Tyler Chisholm is the CEO of clearmotive marketing, and is obsessed with helping businesses connect with their customers in more meaningful ways. I love picking his brain on how we can gain a better understanding of our clients’ business challenges so we can add value in ways other accounting firms are not.
Tyler hosts two podcasts, They Just Get It and Collisions YYC, which give him the privilege of having inspiring and challenging conversations with Calgary’s thought leaders three to five times a week!
His goal is to inspire lively dialogue and bold actions towards creating a better Calgary. We thought what better guest to have on our inaugural episode of True North On Tap!
A big thanks to Citizen Brewing Company for sponsoring this episode.
Matt: I've gotten to know Tyler a bit over the last year. He's obsessed with business and we have a lot of great conversations. I love picking his brain on customer-centricity. I wanted to talk to him about that and share it with anybody else that's interested, which is a lot of our small business clients and the community in Calgary that’s wondering, what's going on right now? How are we going to come out of this? What's life gonna look like?
Tyler: I'll start off by saying I definitely have no magic answers or secrets. I think it's a good conversation to have because it's hard to imagine a future that's never happened before. I've heard that quoted a few times, and I think we're all kind of, whether it's as private citizens or business owners, I think we're right in the heart of that right now.
Matt: Tyler also runs two podcasts. One’s called, “They Just Get It.” And the other one is called “Collisions YYC.” Can you tell us a little bit about your podcasts?
Tyler: I started “They Just Get It” about two years ago. I was a big podcast listener and I'll be honest, I was struggling to find what content or what platform worked for me.
A couple of things: One, you're never wrong to elevate other people and tell their stories. The world didn't need to hear what I had to say. I decided to tell other people's stories and it was a time, two years ago, when we were three years into the oil structural change in Alberta. There was a lot of negative going on in the media. The world could use some positive stories and I knew a lot of small and medium-sized businesses, non-for-profits, people's stories that needed to be told.
I met a ton of people, and one of them was a very inspirational guest. His name was Kevin Crowe (Episode 10 of They Just Get It) and if you haven't listened to it, please go check it out. I'm a huge fan of this guy, and he is such an inspiring individual.
He comes to me and says, we need to start another podcast focusing on business transformation and economically, what's happening in the city. He felt there were a lot of conversations that were being had, that not everybody was hearing. They weren't getting into mainstream media, they were in little pockets.
So those are the two podcasts. One's very much human interest. The second one has a deep focus on economic transformation with a very big focus on Calgary.
Matt: If you just pay attention to the national news, it can seem pretty rough here in Calgary. There's a lot of interesting things happening, lots of really smart entrepreneurial people that are trying new things. Having three to five in-depth conversations a week with very smart business leaders in the city, you learn a lot I'm sure.
Tyler: It's a mini MBA. I always joke I would do it anyways even if nobody listened, because I get the privilege and the honour of having those amazing conversations; I feel like I'm getting to peek behind the curtain all the time.
Matt: What’s clearmotive up to these days and what's changed in your business and your industry?
Tyler: We're a full-service marketing agency with “offices” in Toronto and Calgary. We've been diversified in these two markets for quite a few years, which has been a real advantage for us being in Alberta and some of the challenges. We're a full-service agency. We have a heavy focus on customers in highly competitive segments that need hardworking creative. It needs to be fast, it needs to be efficient, and it needs to drive results. And that's an area that we've focused on. And the last nine weeks have been a real challenge for us.
Our industry is going through constant change from in-housing being very popular, and larger companies bringing creative teams in-house and then going out for very specialized services. So the move around the gig economy is something we embrace. Right now with the downturn, we have around 25 full-time staff and probably about the same amount of contractors or team members that don't work for us full-time. Technology has dropped the barrier to where people can work from. For example, our digital marketing agency is in the UK.
So that's something that we embraced to be as client-specific as we can, to make sure we always have the right resources for the work that our clients need, versus trying to be the Jack-of-all-trades in our industry, which is very challenging unless you are a very large agency.
Matt: I guess the advantage of hiring or having these freelancers on hand is you can have somebody that's very specialized that you might need just on one project, but you can kind of tap into that and scale up and down as you need.
Tyler: Yes, absolutely. We're very much an expert-driven culture, so we look for people that have those areas of expertise. It really is about providing the most value to the client, and having contractors and resources and freelancers really allows us to do that, while still having a core team that really understands the needs.
Matt: You can do research surveys, talk to people and you have a pretty good idea what challenges your clients are going through. In the last two months, everything is moving so quickly. How do you connect with your customer and really tap into their challenges and fears and needs right now?
Tyler: I'm going to say something really unsexy and really un-tech and really uncool. We pick up the phone, and we have meetings and we talk to them. In the first two weeks of the crisis, back in March, we picked up the phone and I can't tell you how many clients were like, “You know what? Thank you so much for calling.” Even clients that we weren't really active with. It was like, “Hey, I'm just calling to let you know we're still around. If you need us, we're here.”
And honestly, our mode of operation was to be as client-centric as possible. Almost to the point of, call me whenever – if you have a question at seven o'clock at night or seven o'clock in the morning, it doesn't matter. Give us a call and we'll take what we know, do our best to assess the situation. It was getting as close to them as we could, so they knew we were in their corner when they didn't know the answers either. And that's worked really well for us, as old school as that answer is.
Matt: I was talking to my painter recently. He was painting our Bridgeland place and he runs Mountain View Painters. He doubled down on his advertising during all of this because he saw all his competitors kind of pulling back, and he's had the busiest spring.
That got me thinking that people are driving less, so they're listening to the radio less. They're driving by billboards less. There's no events. Event sponsorship is a big one. Are a lot of your clients really going full-on digital marketing?
Tyler: The majority of our clients, I would say 65% to 80% of their spends are typically digital already. So clients very quickly get addicted to the metrics, the transparency, the attribution modeling.
All forms of marketing can be relevant, if it's relevant to your customer. But certainly digital is where we've been leaning in, and we've seen some pretty solid results around conversions. People are still out there and they're definitely spending more time online, and they definitely are still interested in things. Certain industries have slowed down for sure. But some of our key industries, it's been surprising. It's exceeded the client and our expectations, which is always nice.
Matt: So for marketing freelancers that are looking for work, things have slowed down. Is there any advice — how do they approach getting new business?
Tyler: You're talking about people that are working in a freelance environment that maybe are new to freelancing, in terms of they don't have established networks? That's a million-dollar question. It's at least a couple hundred thousand-dollar question. Tapping into your network, understanding what you do and being very, very clear on the value that you provide.
Getting out there, doing things like this, really experimenting and I have seen a huge burst in people doing podcasts, for example. Everybody's jumping on that platform, which is great. Give it a try, see how it appeals to you because you're always going to get that friends and family kind of lift.
And it's amazing how when you put a piece of content out, or you do a Facebook Live event or an Instagram Live, oftentimes it's not necessarily that you're going to get exposed to a whole new group of people, but the people that know you might all of a sudden look at you in a slightly different light. I think that's a really important opportunity of them going, “Oh wow, I've known you for years. I didn't actually know you did that. Or I already trust you, but wow, you have this value.”
It's amazing how much lift you can get by just putting yourself out there to that group in a way that makes them go, “Oh, I didn't know Matt did that. I didn't know Tyler had a podcast. I kind of liked that guy. Maybe I'll go check on his podcast.”
It sounds very old school, but when you're starting off as a freelancer, it can be really challenging because you’ve got your head down, ass up doing the work. You're not doing biz dev. Or you’re doing biz dev, you’re not doing the work. But tapping into your network and letting people really understand and be clear what it is you do. They might not hire you, but they might know someone else who needs you and let's be honest, word of mouth and that personal referral, it's still gold. There's no question about it.
Matt: Your friends and family are like little evangelists.
Tyler: Absolutely. My business partner, Chad, says all the time, people are going to talk about you — give them the words. So put it out there and say, “Matt does this.” Hey, I'm looking for an accountant. I'm looking for some bookkeeping. I've got a small corporation, two to three people. Hey, you know who I know? Talk to the guys at True North Accounting. They are this, and they focus on this, and all of a sudden they start telling your story for you. It’s really important to kind of facilitate the story, make it easy to share.
Matt: I never even thought about that kind of lift from trying this Instagram Live. I was just thinking, maybe our clients will tune in and we'll give them something interesting to talk about or to listen to.
Tyler: Never underestimate the value of validation for an existing client who's already chosen you. All of a sudden, now I'm a customer for you. I’ve been maybe a few months since I've signed up, but I haven't really gone through a year-end cycle with you. All of a sudden, I see you doing these things. I'm like, “You know what? I chose the right company.”
Never undervalue how much that proof point goes like, “Ah, I made the right choice.” And then they tell three people. Sometimes you're just validating the purchase they've already made, and don't underestimate the value of that.
Trust is earned and in a sales environment, especially with professional services, you kind of buy this invisible thing that's surrounded with trust, but you haven't got the service yet.
I see you doing things in the community. I see you doing things that align with stuff that I value. Instantly, I feel validated with my purchase and I tell 10 people about you, and I haven't even really worked with you yet.
Matt: So for these people that are skilled, they have something to offer to the community in Calgary and they're just not sure how to get out there. Do they need to start a company? Or can they just start networking and try to dig out business and then if they land something and then they can think about the structure?
Tyler: That's an interesting question. Chicken, egg, cart, horse. How do you answer that? Tap into your existing network and find a way to even ask for feedback. That's such an easy tactic.
“Hey Matt, I'm thinking of starting my own business. Or I'm not working, I'm doing this. This is what I do. You're someone who does something. Give me your feedback.” Do not be shy to reach out. Don't be protective of your idea. It's not a sacred cow, but go to the people that you trust. Start where you're comfortable. Get honest feedback and I'll be honest, just get started.
Put one foot in front of the other; do something that's relevant to you. I know we want the secret pill, we want the magic weight-loss pill. We want the magic get-rich-quick pill. I want the magic biz dev and networking pill. You do have to find what is your own formula, and that can be challenging, but other people's ideas are just that. They're ideas. You still have to make it credible for you. Find your way. Find your secret sauce.
Matt: If you're selling a service or an expertise, is there a social channel that you prefer over another? For marketing freelancers, is it Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter?
Tyler: It's a really good question. I'm going to give you the marketing answer. Where's your audience? Is your audience on Instagram? Is your audience on LinkedIn? Is your audience on Facebook? Is your audience on Twitter? Is your audience on Tiktok? Pick a platform.
Matt: And that where, has that changed in the last two months? Are we all here like in our houses? Kind of tuning into whatever's out there? Once you've gone through Ozark and you've gone through your other list of shows?
Tyler: I just watched the last season, last show, last night of Ozark. Anyways, I'm a huge fan of the show. Thanks for bringing it up. That show is incredible. If you haven't watched it, please go watch Ozark. It blows my mind, the character arcs in that show, just melt my brain. I love it so much.
It’s interesting. I don't have the stats. I can't sit here and say Instagram has risen this much and LinkedIn is doing this much. I've seen podcasts, content consumption go down because people are not in their car. They're not commuting. We had our biggest download month in the history of the podcast in April, but we also put up the most podcasts. So the listenership per episode didn't change. We just put up more episodes, so it boosted it.
I, personally, am a fan of LinkedIn. I get really good engagement. Our audience is there. It works for me. I love Instagram, but again, does what you do lend really well to a visual medium? You know, if you're an architect or you’re an accounting firm. You guys, you guys are making accounting sexy. You guys are breaking the mold. That's okay.
I think that fundamentally, are you adding value in some way? Is your value like beauty? Are you beautifying things and you're going to use Instagram’s medium for that? Are you providing information? I'm a huge fan of Medium. I love LinkedIn. I think Twitter is not my favorite. I think it works for some people, it's not my bag. Facebook, not really my bag, but it doesn't mean that that's not right for somebody.
I’m giving my personal bias, also as a marketer. My business partner, he is on social media extensively, has a huge following on Facebook, loves to be on Facebook and it works for him. He puts content out there and gets great results. I post something on Facebook, I don't get any results. Well it's because I'm not doing anything on there. I'm not engaged. I'm not active on the channel.
I also think if you're a sole proprietor, you also have to think what is it you're actually going to do. If you think LinkedIn is the best for you, but you're not going to do it, it doesn't matter, you're not going to do it anyways. Once you get in a position where you can hire somebody or bring someone to support you, you can start to branch out a little bit. But I think that you've got to pick something that's going to be relevant because social media, it takes five minutes to learn. It takes a lifetime to master.
Matt: Calgary is going through turmoil, like our whole industry here. We’re getting hit by low oil and gas prices, no pipelines. Our canola and our beef are kind of under attack. And then COVID. What do we do from here, what can small businesses do to support each other?
Tyler: It is such a big, such a massive question and I will not proclaim to have to have this answer in the context of small business. I am very, very bullish on Calgary. I'm incredibly positive on Calgary and at the same time, I think that the road ahead is going to be tough.
I think that there's a real, a very strong reality here. There's not going to be a bounce back. The numbers that are being projected from an unemployment perspective are incredibly real. You know, the multiple black eyes like you said, how many different punches in the face can we get here? I've had a couple of guests talk about this, so I'm going to cheat a little bit, and quote some of my guests.
We've been back on our heels for five years already. There's no one who's going to be more ready to come out of this thing than Calgary, because we were already doing the transformation work.
I had a conversation last week, it hasn’t aired yet. It'll be here in a couple of weeks on Collisions with Mary Moran from Calgary Economic Development. I said, “Mary, what's on your dashboard?”
She says, “Tyler, what’s on my dashboard is, we need a pipeline. You know, we absolutely need a pipeline. We also need other sectors.” We got into an interesting debate around technology not being a sector, but being a movement. You know, as Alberta diversifies and technology starts to underpin more and more of our industries.
We are an energy-based province; that is not going away anytime soon. I don't believe that the industry is going away. I don't believe it's going to be shut down tomorrow. I absolutely don't believe in that.
I believe it is changing and I believe the need for efficiency and technology. The way forward for Alberta, like we've got a serious challenge with commercial real estate downtown. You know, Mary said something to me that really kind of blew me away. She said we have enough per capita, commercial real estate to accommodate a city of four million people, and that blew me away.
Matt: So much of that has come online in the last five years when companies are moving out, moving down to Houston, Denver.
Tyler: You know, Twitter announced today that they are not going to be forcing any of their employees to come back to the office. And you know, that's just one company. Like we have completely looked at our workforce and we have two office spaces. I'm committed to leases in Calgary and Toronto, but we've reworked our business model to be based on a model that's a hundred percent structured around a distributed workforce and a work-from-home model.
The office is going to be kind of like a weird perk off to the side, but how we survive and how we operate is going to be based on, for example, people in Toronto can work on clients in Calgary. It's going to be about who creates the most value, not where your desk is. Just thinking about that and how that's going to diversify Calgary. People can work anywhere in the world. Why wouldn’t they want to live in Calgary?
Matt: I personally think Calgary is an amazing city to live in, and I love it. We're still growing and it's affordable. There's a good scene here. I'd invite anybody to move back because there is still lots of opportunity here. Even though it might not seem that way.
Oil and gas is, it's not going anywhere. It's not going to play as big of a role as we grow and it kind of stagnates. But there's lots of room for creative people and new industries to pop up. So it'll be fun to watch. Who knows what's going to happen. But I think there's going to be some new industries coming up.
Tyler: There absolutely is. The diversity that I'm seeing happening in the city, I think oil and gas has provided so much value in the city and globally. Like we need to live in a world of energy abundance, not energy scarcity. And I think that there's a lot of parts of the world that, you know, we’re very spoiled here. The quality of life here is fantastic and oil and gas facilitated so much of the quality of life. I think it's very, very easy to take it for granted.
Matt: Quick shout out to Fort Mac. They've been through a lot.
Tyler: Again, speaking of how many times can you get punched? Like “Okay, uncle, I give up.” The amount of resiliency in Alberta and the diversification that is happening, whether it is AI and machine learning. A huge shout out to Creative Destruction Lab, Calgary Economic Development, Platform, Startup Calgary. There are fantastic organizations here and I've had the honour to talk to many of the people that are running these organizations, the diversity that's happening in our city and we don't hear about it a lot. There are a lot of pockets. Technology is absolutely an underpinning. Agriculture, transportation and logistics. The things that are going on here that like you said, oil and gas will play a part. It may not be the sole player at the table.
There are all these other industries coming in around it. I still think we've got a lot of hubs and spokes. We could think of oil and gas as the hub, and all these spokes that contributed to oil and gas, that's still happening. But you're starting to hear, what about big data? What about robotics? There are a lot of interesting things here.
For example, Alberta IOT or “Internet of Things.” I had Brenda Beckerdorf, who's the Executive Director of Alberta IOT on my podcast. 120 companies in Alberta — small, medium, large — are all focusing on the Internet of Things,” from the smallest sensor in your home to the most complex oil and gas installation and the monitoring that's happening. There were so many things here that I think are being spurred based on the knowledge, the know-how. We have a really smart group of people here. It's actually ridiculous how many people here are highly educated and that are maybe in a little bit of a chasm of figuring out “Where do I go next?” But that's a good thing about smart people. They're always smart, no matter where they go.
Matt: My friend Tyler runs a services company out of Grand Prairie and he's tried so many interesting things during this downturn. Business is still going and now he's got three or four other businesses all kind of pitching in with some cash flow.
Tyler: That's the pioneering nature of our province, and the entrepreneurial nature and there's so many things we have going for us that make me very, very optimistic. I didn't grow up here, but I'm a Calgarian now and I'm very, very proud to say that. And I will fight for the city until the end of time, to the end of days, because there is no better place to live. Like it's absolutely fantastic. I will be glowingly bullish on the city for sure.
Matt: We really appreciate you joining us and everybody that did tune in. I think we're going to wrap it up, but there's a landing page that we'll post right after this and you can go there to get a promo code to give you a discount on some Citizen beer.
Tyler: Delicious, delicious beer. I might go have another one after this episode maybe. Matt, thank you so much for having me on. That was a ton of fun, man. I see more Instagram Lives in my future.
If anybody wants to reach out, check me out on Instagram. I'm happy to answer questions. I love chatting with people. It's one of my favorite things to do. Check out both podcasts on there. If there's anything interesting or something you want to hear, do not hesitate to reach out.
Read more about Entrepreneur Life topics that may be helpful to you and your small business.
More about Tyler Chisholm, CEO of clearmotive marketing
From his days growing up in southern Quebec to his adventures as a pilot at the ripe old age of 26, Tyler’s curiosity and resourcefulness have driven him to search out an eclectic list of life experiences.
Tyler’s pursuit of his career in aviation led him to Calgary in 2000, where he found endless opportunity, none of which was a job in aviation. His passion for business led him to develop his own online health and fitness software program (back before you could download it for free on your phone), as well as a full-service active weight loss and personal training centre. This was to be the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey.
After exiting the fitness business, Tyler took his newfound love of marketing and co-founded clearmotive marketing in 2007. With offices in Calgary and Toronto, Tyler’s goal was to build a marketing-first agency focused on better connecting clients to their customers. As an entrepreneur, his experience told him that establishing better communication by gaining an understanding of clients’ business challenges would make the difference. With an appreciation of the impact digital transformation has on the way companies do business, Tyler’s focus has always ensured that clearmotive shapes the curve of how digital solutions can affect greater outcomes.
As host of two podcasts, They Just Get It and Collisions YYC, Tyler brings a voice to advocates, challengers and thought leaders to inspire lively dialogue and bold actions towards creating a better Calgary. A strong advocate for helping those less fortunate, he also established Red Express in 2010, a project that puts Christmas toys in the hands of kids in need. In 2012, Tyler was recognized as one of Avenue Magazine's Top 40 Under 40.