“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. 

Clarity comes from action, not thought

I’ve spent my entire life trying to make sense.

Make sense of myself. So I can make sense to others.

I’ve always… “had a lot of interests”. I thought that made me confusing and people don’t like to be confused. I wanted to be easy to understand.

“Wait, she’s studying financial planning? Wasn’t she working at a craft shop?”

“You’re at a software start-up now? Oh. I always thought you were going to be a fashion designer.”

I hated feeling like I had to explain myself. I wanted to fit neatly in a box so no one would have to go through the mental gymnastics of reconciling my seemingly conflicting interests.

I wanted to find my one thing. My calling. My elevator pitch.

So I could present myself to the world all, “Here. It’s me.”

After extensive list making (oh man, I do love a good list) I narrowed my options down to a few career and business ideas I felt excited about. I just needed to choose. I felt like the whole world was telling me to choose.

“You have to decide what you want to be known for. People hire specialists, not generalists.”
“You’ll never get good at anything unless you’re focused.”

“People aren’t going to take you seriously if you keep changing your mind like that, Kate.”

I thought once I knew what my thing was, once I decided which rabbit hole to go down, the rest would be simple and the shame would go away.

But I couldn’t pick (spoiler, I still can’t pick). And I didn’t want to appear scattered or unfocused by doing a little bit of everything.

So I waited…

Waited for a sign, for clarity. Waited for an answer.

Let me tell you something, Dear Internet, clarity doesn’t come from thinking about The Things, clarity comes from doing The Things.

So I turned myself into a science experiment. (Because that felt like a legit, sensible approach.)

What if I gave myself permission to run in a bunch of different directions. What if I just—in the name of science, of course—let myself be the person who figures out a new retail model for makers and who writes about money and who does marketing consulting for tech companies and who spins her own yarn and who talks about mental health and who takes pictures of falling down buildings and who makes YouTube videos.

What if took all the energy I’ve been spending trying to choose and put it towards action. What if I let myself focus on problems without getting hung up on solutions?

Well… the results so far have been amazing.

By getting out of my head and actually acting on my instincts—by having coffee with makers I admire to figure out what model would serve them and by taking on new clients in different industries and by recording my first YouTube video—I’m starting to see that all these passions of mine aren’t so divergent after all.

I like discovering things. People, places, products… Stuff that make me say, “Oh, that’s good. How don’t people know about this?!” I like sharing those things and telling their stories. I like teaching and connecting people.

That’s marketing.

And great marketing is art. Which, ultimately, is what I’m after. More art in the world.

See?? It’s all coming together.

If only I could go back and tell my teenage self the good news.

Oh look, a falling down barn. My favourite. Taken somewhere near Markham… I think. 

P.S. I first heard the “clarity comes from engagement not thought” thing from Marie Forleo. She’s great.

When did we decide being “good at money” meant not spending it?

Here’s a question…

When did we decide being “good at money” meant not spending it?

When did that become the goal. The badge of honour. The sign you’ve made it. Congratulations, you’ve arrived at your destination, please exit to your left, the end.

I can’t seem to get far into a personal finance blog without reading the words, “I’m going to lose my personal finance card this, but…” or, “bad personal finance expert, but…” because they’d just spent money on something they—or perhaps more accurately they worry others—deem expensive.

They ate out when they could have eaten at home. They got the pricier hotel room. They bought a new purse. A fancy one, with a label and everything.

Sometimes it’s said as a joke. But often it reflects a sincere guilt that frankly, I find concerning.

Where did this narrative come from? Why is that our conditioned response? Why is the personal finance community feeding this culture of judgment we’re trying so hard to get away from?

If there’s one thing personal finance doesn’t need, it’s more shame.

Being good at money doesn’t mean you don’t spend it.

And not spending it doesn’t make you good at money.

Frugality isn’t some virtuous badge. It can just as easily be a crutch, a vice, a way to hide. A box to tick without actually tackling the underlying habits, emotions, and fears that drive you.

Being good at money has very little to do with tangible indicators like budgets and account balances. It’s a mindset. An internal process. And it’s constant.

There’s no endpoint. No definitive, Aha! Look everyone, I’ve made it.

People don’t like that. Because it can’t be measured. It can’t be boiled down to visible, laddered achievements. It’s not fun to talk about. It doesn’t fit neatly in a box.

It’s a lot like being happy. You’re the only one who knows if you are.

Though we try our damnest—with happiness, money, and anything else in life worth pursuing—there’s no external yard stick we can point to and know we’ve made it. No formula, metric, or app can tell you where you are on that journey. You and you alone have the answer.

Which is why self-awareness is so important. Why it’s important to teach people to cultivate that, not just teach them hard and fast rules like “keep your spending under x percent of your income”. To do that we need to look far beyond the boundaries of what we think personal finance is.

We need to empower people, not rules.

We need to teach people how to think, not what to do.

We need to teach people what questions to ask, not what answers to look for.

Ya. It’s uncomfortable.

It means you can’t just throw a template over it and bam *dusts hands together* you’re sorted. Disagree? That’s fair. But with all the readily available resources and budgets and frameworks… why isn’t everyone getting this stuff? Why isn’t everyone saving and investing and feeling good about their money? If the content’s all there, why aren’t people implementing it?

Obviously, it’s not that simple. There’s more to it.

So even if we don’t have answers, can we acknowledge there’s room in this industry for better questions and start asking them?

We need to lean into this discomfort. Because ignoring it isn’t serving anyone.

Oh look, a winding muddy path to a beach which could be delightful or entirely disappointing and we won’t know until we’re there. Fitting, yes? Taken at the Scarborough Bluffs in, well, Scarborough, this summer. 

Currently #6: my YouTube experiment, the science of fear, and The Defiant Ones

You didn’t ask, I answered.


Life Unlocked by Srinivasan S. Pillay

I’m all for self-development books that are rooted in science. This one took a bit to get into, but was a game changer read for me. It’s all about fear—the science of dread, the fear of success, fear and prejudice, how trauma affects the brain… Really, really interesting.

Understanding the neurobiology behind fear has been the absolute key to helping me understand—and start to get over—my delightful procrastination habit and related crippling anxiety (fun!).

Because procrastination wasn’t my problem, fear was. Address the root and everything changes. (Studying epigenetics has been hugely helpful, too.)


The Defiant Ones Documentary

I don’t think the trailer does it justice. I loved this series. Ya, it was great to learn more about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s working relationship, how Beats was created and sold, the music industry history…

But the marketing, man. These guys aren’t just creative geniuses, they’re marketing geniuses.

If you want to learn about marketing, study hip hop. Study rappers. You don’t have to like the music to appreciate the craft.

Marketing isn’t an afterthought for these guys, it’s built right into the creative process. As it should be.

new! an experiment…

Top Notch/Cringy Marketing, Week 1

Yep. That’s me. On the YouTube.

Go through the camera roll on my phone you won’t find photos of puppies, babies, or successful attempts at winged eyeliner (which I’m told is the purpose of these pocket cameras…) you’ll find screenshots of ads I see on social media. Pictures of sandwich boards I pass when I’m walking around the city. Photos of storefronts, packaging, product displays…

Marketing. My camera roll is full of really great—and really cringy—examples of marketing.

I thought it would be neat (for my own sake, but maybe someone else will find it helpful and/or entertaining?) to chat through this stuff so I learn how to explain why I think certain things work or don’t.

And, as you’ll see, it’s a shaky first attempt. The amount I rely on the words anyways, so, like, literally, and just to get a thought out is crushing. It’s a lack of self-confidence (oh look, fear again!) but I’ve got a feeling this is exactly what I need to do to work through it.

We have to start somewhere, right?

What have you come across lately that’s stuck with you? Articles, interviews, a really great ad… Comment or Tweet me!

Hiding your competition isn’t going to keep me from finding them


This seems obvious, but it’s funny how quick we are to forget it as marketers.

We won’t tell the person asking about our email software that we don’t have the features they need, but the other guys do. We won’t tell visitors to our store that the couch in the fabric they really want is sold down the street. We won’t tell the couple sitting across our desk that they’d be better off with insurance coverage from the other guys…

We sell them on the next best thing we offer.

As if somehow by hiding the competition, our customers won’t find out they exist. They won’t know they have options and they’ll choose us.

Like, what?!

Everyone knows they have options. It’s called Google. They know there are “other guys” and they know how to find them.

So what are we afraid of? If what we’re selling is that good and we believe in it that strongly, getting stacked against our competition actually does us a favour.

Customers can smell fear. And that’s all this is. It shows insecurity, a lack of confidence, and frankly it undermines the intelligence of our audience. Certainly doesn’t inspire much in the way of trust, does it?

If the only way we can make a sale is by tricking people into thinking we’re the sole option… we’ve failed as marketers.

We can do so, so much better.

Epic tip jar courtesy of The Remarkable Bean in the Beaches, Toronto. I voted Big Bird. (Obviously…)

Currently #5: Perennial Seller, a crowdsourced music video, and the evolution of retail

You didn’t ask, I answered.


Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

Just finished up this dandy and it was a good overall look at what it takes to make and market work that stands the test of time as a creative. He places the responsibility for marketing your work square on you, the creative, which I’m all about.

Sure you can get help/coaching but ultimately you can’t outsource your marketing. You can’t just hand it off all, “Here, you deal with it!” and expect it to be a hit. Why? Because no one knows or cares as much about your work as you do.

And you can’t put something into the world and call it a day. All, I’ve-built-it-they-will-come. Two very important truths we don’t tend to love… but embracing them gives us a huge advantage.

“Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out other talented folks whose entitlement and laziness holds them back.” 

(Is this sounding harsh? Oops. It’s actually incredibly empowering.)

I’M watching…

Put Your Hands Together by Andrew Applepie

Okay ONE, Andrew Applepie is an absolute musical beat making wizard.  You can’t make up this kind of passion. You can literally feel the joy in everything he makes…

And TWO, this music video is brilliant. He asked his followers to send him clips of them clapping and here we are, a crowdsourced music video. Like! People from all over the world sent in these clips. Amazing.

That’s engagement, that’s community, that’s powerful. And yes, that’s marketing.

I’M listening to…

The Amorphous Evolution of Retail — Rachel Shechtman of Story on the Loose Threads Podcast

Brick and mortar retail’s not dead, the game’s just changed.

Rachel is the founder of Story, a 2000 square foot retail store in Chelsea,  New York that “has the point of view of a magazine, that changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.”

Customers coming in and buying things isn’t really the end goal, it’s more about the experience. They make a good chunk of their revenue through six-figure sponsorships and it’s even turned into something of a scouting ground for the indie brands and artists they carry.

It’s the intersection of content, commerce, and community. Yup, she changed the game.

best money spent…


Headphones. Proper over-the-ear-welcome-to-paradise-you-beautiful-introvert-you headphones. How did I go so long without these?!

Are these ones good? I have no damn clue, I’m no audiophile. About an hour into my “best headphones” research I accepted I was way out of my depth and resorted to the ol’… go to stores and try them on strategy.

Decided Bose was too fancy (read: expensive) for me, didn’t like the sound of Beats, didn’t love the Sennheiser ones in my price range, and wireless headphones were a no. I also knew I wanted a removable chord (so I could replace it if it broke) and removable ear pads so I could replace those when needed, too. Not of fan of having to toss something after a year because it wasn’t designed to be repaired, ya know? So I landed on these Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ones and Imma happy.

oh, that’s good…

Stay safe, eat cake

Bunners Bake Shop

SO GOOD. Because, cake.

What have you come across lately that’s stuck with you? Articles, interviews, a really great ad… Comment or Tweet me!