’s newsfeeds.  You may have seen them, they have the word “Sponsored” under the entities name.  “Boosting” will get your post in front of all your followers (just because you post something, doesn’t mean all your followers will see it, see ‘create engaging posts’ above) and other users that you can select by age, location, or interest.  $10 will get you roughly 1,000 views, so it’s an inexpensive and easy way to test the Facebook waters. Go ahead, try it!