On being ... a virtual labour of love

By Ingrid Sapona
Before I get too far into today’s column, I feel compelled to warn you that it could just as easily have been titled: On being … an act of shameless self-promotion. You’ll see why in a few minutes – assuming that fact doesn’t turn you away. (And if it does, so be it – at least I’ve been honest.)
Since August I’ve been busy – very busy – with a huge project. I’m please to say that project – the Ontario Wineries Guide – was “published” this week. The guide is a smart phone app, which means that publishing it doesn’t involve a printing press or paper – it means it’s now available on iTunes and Google Play.
I got the inspiration for the app in 2011 after reading about Sutro Media, a travel app publisher, looking for new ideas and authors. To be honest, at that time, since I didn’t own any device on which an app could be used, I only had a vague idea of what a travel app was. So, figuring maybe it was time I tuned into the 21st century, I bought an iPod Touch to see what all the fuss was about. Pretty quickly, I realized all I had been missing.
The first app I purchased was Sutro’s Niagara Falls guide. The app was easy to use and well designed. Clearly Sutro knew what they were doing. So, in August 2011, I pitched them on the idea of an app about Ontario wineries. Unfortunately, they rejected me (ok – they rejected the idea – but it felt like they were rejecting me). Apparently they had already committed to another writer who had pitched them that idea. I was bummed and mad with myself for being so late to hop on the tech bandwagon.
After that, periodically I checked to see if Sutro’s Ontario wineries app had been published. After about nine months I began to wonder what was going on. So, having nothing to lose, I re-pitched the idea to Sutro. Well, seems the other writer never came through, so in late July 2012, Sutro gave me the go-ahead. It was exciting, and it came at a time when my business had kind of dried up, so keeping busy with anything was welcome. Of course, just after we agreed to do the app, business picked up. (Isn’t that one of Newton’s laws or something?)
Other than having to follow a few rules for using Sutro’s software, I had complete say regarding content, which was one of the appealing things about the project. Keep in mind that Sutro’s OK didn’t come with a cheque or any kind of advance. Our deal is pretty straightforward: they provide the software and technical stuff and I do the writing and marketing. In terms of money, I get 1/3 of the proceeds from any sales. (It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that at $2.99 a pop (gross price), I won’t be retiring on the proceeds from the app!)
Because I had decided the app’s focus was on the experience of visiting wineries, I developed a checklist of questions I’d ask the wineries – things like the tasting fee, whether picnickers were welcome, etc. The majority of wineries graciously took the time to chat with me and were encouraging of the idea.
But, a handful questioned my motivation. To some extent I was prepared for that. After all, I was an unknown to them and I thought they might be concerned I might say something unfavourable about their winery. To allay their concerns, I always approached them in a very positive, up-beat way and I always explained that I was writing the app because I want to share my joy of exploring Ontario and Ontario wineries. In other words, I wanted them to understand that my interests were aligned with theirs – to promote Ontario wineries.
Despite my energy and enthusiasm, a few still wanted to know what I wanted from them. When I told them all I was after was a wee bit of information, some were doubtful. What I soon realized was that they assumed my reason for speaking with them was to hit them up for money – either in exchange for favourable comments, or thinking I expected them to pay to be included. When I assured them that the app is a labour of love on my part, though their tone sometimes remained skeptical, they usually answered my questions.
Anyway, the release of the app this week was a huge step for me and a big relief, though it hardly means the end of the project. I’ll periodically update it and expand it to cover new wineries (not to mention the 30 or so that I didn’t get to for the initial release). Perhaps more significantly, the release marks the first step in the next phase: marketing it, which will be something brand new to me. (I at least knew how to write – how to market is a whole other matter!)
Ok, by now you probably figured out why I mentioned the alternative title for the column. Though publication of the app truly was a labour of love, in some respects, this column also is my first foray into marketing it. Sutro’s marketing mantra is tell everyone you know – and encourage them to tell everyone they know. (Sutro also suggests making it easy for folks to find the app on-line by providing a link to it. So, assuming they know what they’re talking about: click HERE, in case you want to find it on iTunes and if you want to find it on Google Play, click HERE.)
So there you have it – the news – and story – of the app that’s kept me busy since August. Though naturally I’d love it if folks embrace the app and if it prompts people to visit Ontario wineries, the truth is, the fun I had exploring wine country and writing about it was reward enough.
© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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