Monday, 6 June 2016

On the communication of cats: stories from the Deep South of Johannesburg

I am a cat person. I ought not to be, as I was surrounded by them growing up, but such are the things of life.  My story starts, I would think, in about the late '70's or early '80's, in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg. My mother, a stay-at-home mom and chronic cleaner, got it into her head to start herself a small cat-breeding business. Whether she was simply bored, or expected that it may somehow turn into a viable concern, is lost to me. The initial stock (if we can call it that) was brought in, large caging areas were built, various sundries and whatnots purchased, and the whole show hit the road. The mechanics of this operation is not really important.

She started small, a few kittens here, a few kittens there, specialising in Persians. It got so that a house full of little fur balls was the norm; it was nothing to have five sleeping on your bed, another four finishing your breakfast before you got to the table, six more staring at you from the top of the curtain rail. And the house never smelled, as you'd be expecting. All credit to my mom, the chronic cleaner.

This story revolves around one cat in particular. I don't remember her pedigreed, registered name. She was referred to, simply, as Mops. I think my sister coined that one. This was a cat with a perpetual bad-hair day. There was no brush or product known to man that could tame that particular fall-out zone. She was small, a black-and-cream bi-colour, becoming a Champion at some stage in life (yes, I had to tag along to cat shows, a sad and depressing subject for another day). Being a Champion breed, you'd expect that her kittens would fetch a decent sum but alas; this was not to be.

This little thing had a couple of peculiarities. For one, she refused to be mated. Any and all attempts ended in disaster. As soon as she was shoved into a cage with some or other virile and ready male, she would lie on her side and open the throat of anything that dared approach her. We never did figure out why. Perhaps Mops didn't fancy men? Whatever her own reasons for that she was, however, an excellent midwife. Any breeder will testify to a cat in labour gleefully eating anything that approaches her; not so with any of ours, where Mops was involved. She would saunter on in to the birthing area (yes, we had a birthing area) and climb into the box. During the labour stage she would purr at the expectant mother, wash her down, comfort her. At the birth itself she would assist by cleaning the new-borns and cutting cords. She has even been seen to dry-suckle the little newbies, allowing the exhausted mother to rest for a while. I have never seen the like of Mops since.

But, all told, I think that the single biggest reason Mops never did have kittens is because of her personality. She seems like a nice little kitty; she wasn’t. Outside of her few-times-a-year role as midwife she was (with no questions asked and no excuses given) a rampant, bad-tempered, stuck-up bitch. Dogs will say: "they feed me and care for me: they must be gods." Cats, on the other hand, think; "they feed me and care for me: I must be a god." That was Mops. The lord of all she surveyed, she swayed and flicked her way through the house, passing out whatever justice she deemed deserved for whatever slight on her person, whether real or imagined, with a flash of a claw or a click of a tooth. More often than not, it was simply the cold shoulder. Mops would simply turn her back on anything that approached to say hi, be it human or feline. She ate first, without question, the other cats sitting back from their bowls until Mops had finished. Any snacks or treats would go to her first; this was not disputed. It was only in the birthing room that she was even tolerated.

Sometime around '86 or '87, I was sitting at the dining room table. Whether I was eating or doing homework matters not. I do recall that the house, that day, was unnaturally quiet. I believe that there must have been, all told, around six or seven cats still in residence, my mother having been winding down her operation over a period (I think she ceased breeding somewhere towards the end of '89). There were no cats to be seen. All was calm and quiet. Like a grave, or a morgue. Or, more correctly as it turned out, that special kind of quiet in the air just before the mortar shell lands, spreading debris everywhere in one single and shocking bang.

I don't rightly know how cats communicate with each other, even though I had the opportunity to live with and observe them for the better part of a decade. I know that they meow only in conversation with humans. That day, those remaining cats in the house must have gotten together, conferred in secret, and reached a decision. 

It was time.

From where I was sitting I could stare directly up the first flight of steps, leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Calmly and confidently down the stairs came Mops. Her tail swished gently from side to side, her bad mood at a relaxed DEFCON 1. Completely and utterly oblivious to the lightning-charged friction in the air, she reached the bottom of the stairs. I must have somehow picked up on the subconscious menace that clogged the day, because I watched, quiet and still, barely breathing. Mops hopped down from the final step.

And was attacked.


From under furniture and from around corners, from behind doors and from under curtains, came a flashing, yowling, fur-bristling knot of fury, hell-bent on murder and mayhem. Cats from all angles crashed into Mops. She went down under a storm of multi-coloured, standing-on-end destruction. Fur went everywhere. The screams and hisses, the challenges and the pleas, rang out through the house. The mortar shell had landed. The horde of cats crashed one way and then the next, bashing into furniture and walls, rolling on the carpet and sending up fur and spittle, blood and shouts. It seemed like minutes, though it must have been a few seconds before I went wading in, hitting, pushing and kicking from one side to another, scattering cats left, right and centre. Mops was a wreck. That's the best we could say. Bloody and torn, missing fur and flesh, she lay panting, eyes glazed over and little body quivering. Of the other cats, there were none to be seen. Job done, they had crawled back to where they came from, only appearing again later in the day, tails perhaps a little straighter, when Mops returned from the vet.

It doesn't matter what you think about the communication of cats, what animal behaviourists and enthusiasts will tell you. On that day at the end of the '80's, six or seven cats got together and decided that enough was enough. They conspired, they planned, and they acted. They violently and concisely, with precision that was military-perfect, ambushed another cat, and beat it to a pulp. They sought their revenge, and they got it.
And Mops, the ruler, the judge, the jury and the executioner…was now only Mops the cat who sat quietly on her couch, Mops the one that ate last at mealtimes. Mops who gave way when other cats walked past.

For the rest of her life.

Karma, unlike Mops, might not be such a bitch after all.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The 7 ways I handle fear, doubt, and the crazy inner-turmoil

This relates so much to people working for themselves, I couldn't resist to share this post - enjoy. Lee-Anne (

I have woken up in cold sweats, with the bed literally soaking beneath me. I’ve had nights where sleep just wouldn’t come at all – pushed away by gut-wrenching anxiety. I’ve been pre-occupied with worrisome thoughts that prevented me from getting any simple joys from the nice surprises of life.

These things have plagued me when I was just starting out and completely broke, and even now that I’ve obtained some real success.
And I’m not alone. If you’ve ever taken as big a risk as entrepreneurship, I have no doubt you’ve faced similar, or exactly the same.
This is a side to freelancing that is very difficult, because no matter what kind of success you reach, it’s always there in some way.
There is a whole industry out there that tries to teach people to conquer these feelings and never again feel fear. It’s all about positivity and changing your mindset. I have to be honest: I think it is all a lie. I don’t think you will ever rid yourself of fear or negativity or doubt. I think fear is what has kept our species and millions of other beings on this planet alive through the ages. (I do believe we can become more positive and resourceful, but that’s another topic for another day.)
So this post isn’t about how to “cure” yourself or become a glowing rainbow-unicorn of positivity. It’s about how to accept these things as part of your life, experience them, and still live a meaningful life anyway.
So when these feelings rear their ugly, bloody head, here’s what I typically do.

First: I face them.

I’ll spend some quiet time with my feelings, because sometimes they carry an important message for me. They nudge me in a new direction, or open me to sides of myself I didn’t even realize I was closed to. They remind me of things I’ve forgotten or teach me something new. When I’m closed off and hardened by stress, they force me open.
I don’t try to push them out or put up a wall. I let them in and let them do their worst.
Often, the thing that makes them go away is the one thing you never want to do: face them head on.
I believe this practice has made me a better artist, too. It’s made me think and feel more deeply and not avoid things that are uncomfortable. That depth creeps into everything that I do. Like my old wrestling coach used to say (or scream):
You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
He was talking about the pain we endured through hundreds of pushups and squats and sprints, but it turns out it’s great advice for life and freelancers too.

Second: I do the thing I’m avoiding.

Sometimes I realize my anxiety is caused by me having put off some action or confrontation. Maybe I’m scared to write a certain email, or have a certain conversation, or a task has felt overwhelming so I keep setting it aside.
If I realize my fear is caused by something that I can do, I do the thing as quickly as I possibly can.
Sometimes I realize it’s because I’m doing something that I shouldn’t be. When that’s the case, I stop the thing right away, and if need be, apologize if I feel it may have hurt someone. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m acting a certain way until anxiety wakes me up about it in the middle of the night.

Third: If that doesn’t work, I try to laugh.

I’ll put on a show like “The Office” or anything that usually gives me a smile. Because if I’ve handled the feelings for a while and tried to work through them, but they’re not keen on being worked through, then I’ve got to free myself in some way.
Nothing frees up anxiety like laughter. It instantly splits it open like a can of tuna and it starts to fade.

Fourth: I talk to someone who will challenge me.

That’s usually my partner in business and life, Louisa.
There are friends and loved ones who will simply comfort you and tell you what you want to hear, and there are those who will challenge you and push you to see your situation in a new light.
The latter is the kind I’ll talk to first:
  • I want to understand what’s giving me such a hard time.
  • I don’t want to be let off the hook so easy.
  • I want to learn and grow from it so I can become better.
  • I want someone to tell me what I need to do or what I need to stop doing that I’m too close to the situation or stubborn to see myself.

Fifth: I talk to someone who tells me what I want to hear.

That’s usually my mom.
She is quick to remind me of how much I’ve accomplished and how proud she is of me. She says it’s amazing how much I’ve accomplished in my 26 years. She tells me what she was doing when she was 26, which was what most hippies were doing in the 70s. She tells me stories of how I was as a kid or an infant and we laugh.

Sixth: I go to the gym.

Sometimes you can pummel those tough feelings right out of you with a good workout. There’s a reason they say the gym is like therapy.

Seventh: I throw out the drawing board, and try something new.

If my six other remedies won’t work, it’s time to get creative. But the mind is an amazing thing. Usually an idea of what I need to do has been there all along, but I’ve just been avoiding it. But when I finally give up and take the idea to heart – the anxiety almost always goes away in an instant.
Sometimes that means hitting something, or taking a walk at 2 in the morning, or writing, or drawing. Sometimes it means cooking or cleaning or looking at old photos.
By this point, I’m open to anything. It’s time to try something else. If you can calm yourself just enough to listen to what’s going on inside, I’ve found that usually that something else will present itself. Then you just have to do what it says.
Thanks to by David Tendrich from Design Blender for the article

Monday, 24 November 2014

Trust Me? Really?

Some years ago there was an FNB advert on local SA television. Two Cape Town fishermen were sitting on the docks, sorting fish, and having an argument around a company they were planning on setting up for themselves. Fisherman # 1 wanted to call their new fishery Arendse en Pieterse. Fisherman #2 argued for Pieterse en Arendse, as, said Fisherman #2, the name had more of an ‘international’ flavour. Back and forward they argued, left and right, up and down, until a listener (herein called, you guessed it, Fisherman #3), suggested: “how about I, en Jy.” It was funny. Now you need to be (1) South African and (2) Capetonian to get this one, so lemme explain. The ‘Jy’ is pronounced as a hard letter ‘J’. Get it? I en Jy? Me and you? I&J? Oh come on…

What’s in a name, I think Shakespeare said. I don’t recall. It’s been many, many years since Matric English. But whether you’re Arendse en Pieterse, or you’re Pieterse en Arendse, the fish is still going to smell like fish. Now if those two had asked my opinion on the matter, I would simply have said: don’t worry about it. Rather concern yourself with how you present the name to the public. You need the right message, the right feel, the right emotions. I am speaking about, of course, Pieterse en Arendse’s (or Arende en Pieterse’s) logo.

And if you don’t believe that a colour and style has to attach itself to a name so as to bring the correct message across, then consider these examples:

Blue Sugar Designs

Calm Down, the logo says. How does this make you feel? Like calming down? All fiery red and yellow, shimmery stuff? Feeling calm yet?

How sweet. Nice flowery happy feeling and calm font. Don’t even mention the colour. So ask yourself again: am I feeling depressed, while looking at this one?

Another one. Feeling sad yet, are you, while looking at this one? Has it conveyed ‘sad’ to you at all? Do I need to get out the tissues or are you okay?

Yeah. Let’s get going. Up and at ‘em, sunshine, seize the day! Or is that what this choice of font and colour is really saying? Bet you really feel like getting going now

Take it easy. Okay. Those little white lines through the bottom ‘seeeeeem’ to indicate speed but yes: let’s take it easy. You feel like taking it easy when looking at this image?

Ooh, shouting, shouting, blocky stuff. Black and white. Trusting this guy, are you? Better Call Saul…

So in the final analysis, Shakespeare might be right, and wrong. What’s in a name, really? Maybe how you see that name might be, just might be, kinda critical.

So speak to us. You can trust us. We know what we’re doing

Monday, 8 September 2014

Boxed wine is nothing to whine about Part 2

Let’s delve straight in here. Call-to-action marketing has become quite the little niche of late. Whether you call it Lead Generation or Direct Marketing makes no matter, really. It’s the same stuff, and many companies are realising the importance of this: how to get so-and-so to click on/email/phone/buy. These companies are so invested in the power of the call-to-action that they’re hiring people to do that one important thing. So now we see people in marketing departments responsible for just this. We see Lead Generation Managers being recruited and placed over a bevy of marketing folk. And for every 100 ‘Lead Generation Managers’, you’re going to get 105 opinions on the matter.

Here is my opinion. But let me first ask you to notice the subject line: see that bit that says part 2? It implies that there is a Part 1. If you haven’t read it yet, then go ahead and do so now: click here. Go on. Do it. That’s right. Because what follows will make a whole lot more sense if you do.

What exactly IS a call-to-action, first of all? The CTA is a device that leads people in a certain direction. If the goal of your campaign is to have someone email you, then that’s how you set up the CTA. If the desired outcome is to get someone to download a piece of software, or purchase your product, then the CTA must be geared towards that.

A generalisation in this case is not going to do. By way of explanation into what a CTA is, and what makes a good CTA, consider these two examples from ‘out there’

Skype does a great job of this. Minimalist design, no clutter, CTA button well highlighted. Go Premium. That’s it, no bells, no whistles. Says what it is, in a nutshell.


This one has four arrows pointing at the CTA; the reader has clear directions on where to go next. Again, no clutter, nice and simple, easy-peasy, just click here.

So here is my opinion, at last, as it relates to web pages and other digital media:

  1. Make it big. In the case of the CTA, size does matter. Make it stand out. But not so big that it overwhelms the design on the rest of the page.
  2. Sometimes, less is more, or so ‘they’ say. With a CTA this is most definitely true. If you want to attract attention to your CTA, you’ll have to give it some breathing space. Don’t crowd it out. White space is your friend here.
  3. We’re English right? So we read from left to right, top to bottom right? Go ahead and place your CTA on the top left position of your page. See if that new placement works for you.
  4. Most CTA’s seem to have the same shape: a rectangular box. This is your button. Because most follow this, don’t follow this. Use unconventional shapes, like little green-starry things, thought boxes, write-outs. Square corners, according to some CTA experts, may signal to visitors that your CTA is an ad or a banner. It will be overlooked.
  5. And lastly, though this list is by no means exhaustive, focus on the text and not the graphics. Be clear in your wording. Be specific. Be action-oriented. And tie your graphics in with what you’re saying.

So, in a nutshell: if you are not generating the kinds of leads that you think your site deserves, then go on and contact me. Let us have a look-see. It may be one simple change, something so obvious that you haven’t spotted it yet. We’ll spot it.

And because we’ve already ascertained that I am pretty much normal, go ahead and Try Me.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Boxed wine is nothing to whine about Part 1

I don’t really consider myself to be the kind of guy that is easily swayed by advertising and clever marketing. I know that a product advertised as ‘New and Improved’ is probably neither. If it is ‘New’, then there is no previous product on which an improvement was built, and if it is ‘Improved’ then there was a previous something and is therefore not new. This is not rocket science.

I also know that using shampoo in the shower will not make me gain weight, despite the words ‘Gives Extra Body’ on the packaging. In the same way, using dishwashing liquid in the shower will not make me lose weight, despite the claim that it ‘Dissolves Fat’.

So picture this one then: the other day I go to the liquor store to pick up some wine. I am not a member of the Wine Mafia, so I am not familiar with terms like Merlot, Pinotage, or Cabernet Sauvignon. To me, wine comes in three types: red, white and rosé. And because I believe that, when it comes to wine, quantity trumps quality any day of the week, I buy my wine by the box.

This time the choice is rosé. I find the wine shelves: check. Locate the boxed wine: check. Identify boxes of rosé: check. And find ten or so choices. This is where I break down. There is sweet, semi-sweet, natural sweet, sweet lite, natural sweet lite…I just want rosé. I am starting to whine. So I do a quick scan, and settle on a box. It speaks to me. It appeals to me. It is rosé, and it is in a box. I take. Pay. Wipe the sweat from my forehead. Go home.

Then, when it came time to crack that sucker open, I noticed the following:

Try Me. Two simple little words, on a little green starry-shaped background. Contrary to what my friends think, and what my family know for sure, I must be normal. Out of all the choices available to me, I picked the one that said: Try Me. So I did. I tried it. And it was pretty good.

That little green starry-shaped thing is called a Call-To-Action. And trust me on this one: people being what they are, if you don’t tell them to do a thing, they ain’t gonna do it mate. You can give them all the fancy info in the world on what you do, what you offer, but if you don’t tell them to do something, they’re not going to do it. You find this most often on web pages, adverts, newsletters, anything you want people to notice. It can be a request to contact you, or mail you, or click on something, or buy something. Whatever it is, if you don’t tell people to do something, they don’t do it. Sounds obvious. Many times we get it wrong.

And that’s where we’ll be leaving it off. Tune in this time on Monday for Part 2: how to, in fact, get it RIGHT.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The pro’s (and pro’s) of Network Marketing

Network Marketing is to a business what pilchards are to caramel. Okay, granted, that doesn’t sound very good, but I once knew a pregnant lady who ate pilchards and caramel sandwiches and she said they were an “awesome combination”. Can’t testify to this myself. But network marketing I have tried, and I have some thoughts on it for the aspiring, or current, network marketer. I can assure you that you’ll prefer the taste of this one.

I belong to two network groups, and interact on an as-and-when with a couple of others. For the sake of not mentioning names, let’s call my two regulars Group Alpha and Group Beta. Both groups have some general similarities, but some stark differences. Let’s look at some of the differences between these two models.
Group Alpha, for example, meets once a month. Group Beta meets once a week. Once a week means that you see people regularly, you get to know their names, the names of their spouses, if they have pets are not, and you get to learn a great deal about their businesses. In short, you get to know them. And getting to know a person means that begin to trust that person; it makes you happier with entrusting your customers, friends and family to that person, when you refer business. Meeting once a month, I am afraid, really doesn’t carry the same weight. So, score one for Group Beta.

Group Alpha and Group Beta both meet at the same time, and in both cases breakfast is available for a nominal fee. Great. No problem there. Grout Beta, on the other hand, charges an annual subscription fee, while Group Alpha does not. And while that may sound as if it scores one for Group Alpha, thereby squaring the points tally, it is actually not that great. Paying an annual fee (and it ought to be a decent fee) gives you a sense of commitment to the group. You’ve paid for it, after all, and now you’re looking for a return on your investment. Group Alpha membership numbers tend to wax and wane, along with the moon. Group Beta membership stays strong, so score one for Group Beta.

Group Alpha allows anyone to come along and network their business. Nice and inclusive, no discrimination there. But last week there were four, yes four, business consultants. Um. How do you choose one? Group Beta restricts their membership: one person per industry. If you’re an accountant, and you’ve joined Group Beta, then rest assured that you’ll remain the only accountant. I reckon that scores another one for Group Beta.

Lastly, each group has speakers. Group Alpha tends towards external speakers, whether motivational or inspirational, or certain experts in their fields (social media, cold-call marketing, and so on). Group Beta selects its key note person from within the group itself, on a rotation. That means that once a week you get to hear from one of the members, as he or she describes their company, or an aspect of their company, in some depth. This is a good thing; more knowledge for you on how another operates better equips you to refer business to them, which is after all the point. But that said, an external speaker might not be a bad idea. We all know why we are here, and there is ample opportunity to speak to people, visit people, have face-to-face conversations at their premises, so is it strictly necessary? I’ll admit to being on the fence, but if pushed I would tend towards Group Alpha’s speaker model. So in the final analysis, I score one for Group Alpha.
That puts the final score at Group Alpha, one, and Group Beta, three. In my opinion, if you are looking to market your company via network marketing, go with Group Beta. My return on investment would speak for itself; simply give me a shout if you wish to hear more, and possibly want to come along and see for yourself.
A word in closing, or rather a couple of tips if you already network market, or are wanting to:
  1. Bring business cards. No really. At least one person every week or month does not have cards, and it just smacks of bad preparation.
  2. Just for one and a half hours a week, drop the casual attire. Present yourself. You’re a brand, you represent a brand, look the part. Be professional, it doesn’t hurt.
  3. Be genuine. Don’t misrepresent yourself, your company or your abilities. The truth will out, I assure you, and this can only ruin your credibility. There are many ways to make yourself appear larger than you are, if that’s your thing, without outright lying about it.
So do yourself a favour and try the pilchards and caramel. A pregnant woman once told me that it’s a great idea.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Because 1 + 1 = 3:

We all know that most things are greater than the sum of their parts: 1+1=3.

Let’s illustrate that for a moment:
The Lone Ranger is a cowboy. Well, a lawman more specifically, but we think of guys on horses with big hats as cowboys. Tonto is an Indian. He dances around fires and wears funny paint. Together they’re the Lone Ranger and Tonto, striking fear into the hearts of villains everywhere. On their own they’re just a guy in a hat, and just a guy in paint. Not unlike Sea Point on a Saturday afternoon.

Frodo is a short guy, with a cool little round house. Sam is his mate. Sam likes to cook and do gardening. Together they take on a Dark Lord, hell-bent on worldwide destruction, and destroy some of said Dark Lord’s much coveted jewellery. Sorry, if you haven’t watched Lord of the Rings, yes, Frodo and Sam do (in fact) destroy the ring. Sorry.

And closer to the 21st Century, we have Tinkerbell, the star of 5 great adventures thus far. Tinkerbell is a tinker fairy. She makes things, repairs things, generally stuffs things up, but a likeable character through all that. She has some pals. They include Silvermist, Iridessa, Rosetta, Vidia, Bobble and Clank. And they have Talents. These Talents include Water, Animals, Fast-Flying and Light. On their own they go off and do their day jobs: make flowers grow, create wind, paint spots on the ladybirds. Together…well, together these little fairies take on dragons, trolls, pirates – all the stuff that good adventure is made from. Because they work together, blending all of their individual components into one powerful whole. One plus one equals three.

Because you’re an ardent business person, you know that your marketing works the same way. One plus one equals three. You have a website. Awesome. Now start or blog or throw up a Facebook page. You have road-facing signage on your building. Great. Now put some on your car so everyone else on the road see’s you too. You have a little stack of business cards on your counter-top, but most people take flyers, so get some flyers. You have a newsletter but you don’t copywrite particular well – get someone to do it for you. And so it goes on. All the stuff you need, to get other people to notice you: we make it. And all the stuff you want as well.
Because we provide a full-spectrum, multi-faceted approach to your visual marketing solutions, you get the benefits of dealing with one company for everything: unparalleled service, simplicity of contact and choice, competitive pricing, and outstanding quality.
Because one plus one does equal three…