Thursday, February 14, 2019

A creative content solution project

Background - Waterloo International is part of the University of Waterloo, and is responsible for, among other things, stewarding international agreements for student exchange, research partnerships, and other strategic partnerships. At any given time there could be 300-500 agreements in place with universities and research consortiums across the globe.

The Challenge - Find a more user-friendly and useful way to view content about international agreements on the Waterloo International website.  The solution needed to become a visual cue to the vast number of international agreements the university has in place; this helps the university advance it's strategic plan goal of becoming one of the most internationalized universities in Canada.

Previous User Experience - Three separate lists (on 3 separate URLs) that displayed the international agreement information.  This information was very hard to use because it spread across three different pages. Each of the three pages was a simple text listing of each agreement. There was no visual appeal and user's got no sense of how many agreements were in place at one time.

Project Requirements
Visual - A map showing flags on the countries where agreements exist
Filters - The ability to filter the list by country or agreement type
Organization - All agreements in ONE list instead of three
Back-end - Run on a database so when a change is made to the database it updates on the website automatically
Cost - There are SAS solutions that exist that solve our challenge but they are expensive and do more than we need at this point. A requirement of this project was to find a low cost solution (less than $1,000).

The Solution - After some internet sleuthing, I sourced a Google App, called "Awesome Table," that met all requirements.  Our data was already in Excel so we only had to clean up the agreements records and load them into Google Sheets. We added the longitude and latitude for each agreement location (thanks to our co-op students!) so that the map would display all the flags. Filtering was available for any number of fields we wanted so that requirement was easily met. And it was free; fitting perfectly into our budget!

The next challenge was the URL had the original app developer branding in it which wasn't ideal as we represent a large university. And the university's website platform did not support the embedded code. To overcome this challenge I setup a free google site to host the map.  Not a big deal because we were already using Google Sheets to manage to back-end data so pairing this with a google site was seamless.

Problem Solved!
The end result is a clean user-friendly display of the 370+ international agreements for the university.
View the live map. Voila!  Everything came together perfectly and I solved the online content challenge I was presented with.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sharing a unique cover letter

I'm trying to impress my dream company this week with this unique cover letter.  I'm quite impressed with myself.  Hoping it's enough to stand out and make an impression!

(In the future, I may add a blurb about the challenges I had trying to create this "graphic" using Google Docs "Draw" (due to resolution issues) before I surrendered to doing it properly in Photoshop!)

Dear "Dream Company," In keeping with Anna Lambert’s 2019 article on how Shopify uses one’s Life Story as part of the hiring process I thought I’d introduce myself by putting a few highlights of mine in front of you. The following are markers from my career, my side projects and my interests which highlight how my life story makes me a strong candidate for your Customer On-boarding Lead role at Shopify Plus. I very much look forward to expanding on my experiences and skills with you in-person soon.

Friday, January 4, 2019

#Best6 (or #Best12 if you're me) for 2018

#Best6 is a popular hashtag this time of year as people reflect on their best moments (captured by photos) from the previous year.  I had a hard time choosing only 6 - as many people do no doubt - so I did a #Best6 x 2 to capture my 2018 year.

#Best6 part 1 includes our big family trip to California including sheer terror on Tyler's face riding a rocking boat at Santa Monica Pier. Man, I haven't laughed that hard in awhile; all captured in photos! If this lad gets married I'll be sure to show them at his wedding.  We also enjoyed a cruise to the Bahamas and scuba diving in Fort Lauderdale.  Just had to include the Mother’s Day tea in Goderich (with fancy hats!) which started a series of events of me researching my own business.  Maybe I'll post about that in the future...

#Best6 part 2 includes photos of my childhood home that my Mom, brother and I had the opportunity to visit (such amazing memories!).  My hubby won a poker tourney (fun!) and I took my 89 year old Grandma to Florida and we toured 4 "tea rooms" so I had to include a 3-generation photo of the awesome memories that trip created.  The cake photo represents the launch of the Shopify website at work (read my blog post about that here)  The dining room photo marks the fact we sold our house in 2018; love(d) that dining room window and bench!  Also, a family wedding from November ended the year off nicely.

And that's my #Best12 for 2018.  What were your best moments of the year?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

5 Things I Learned from a Shopify Plus Website Relaunch

It finally happened!  On Tuesday June 19, 2018 I pulled the trigger and we launched the new Things Engraved website onto Shopify Plus.  Why was this a big deal?  3 reasons:

  1. A migration to a new website platform had been needed for years, for YEARS.  So it was a momentous occasion when it finally happened.
  2. Due to the nature of the personalized gift business the vast majority of gifts get either engraved, lasered, or embroidered meaning the website needed to be customized in multiple ways for customers to place orders and communicate their customization desires to us.  Not an easy task when you're trying to customize an out-of-the-box platform such as Shopify.
  3. This was my baby!   It was a very long project (14 months from end to end) requiring a lot of thinking, planning, and execution among a team of people.  And I was ultimately responsible for all of it.  There is no "e-commerce team" or "support staff" for me to lean on - it was me representing the entire needs of the business and the partner we teamed up with on the technology side who made this happen.

So ya, big deal... at least in my little corner of the world and a big giant step forward for the company too.  So now, here are the 5 things I learned during this project that may be helpful to you as an e-commerce manager facing the a re-platform project:

  1. Choose the BEST technology partner possible - and this is number 1 for a reason - I feel it's the most important of any advice I could give.  When I say "technology partner" I am referring to the person, people, vendor, or team that is going to take YOUR website requirements (as the ecommerce manager for example) and make them work on the internet using the platform.  So this requires a lot of coding and experience with the chosen platform.  In our case we wanted a firm that would do the design (make it pretty and on-brand) as well as a partner that could code our custom requirements.  I was lucky in that after vetting 4 such technology partners the one I settled on was absolutely dynamo!  (Shameless plug for "Cinnamon Toast" right here.)  Overall, you need to choose a partner who you can trust, who understands the scope of your project, who delivers on their sprints/timelines and with whom you communicate well.  I cannot stress enough how important the partnership relationship is for a large website rebuild.
  2. Know what you want (and don't want) on your new site.  What IS working from our old/existing website that you want to maintain on the new site?  What is NOT working that you know must change?  At the beginning of the project be crystal clear with your partner about the functionality requirements of the new site.  Yes, the needs may change as the project evolves but the better list you can build from the beginning (and be able to communicate those needs and wants!) the smoother the new build is going to go.
  3. Get to know your new platform.  If your website build is going to take months like ours did, find a way to learn the platform before your "real" site goes live.  We did this twice over.  We created a live e-commerce website, using Shopify Plus, where we sold items at clearance prices for 6 months before the launch of the real website.  We also created a "Business to Business" website for volume discount information on a wide range of our products that would appeal to specific business sectors.  Creating and running these websites for several months before the launch of the "real" website allowed us to learn how to integrate our existing inventory, accounting, and shipping systems with the platform.  So when it was time to integrate the big build website to our back-end systems our IT group already had the foundation of knowledge which simplified this process greatly.  So my suggestion is to create a micro-site while your new big bad website is being developed.
  4. Maintain your SEO at all costs.  If there is a way to maintain your existing inking structure, do it.  I am not convinced that re-directs are "enough" to salvage great SEO.  Unfortunately it was also decided (NOT BY ME) that we would launch the new website on the .com url and redirect our 10+ years of traffic/links/ranking of the .ca to the .com.  Google was not happy with this action so in hindsight this was a mistake.  Traffic results in the first 30 days have fallen by more than 50% some days and more than 20% every single day.  Lesson learnt: do every.single.thing you can to maintain all of your SEO rankings with Google.
  5. Test. Test. And test some more.  This is not rocket science but if you're re-launching an already successful website onto a new platform and had several customizations done on your behalf, you will need to test until your fingers hurt.  And find good people to help you test.  It's not something everyone can or should do.  Asking office mates to "play around on the new site" will help you find your best testers.  And it's not always who you think it'll be!  Find a core group of 3 or 4 people who thinks about all the possible scenarios of shopping on your site and rely on them to find and report all the bugs for you to vet through to your technology partners for fixing.  Yes, things can get fixed after launch, and will need to be fixed after the fact, but if your site is already successful you'll lose sales while you're fixing the bugs if not addressed beforehand.  Test as much as possible before you pull the launch trigger.  One or two more weeks could make all the difference to a successful re-launch.
And there you have it.  I've lived it for the past 14 months and those are my tips and advice for an e-commerce manager who is faced with a website migration to a new platform.  It's a big undertaking but when done with these tips in mind, it's an exciting project to complete.  Please reach out to me directly if you'd like to discuss anything above or other conversations about website rebuilds and migrations.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Charmed with Alyshia - My KEEP Story

So for 2017 I set a goal to make my life more meaningful.  I was starting to feel like all I was doing was going to work, making supper, watching TV until bedtime and waiting for the weekend to make actual life plans. This is no way to live!  I considered getting a part-time job; something easy but worried that I'd be grouchy being away from home (and my couch!) in the evenings and weekends.  So in an effort to spend my evening and other "free time" doing something meaningful I stumbled upon Keep Collective.  The perfect mix of what I do professionally (ecommerce and marketing) as well as something creative (designing jewellery) and I recently started wearing jewellery so the timing was perfect!  I did my research: Do I love the product? [I do! So versatile and fun!]What was my initial cost? [Less than $200] What was my commitment? [None!] and What was my potential income? [Unlimited based on how hard I wanted to work - the commission structure seemed sound and bonus, I would earn lots of free product!]  What support is available to me if I join? [A LOT! Tonnes of Facebook groups and I would have a mentor. And the website itself is amazing! - check it out]

So with my research done I sign-up and was well on my way.  So far, being two full months into it, things are going well.  Everyone is very receptive towards the jewellery which validates my decision.  Most of my close friends have made a purchase and some even hosted parties for me (online or in real life).  Things are going well.  And I've earned a VERY good amount of free product so I have a great personal collection and get to choose what KEEP I want to wear each day to inspire me.

Keep Collective Favs
I can't say I'm going to hang onto this forever but for the next few months I'm enjoying the ride.  I get to meet new people, play on the internet making designs, and wear pretty charms that make my happy.  And so my 2017 to make life more meaningful has been a success.  Reach out if you're interested in joining my KEEP team or if I can design you a special Keep bracelet or necklace; I'm here to help!

Follow me "Charmed with Alyshia" on Facebook and Instagram!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Five Things I Learnt About Tech Start-Ups During My 4-Month Tenure

1.  Things change on the dime.  My experience showed me that start-ups are nimble. They are able to react to marketplace changes quickly.  The founders could wake-up one day and decide to take the business in a completely different direction… AND have it on that new road by 8pm that same day.  This is a major advantage to start-ups!

2.  They care less about formal work hours.  Working 9 to 5 seems to be less of a concern at a start-up than a well-established business with lots of employees.  Have a day-time appointment?  No problem!  Unlimited vacation (I still don't know what that really means) seems to be the way these places operate. This has its good and bad points from my experience. Some start-ups work very long hours. They just DO what has to get done when it needs doing; having a strong work ethic is key and I like that.

3.  The newest and best tech is available for you at a start-up.  They don't seem to skimp on computers, lap-tops, or whatever other tech may apply to their business.  For techies this is appealing.

4.  You'll learn terms you've never heard before, unique to not only the specific industry but the start-up community itself.  In the first few days you’ll learn several terms JUST about raising funds and getting investors to give money.  You'll learn new words every-day....“seed round.”

5.  Uncertainly can looms large with early start-ups.  Because things are so fluid and quick to change at start-ups, for people who value stability, a start-up might make you ill-at-ease.  When will the funding run out?  What direction will the business head tomorrow?  When will the business make a profit?  Is my role going to change?  Will I still have a job here next week?  Some may strive in this environment while others may perish. If the idea of CHANGE provides you fuel, an early startup is a good place for you. Buckle your seat belt for what could be a bumpy and thrilling ride!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to Differentiate Yourself in a Competitive Job Market

Being located in Kitchener-Waterloo, the tech hub of Canada, the competition for top jobs is fierce. But good jobs can be scarce at any time in any place.  You need to make yourself stand-out and rise above other candidates. But how?

Start with

For starters, do you know what differentiates you from other applicants?  You sure need to.  Do you know what you bring to the table?  A good way to find out is to take the Plum Job Seeker Discovery Survey.  In less than half an hour it can tell you exactly what your strengths are and how you rank in the general work force.  Don't underestimate what this knowledge can do for you!  Leverage it to differentiate yourself.

Visually, the Plum Discovery Survey results give you a number of “badges” that you can use to bolster your Linkedin profile page or as part of your application package - more about this below. badges
Courtesy of
From the Plum Discovery Survey you will learn about your personality and greatest strengths. Memorize these.  Practice (out loud) explaining your strengths.  For example, I am very proficient at making high-quality decisions based on limited information.  I am known for being thorough, deliberate and having great attention to detail.  This will help you feel comfortable "talking yourself up" and sets you apart from others who really don't know what their actual strengths are because they’ve never had them assessed.  Plum helps you pinpoint your unique value to a potential new company.


Research local companies to find out where you want to work, or at least narrow it down to a specific industry.  Then go to work!  Start learning everything you can about your top-listed companies.  Use their "About Us" or "About Our Team" webpages, coupled with their Linkedin page and employee profiles to really hone in on who their top leaders are.  THEN start following their leaders on Twitter and Linkedin and find out what type of content they care about.  Although you're not part of their actual network you can learn a lot about the culture of a company from it's employees and what they post about.  How does this differentiate you? You can use information you glean in your application package, and IF you get an interview, you will have the opportunity to highlight what you've learned about them.  A common interview question is: "What do you know about our organization?" and/or, "Why do you want to work here?"  Imagine how much you would have to talk about if you've immersed yourself in their company, researching it - this will set you apart!

Something A Little Extra

Now to your application package - here is where you can really separate yourself.  You don't likely know if the company where you are applying uses traditional hiring methods or if they even have software that's going to be doing key word searches on applications vs. a real human being reading your submission.  Therefore, you need to plan for ALL approaches.  This means yes, you need to have an awesome resume full of action words and your quantifiable accomplishments. Yes, you need a cover letter that addresses the specifics of the job posting you're applying to.  BUT if you want to set yourself apart, find a way to incorporate another visual to your application.  For example, you can create an Infographic about yourself (see mine here) or even a short introductory video.  While a little long, here is example from Vida who is trying to get a teaching job overseas; great idea!  Graeme's video, here, is a bit short on details but it shows a small glimpse into his personality.... You get the idea.

You can use your specific Plum badges and descriptions to create an awesome visual that can't be ignored!  Read more ideas about using your Plum badges here.  If you aren't permitted to submit "extras" with your C.V., then include the Infographic directly before your cover letter, making it a 2-page cover letter.  Include the link to your online video in the text of your cover letter.  Find a way to get that extra little something INTO your application package. It is what differentiates you from the other reams of white paper the hiring manager will be looking at.

A Tangible Exemplar

When you get invited for an interview (well done you!) you're a quarter of the way there.  Yet, you still have an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack.  Here you have a chance to present a portfolio of work examples.  No matter which industry you work in, you can surely come up with some examples of projects, memos, spreadsheets, or even speeches you have prepared.  You can somehow use these exemplars to illustrate your competency as it relates to the job you are applying for; be creative.  It doesn't have to be anything super flashy.  The point here is that you've made an effort to individualize yourself.  Even if you aren't asked to bring or present a portfolio, bring something tangible with you that you can show off during your interview.  The person interviewing you is looking for a reason to be impressed - this is one way you can impress them!


A couple of days after the interview, set yourself apart by sending a thank-you email or even a hand-written thank-you card.  Yes, it’s old school but how many people do you think do that?  Keep it short and simple and this will bring your name to the forefront of their mind again.

In a competitive job market, job seekers need to find ways to set themselves apart from others.  

Start today by completing the Plum Discovery Survey and then get creative in finding ways to highlight your objective job skills in a marketable way to prospective companies.