First Next Step

It’s hard to be freelance sometimes.

In early September I was having a crisis of employment. I had a project to work on but increasingly I was speaking to people who are unemployed, under-employed or “getting by”. I had plans for giving some work out to help them but I knew it wouldn’t be close to enough and I couldn’t give away all I made or I’d be broke.

Then I had a dream and posted it on Facebook the next morning.

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive and I felt emboldened to go ahead and plan something. I felt like I was helping.

Where and When?

My first task was to secure a location. I reached out to The Handlebar and asked if I could have a night to run an event. I’ve been part of other events at Handlebar and Rachel (the owner) is extraordinarily accommodating. She told me to look at the calendar and find a night. October 18th was free and that became the booking.


Next task is to work out format. A networking event is fine but I’ve been to many networking events that amount to very little. I wanted to spur conversation. But I didn’t want to have 20 minute session in which people had a chance to get bored. And so starts the idea of three-minute elevator pitches. One hour of pitches, followed by networking. My hope being you saw someone speak and wanted to follow up afterward.


An event is not a personality. Or person, for that matter. I needed it to have a name. The longer I called it “a networking event”, the less legitimate it felt to me. So I needed a name. As it so happens, I’d registered a URL a couple of months previously I felt fit the core concept. First Next Step. I’d registered in the hopes of starting some manner of e-learning pointer system but I got bored and realized who needs that? So First Next Step was repurposed for my event.

It had no identity. If you’ve ever seen how I design, you’ll know I like minimal. I mean min. ih. mal. A silhouette or key-line is sufficient.

I needed help with the identity. The person I knew who could knock this sort of task out of the park is Joshua Smith aka Hydro74.

Joshua is a long-time friend and he is fast and amazing. I knew if I asked him for help, and he had some downtime, he’d kill it. And he did. I asked and twelve hours later, he sent over a set of mocks. I could have cried.

I needed a vertical wordmark and a standard horizontal wordmark. Something that would work as an icon and header. So I opted for


I can’t thank Hydro74 enough for his help. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Getting people there

The channels of where to try and build an audience already exist but I needed to augment my presence.

Website – Exported a calendar file that could be downloaded to serve as a reminder. Embedded a map to The Handlebar and a basic description of me and the event itself.

Facebook -Set up a First Next Step page and an event tying back to the 18th.

Linked on my personal page to both to see who’d be interested. Posted a link to the event on Toronto Ad Jobs & Networking run by Gerard Adderly. This is an active group and I felt if anyone was looking for work, this is where I’d get the best response for presenters.

Linkedin – Began posting occasionally about First Next Step to generate buzz.

Twitter – I tweeted about First Next Step a few times.

Also, I ended up setting up an Instagram account and Twitter account. Just in case.

Then I waited.

That’s not true. I was busy with a project and it was winding down just as I was taking on pitch requests, answering questions, organizing, planning and generally making sure the night would happen. As each person reached out, I became more excited. A copywriting team here, a proof-reader there, an employer with a cool job. Then I‘d be in conversation somewhere and it would come up “I’ll be there!”.

My mistake.

I was freaking out at the start of all this and having a pint with a friend. While I was freaking out, he asked if he could help. By the end of the night and many more pints, we’d shaken hands and proclaimed “50/50!”

Problem is, I never needed a partner. I needed a sounding board in that moment. After a week, I realized I could manage the event without anyone’s help. I wasn’t going to get silly and over-plan. I didn’t need a massive website (the part for which he wanted to be a partner). I  reached out to get another face to face so I could tell him this but the timing never worked out. The day of the event he asked if I needed him to come early to help set up and I laid it all out. Doing this event wasn’t going to make money. Its purpose is to get other people jobs. If I was to get a sponsor or something, it would be to provide free drinks or food. Anyway, I let him know and it likely damaged our friendship but if I don’t admit the incident here, I’d be less than honest. Sorry, Erich.

The night of

I walked in to The Handlebar at 7 pm and shook hands with Pete the bartender who also, as it happens run a cool diy garage called Moto Revere. I set up some chairs, tested the projector and got to work saying hello, speaking to the pitchers and generally getting ready. It was a lot of fun.

The Pitches

Were would First Next Step be without the elevator pitches? Nowhere. Here, in order of appearance are the pitchers.

Hugh Elliott –

Clair Sautner – Shoppers Drug Mart Digital

Pietro Cammalleri – Proofreader

Natalie Zina Walschots – Writer and social media strategist

Andrew Tedford – Wickedly Sinful

Audra Williams and Robin Sandhu – Writers/storytellers

Simon Conlin – Producer

Simone Abel – Digital Strategy & User Experience

Eugene Andruszczenko – Lab of Forward Thinking (LOFT)

Tihana Deanovic – FORREC

James Marshall – Writer

Keith Prestwich – Writer

The keynote has been uploaded to the First Next step website. Feel free to take a look!

The night went as I hoped and I had a crowd of 50 – 60 people. I was blown away. Once the pitches were complete, I opened the floor to questions and the first and only question yelled at me from the darkness was “When‘s the next one?”. I blurted out “I don’t know. Maybe spring?” So yeah, maybe spring 2018 there’ll be another First Next Step.

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Thank you for reading all of that.

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