Lessons from the first Sears wish book catalog


How fan-freaking spectacular is this. I mean, LOOK AT THIS MAGIC.

A page from the first Sears Wish Book catalog published in 1897. Seven hundred and eighty-six glorious pages of… This. The copy is straight wizardry, written by Richard Sears himself.

(Big ups to the internet hero who found and uploaded pages from the original catalog here.)

I started reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson this morning and he talks about how Sears and Roebuck’s began as a mail order catalog company and was an early example of viral marketing.

“Sears was spreading the word among prospective customers with one of the earliest examples of “viral marketing.” In 1905, the company wrote to it’s best customers in Iowa, asking each to distribute twenty-four catalogs among friends and neighbors. These customers sent Sears the names of people who received the catalogs. When those people placed orders, the original customers, in turn, received premiums for their work: a stove, a bicycle, or a sewing machine.”

They had started with watches but quickly expanded into selling anything and everything a rural household or business might need. Instead of having to go to the general store hours away or dealing with middlemen, you could order from a catalog that had literally 1000 times the selection at half the price.

Like, it’s no wonder it took off.

“Thanks to volume buying, to the railroads and post office, and later to rural free delivery and parcel post, it offered a happy alternative to the high-priced retail stores.”

Then came their department stores—27 were opened between 1920 and 1927, which apparently laid the groundwork for the Walmart model—but this is how it started. With a catalog Sears wrote the copy for himself.

I can’t stop smiling. Are you seeing this? Like, really seeing it? Are you imagining what it would be like as a farmer in Iowa to have this thing arrive at your doorstep?

Also, when’s the last time you saw “sanguine” used in a sentence? Just excellent.

It’s at this point most people would offer some sort of analysis or key takeaways, but, I’ve got none of that for you. And I’m certainly not going to get into Sears Canada’s modern day marketing, which includes but is not limited to the slogan WTS “What the Sears.” (I know…)

I just wanted to share something I thought was pretty awesome, in case you find this sort of thing awesome, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about retail lately (do I say that about everything?). Especially what sort of retail models would better serve makers and artists and smaller brands. So for me, that means not just looking around at the world today or what people speculate it’ll look like tomorrow, it means looking way back at what the world used to look like.

So perhaps that’s the takeaway here…

The thing you’re interested in? The business you want to start? Yes, it’s important to be innovative and future focused, but don’t discount the importance of knowing what came before you. How things started. That doesn’t mean you have to repeat it, but there’s always something to be learned, right?

Read. Accept you know way freaking less than you thought you did and that you’ll never have the time to learn all-the-things and that someone will always be smarter than you… and read anyways.

You never know what lights will turn on.

Alright, that’s it for this weeks episode of Kate Finds Cool Shit That Probably Everyone Else Already Knows About But It’s New to Her and She’s Super Jazzed About it So She Shares it Anyways Offering No Personal Perspective or Actionable Insight.

… Thanks for tuning in.

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What’s it for?

Your website. Your Twitter account. Your ad campaign. Your software update. The product you’re building. The brochure you’re designing. The event you’re organizing. The course you’re launching.

What’s it for?

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Seth Godin’s work and that he’s changed the way I think about marketing. I just completed The Marketing Seminar he founded and started running this past spring and this is something we talked about a lot.

Why are you doing it? What change are you trying to make? For who?

What’s it for?

This ties into a whole whack of stuff, but I keep circling back to that single question. Not just in my professional life but my personal life, too.

We do all these things—start blogs and Instagram accounts, release software updates and launch courses, buy gym memberships and new clothes—without bothering to ask why. Why the heck are we doing it?

Your ad campaign… Is it to get new customers or reassure existing ones they made the right choice? Is it to encourage action (sign up now!) or increase awareness (branding)?

Your blog… Is it to teach someone something? Is it to get newsletter signups? Is it to sell something? Is it a personal outlet and it wouldn’t matter if no one read it? Is it to build a community?

There’s no right or wrong answer. For me this isn’t about morality or judgment, it’s simply about awareness. If your Instagram account is for engagement (followers and likes) or your blog is for ad revenue that’s totally fine, just be clear with yourself because it dictates your actions.

Knowing why you’re doing something helps you decide the actions you’ll take and how you’ll measure the results. It helps you qualify what’s a success and what’s a failure. When you know what signs you’re looking for it’s a lot easier to tune out the noise. Instead of looking around at other Twitter accounts and feeling anxious that you don’t have more followers you can say, “Oh right, that’s not why I’m here. That’s not what it’s for.”

Know what it’s for and own it.

It saves you from chasing the wrong metrics and throwing resources at dead-ends. It serves as a kind of reality check.

Try it.


From the cover of Seth Godin’s new book, Footprints on the Moon, which you can’t buy. (Seriously.) Check out his note explaining why not. Also, isn’t the text effect on the cover amazing?

Is your marketing strategy a comparison trap?

We spend so much time worrying about the other guys.

How do we stack up? How do we convince people we’re better?

We want to stand out. We want to be the go-to financial planner for young professionals or the preferred webinar software for solo-entrepreneurs.

But something I’m noticing is that so many businesses build websites or curate social media feeds that look and sound exactly like everyone else in their space. They model themselves after another financial planner or webinar software that’s already successful. Thinking they’ll be like them “but better” (faster, cheaper, more convenient, etc)

When we’re that focused on our competition our marketing tends to fall into a comparison trap, and we wonder why we’re not “breaking through” or getting noticed. Which leads to a whole lot of frustration because we think we’re doing the right thing. It worked for them, why isn’t it working for us?

Here’s what we’re forgetting…

If you look and sound like the other guys then you’re setting yourself up to be pitted against them. You’re asking to be compared. When your website or social media looks and sounds like every other financial planner or webinar software you’re making your potential customers work extra hard to figure out if you’re right for them. People don’t have the energy for that, so they go for the most popular option. They pick the category winner.

If you’re going to play the game the way everyone else is playing it then the only way to win is by coming out on top. By having the resources to be a little bit faster or cheaper or louder.

For a lot of businesses, especially those just starting out, this isn’t possible. Not to mention it’s exhausting.

What if you focused less on competing and more on positioning? What if instead of trying to become the category leader, you created your own category?

I’m not saying you should ignore your competition or industry standards. It’s important to know where you stand in your customer’s eyes and what their expectations are. It’s important to know what’s worked in the past and what rules exist in your industry.

Take all that information, get really clear on who you’re for, and carve out a space that’s all your own—something that’s unmistakably you. Know the rules so you can choose which to uphold and which to break. Familiarity is important (you want to remind people of something else they already understand) but you have to set yourself apart.

It’s about coming across as the only option, not the best one.


Cheese Magic! Taken at Kensington Market in Toronto.

Currently #7: How Should a Person Be, behavioural economics, and saving for NYC

You didn’t ask, I answered.


I’M READING…

How Should a Person Be? by Shelia Heti

Okay, ~technically~ I’m currently reading Thrive by Arianna Huffington but I finished this one a couple days ago and have to mention it because it was SO GOOD. And because despite being halfway through Thrive I don’t have strong feelings about it yet…

It had been a long time since I’d read anything close to fiction (my Goodreads is pretty solidly marketing/self-development books) and this was such a welcome change of pace for me. Her writing style is intoxicating, I’ve never read anything quite like it. She had me smiling, laughing, and feeling and the feels.

It was a needed reminder to branch out with what I’m reading.

I picked this up at Anansi Press and Groundwood Books in the Junction last week which is the most lovely little book store I’d definitely recommend checking out. The Drake Commissary is nearby, too, should you find yourself in need of sustenance.

I’m studying…

Behavioural Economics

How and why people spend money totally fascinates me. In particular, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fee-only financial planners… Why do people decide to use them? Or not use them? What can we learn about that to improve financial education in general?

I think this behavioural/psychology bit is key in figuring out successful marketing strategies for fee-only financial planners and more effective financial education. We get caught up on price and think that’s the sticking point for people considering hiring a planner, “It’s too expensive!” But I don’t buy it. Price isn’t the issue, it’s deeper than that. The money is there but people are choosing to spend it on something else. Why?

We need to identify biases and worldviews so we can root the long-term benefit of financial planning/education in the now. Tension! Then we’ll get somewhere good… real good.

If you’re interested in this kind of stuff check out this Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet and these 8 Marketing Takeaways from Behavioural Economics.

I’m saving for…

New York!

I’m saving for New York *happiest of dances*. I’m going to the Smart Hustle Small Business Conference this November 1st and I’ve tacked on a few extra days before and after the conference so I can, well, be in New York.

I’ve got some USD stashed away from a previous job that’ll be enough to cover the cost of the conference as well as my accommodation and a basic daily food budget, and the travel savings account I contribute to monthly will take care of the flight. I’d like to save up a little more spending money for exploring and shopping though because, well, New York.

oh, that’s good…

PSA

A welcome reminder looking over Dundas West in Toronto.


What have you come across lately that’s stuck with you? A book, a podcast, an article, a really great ad… Comment or Tweet me.

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What if it doesn’t work?

What if it doesn’t work? 

What if I’m not good enough? 

I invested a lot of energy into trying to make those thoughts go away. Not realizing that pushing them away only made them stronger. Saying to myself, “Think positive, Kate! Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough!” only did one thing… it kept me focused on the idea that I wasn’t good enough. 

I felt like I shouldn’t do something unless I was sure it would work. And that if I wasn’t sure something would work I shouldn’t speak up.

Which, big surprise, meant I wasn’t doing much of anything.

So as I mentioned last week—apparently Saturday’s are for feelings?—I turned myself into my own science experiment. The kind you’d read about in one of those NY Times bestselling advice books.

I gave myself permission to follow my instincts. To let myself focus on the questions that interest me instead of searching so hard for answers and tearing myself down if I couldn’t find them.

I gave myself permission to show up as me, exactly where I am, with the understanding that I might feel/think/act differently tomorrow and that’s OK. In fact, that’s good. That’s growth. That’s how we find clarity.

Not to sound like an infomercial but this really has changed the game for me. I can’t believe how much better I understand myself, and the difference in the quality of people I’ve been meeting and opportunities I’ve been finding (or perhaps finally noticing?).

It’s a lot easier to meet people and find things you like when you show up as yourself, because like attracts like.

So I’ll say it again—because Lord knows I had to hear it a few times before I did anything with it—clarity comes from action, not thought.


Flowers! Because, feelings. Taken in my Mum’s garden. You know when people come over for dinner and bring you plants? She’s the one person I know who manages to keep those things alive and put them in her garden. So the next time that person’s over she can be all, “Look, the hydrangea’s you brought last spring are blooming!” It’s a level of domestication I can only aspire to… 

“If they only knew what we know” is the wrong way to think about marketing

“If only they knew what we know.”

That’s a really enticing concept. The idea that if people simply knew what we did then they’d do what we do.

“If I could just show them, if I could prove to them, if I had the chance to explain…”

The idea that if people would read our brochure or watch our webinar then they’d get it. They’d understand why they should buy locally made furniture instead of shopping at IKEA or why low investment fees are so important. Then they’d buy our product or sign up for our service.

It’s easy to get hung up on this and to think that’s what marketing boils down to.

The problem with this is that humans aren’t rational creatures. As much as we’d love to believe otherwise, we don’t make decisions based on facts and long-term outcomes. The sooner you understand that as a business and therefore a marketer, the better.

Because even if they knew what you know, they’re not you.

They see the world differently. They don’t believe what you believe and they don’t care about the same things you do.

So you have to start with where people are. With not just with what they know or don’t know, but with what they think and feel and believe about themselves and the world around them.

If you want someone to listen you have to earn their trust. And if you want to earn their trust you have to empathize with them. You have to show them you understand where they are now and where they want to go.

If you hope to change someone, that’s where you have to start.


Don’t mind me, just snooping around construction sites… Taken at Regent Park in Toronto this past spring. Because your view depends on where you’re standing, right?

How do we get people to care about their money?

Here’s the thing…

All this wonderfully educational how-to content doesn’t mean much if people don’t care to look for it in the first place.

As an industry—a community—we’re great at engaging with each other. But how do we engage with people who aren’t already in the conversation?

For the people who don’t already care about money, what’s the catalyst?

What experiences or events lead someone to think… Money. That’s a thing I’m going to look into.

What conversations circle around and trigger one about money? Maybe it’s wanting to start a business. Or leave a job. Or leave a relationship. Maybe it’s a health scare. Maybe it’s wanting to do something—or change something about their life—and realizing money is the thing that will help them get there.

Nobody cares about budgets. They care about putting their kids in soccer camp. They care about being able to go on tour with their band.

The headline, “How to build a budget” isn’t going to sell anyone unless they’re already enrolled in the conversation. “I took a sabbatical from work to do a cross-country tour with my band,” however, might do it.

Money is just a means to an end. It’s not the end itself. So what are the ends people care about? The people you seek to serve, what goals do they have? Where are they now and where do they want to go?

Take them there. Not with money as the focus, but as a means to their end. Not what you think they should want for themselves, what they want for themselves.

Maybe the money conversation is triggered by change in people’s lives—it’s tied to a breaking or inflection point. If so, we can meet them at the crossroads. 

And show them how to get where they want to go.

No one’s entering this world through a door marked, “Budgets, right this way!” They’re entering through “I’m starting a business” or “I want to leave my job.”

What other doors can you open?


Please enjoy this most wonderful sign outside of a gas station-meets-convenience-store-meets-diner near the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. That was a top notch road trip, indeed.

Personal finance stories I’d love to read

How to spend money.

How to make money.

How to save money.

How to invest money.

Personal finance content tends to be heavy on the how-to guides. And I get it. Cause it’s not like we were taught this stuff in school.

But isn’t money about so much… more?

Which got me to thinking, what other topics would I like to see addressed in personal finance?

Well, here’s a few ideas…

– Interviews with immigrants that focus on cultural differences in mindset and expectations around money. A conversation that would show what each culture takes for granted, how values differ and where those values and expectations come from in the first place. Family? The media? Where are these standards coming from and who are we trying to impress?

– Stories from residents or immigrants who are supporting family back home. How does that affect their relationships, the way they look at job security, and they way they plan for the future?

– Stories from interracial couples that experience cultural differences around how they look at and handle their money. How does this play out when you’re joining two families? And if one partner immigrates to the other’s country… what did their relationship with money look like through that process? Do they look at money differently now than before they immigrated?

– Stories from couples who come from totally different socioeconomic backgrounds. What was dating like? What changed with marriage, kids, in-laws? What fears and insecurities come up and how do they deal with them? What’s it like to marry into a wealthy family, a poor family?

– The power of scarcity versus abundance mindset when it comes to money. How people who grew up with a scarcity mindset were able to cultivate one of abundance. How that applies to more than money. How that plays out in family structures.

– The impact of self-development on your finances. Stories about how someone purposely worked to improve other areas of their life—health, fitness, career, relationships—and it affected their values and thus how they were spending or looking at their money.

– Stories about what it’s like for parents with kids living at home, or parents with adult dependents.

– Interviews with parents who are giving their kids money early instead of waiting until they die to pass on an inheritance.

– How someone having their parents help them buy a house affected their relationship with them. Did it add pressure or expectations? What’s the emotional side of accepting help that people might not think about?

– How people with trust funds think about money. How having a trust fund or knowing they can expect a large sum of money at some point affects the risks they’re willing to take, their careers, and how they plan for the future.

– How cognitive behavioral therapy (or any kind of therapy) changed someone’s relationship with money.

– How trauma affected someones relationship with money. So not just talking about emotional spending but the root cause of that emotional spending.

– How someone with autism or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia handles their money.

– Okay, anything on mental health and money. Because I think that’s a seriously under-discussed topic in finance.

Basically, I’d like to see content that doesn’t center around takeaways and actionables. I’d like to see more stories.

Stories that let you see the world through someone else’s eyes. Stories that make you aware of and challenge your biases. Stories that make you think about someone other than yourself.

Stories that give you perspective.

What about you, what would you like to see more of?


I was going to say that this photo has nothing to do with the post, but, I guess fences and personal finance content have enough in common. Taken at Regent Park in Toronto.

The privilege of financial literacy

I remember being in the checkout line at the grocery store eyeing that rack of candy beside the conveyer belt. I wanted a Caramilk bar. I pointed to it and looked up at my mum, “Can I have one?”

“Sure. You have money.”

I had started getting an allowance. I opened my velcro wallet (~nostalgia~) and glanced at the cashier. I knew I could give these quarters to her and get the chocolate bar, or I could take them home and put them in my piggy bank.

I knew I couldn’t do both. And if I got the Caramilk now, that meant I wouldn’t be able to get one when we were back here in a few days. Tradeoffs. I had to make a choice.

Oh, that’s how it works.

I was five.

I remember sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor with the contents of my piggy bank spilled out in front of me. I was pushing all the pennies together in one pile, all the dimes together in another, quarters…

I counted and stacked everything neatly. I opened my spiral notebook and wrote down how much I had. It was more than last week.

My mum walked in and asked,  “What are you saving for?”

I was six. 

I remember sliding a tin heavy with change across the counter to the teller. My mum had taken me to open my first bank account.

I knew what was going to happen next. She was going to give me a card. My very own bank card for my very own bank account.

“There’s fifty-four dollars and seventy-three cents in there,” I told her proudly, “I counted.”

I was seven. 

My mum never told me what to do with money, she taught me how to think about it.

I don’t remember her commenting on the stuff I bought. She never told me that something was a waste or that I should have saved my money instead. The point wasn’t what I was spending my money on, the point was that is was my money. 

She wanted me to see, for myself, how little decisions add up.

I learned about ownership, accountability, tradeoffs, and choice. And I learned when the stakes we low, real low.

I was five and my biggest financial concern was chocolate now or later. I wasn’t eighteen holding a credit card I’d signed up for during frosh week to get a free t-shirt, debating which car to finance.

She taught me how to ask better questions and how to figure out what I valued so that when the stakes were raised and banks were waving credit at me I’d be able to make my own best choice.

“You have to answer to yourself when you get older,” she said, “That’s life.”

I’m fortunate to experience many kinds of financial privilege, but it’s the privilege of financial literacy that’s given me the greatest leg up in life.

When I think about financial privilege this is what I keep circling back to…

It’s one thing to be given money—an allowance, an education, a house, a car, a job, a business—and it’s another to be taught how to make your own choices. Having your education paid for doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to put money behind what you value. These financial privileges are kind of like building blocks and without that underpinning foundation of financial literacy… What do we have?

Financial literacy is about so much more than understanding compound interest and the time value of money. It’s about ownership and accountability. It’s about tradeoffs and choice. It’s about problem-solving.

Looking around at how we’re defining and teaching financial literacy, at the programs and resources that are available, that’s the biggest gap I see.

We’re still hung up on this idea that financial education boils down to numbers. We’re still empowering rules, not people.

We need to be teaching people how to think about money, not what to do with it.


This is a loaded and deeply personal topic. It touches on so many things that are impossible to tease out from each other—is the privilege of financial literacy separate from other kinds of financial privilege? How does poverty fit into this conversation?—and we all have our own definitions of these terms. This is my opinion, from my soapbox, and yours might be totally different. That’s OK. In fact, I’d love to hear it.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, my bank book from 2000. Bank book! Don’t you miss those?! I couldn’t find my first one from when I opened the account but you better believe I have it around here somewhere because if there’s one thing I am not… it’s a minimalist. 

financial literacy privilege kate smalley 1

financial literacy privilege kate smalley 2

P.S. Mum, if you ever find yourself on my corner of the internet reading this, thank you.

Why being multipassionate is a strength you should be proud of

I’m not a specialist.

And that’s OK. I’ve given up trying to find my calling. 

Dare I say I’m finally embracing, not just accepting, all these interests of mine.

I listened to Emilie Wapnick talk about this on the Quote of the Day podcast and it was sweet, sweet vindication to my multi-passionate ears.

In case you find yourself in a similar boat (boats?) I present to you, in no particular order, reasons why being into all of the things is actually a strength you should be proud of.

Your ego can thank me later.

Innovation happens at the intersections.

Ever notice that? Medicine and technology. Fashion and science. All the good stuff—the new ideas that change our world for the better—comes out of these overlaps.

And thanks to resumes that read more like choose-your-own-adventure books we’ve got lots of overlaps to draw on.

We’re used to be beginners.

We’re not afraid of trying new things. Of showing up and admitting we don’t have a damn clue what’s going on. We’re not intimidated by being the worst in the room at something because we know that’s how you learn.

We’re not only comfortable starting at the bottom, we thrive on it.

Skills translate.

And here’s the thing, we never really start from the bottom, because skills translate.

The way we approach and break down problems translates. The questions we ask, our curiosity, our intuition, our ability to communicate… these are universal skills we take with us wherever we go.

We’re adaptable.

We can take on different roles depending on what’s demanded of us. We don’t say, “Sorry, that’s not in my job description.” If we don’t know how to do something we say, “Challenge accepted.”

We do the work. We figure it out.

Those are some pretty great qualities to have, yes?

The world needs specialists. But it needs us multi-passionate types, too.

We’re not going to be successful in spite of our interests, we’re going to be successful because of our interests. 

(You’re welcome.)


So maybe the multi-passionate thing didn’t pan out so well for this variety store… That’s OK. Taken while passing through the Danforth Village in Toronto.