Confessions Of An Aging Tattooer on National Tattoo Day

When it comes to National Tattoo Day, there’s many topics I could write about: Tattoos as therapy, being a female tattooer, what tattooing has done for me- which is a lot. I could write about the changing trends and acceptance of tattooing. Who knew what previously labeled you as a criminal, or unsavoury character in the not so distance past is now what opens doors for you today! It’s hard to choose a single topic when they are all related and so important to me. 

Photo by Jared Reid

I remember the concern on my parents’ face after I told them I was going to become a tattoo apprentice. I had finished my degree just two years prior. This wasn’t a lucrative or socially acceptable career to their generation. I couldn’t explain it to them because I honestly couldn’t even see what that apprenticeship would do for me in the future. They eventually accepted this was what I wanted to do. They watched me blossom from a fledgling apprentice to an award-winning tattooer and shop owner with a steady clientele.

As I close in on 16 years of tattooing, it’s interesting to me to look at the evolution tattooing has had since I started. Most people begin tattooing right after high school. I didn’t begin my apprenticeship until the mid 2000’s when I was 26. We were coming out of the era of tribal sleeve & Chinese characters. I don’t think I’ve ever done a Looney Toon (my apologies if I did and don’t remember…!). Maybe one or two barbwire armbands. I cut my teeth during the time of ‘Live Love Laugh’, and the rise of what tattooers came to refer to as ‘Bird Pox’: the little black silhouette birds breaking out of every object you can imagine. Again – no disrespect if this is a tattoo you have. It was just something done in excess at that time.

Getting tattooed by Dave Munro during my apprenticeship

I never thought I would take on an apprentice myself because I didn’t have the time or space. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how good a teacher I would be. I had such a great apprenticeship in an amazing shop (Trouble Bound Studio under Dave Munro) with four to five tattooers who were all gracious to me and helped me learn. One point I try to drive home is that it took me two years to get my apprenticeship. Two years of showing up, of bringing drawings, of listening to Dave’s critiques and advice to better my skills. That surprises a lot of people, but I knew it was what I wanted to do, and I knew Dave was the guy I wanted to learn it from.

I did take an apprentice two years ago (Jen Power) and I’m kind of sad she didn’t get the same type of family style apprenticeship I got all those years ago. When I was an apprentice, we made our own needles and hand-scrubbed our tubes. I’m sure some tattooers still do both, but  I’m not sad to see those practices go! It took years for me to build a clientele or develop a style of work. Jen has already done both in her two years of tattooing. Of course I’m happy for her, but there might be a small bone of contention that she got to skip those steps. Yes, I tell her that regularly 😇.

My first international client at the Manchester Tattoo Expo 2010, England.

I post often on social media about learning to accept and love the bodies we have instead of lusting after the bodies we wish we had. What I love the most about tattooing is when it helps people love their bodies more. Many of us struggle with body issues and self-love. When someone sees their tattoo complete for the first time and tells me how they always hated their (insert body part or issue here- scars/ veins included) and now they love looking at this area, my heart radiates. When I can cover up a painful experience or help someone heal through a tattoo – there’s no greater feeling (see this blog I wrote about tattoos as therapy here).

On top of all of this, my mind is continually blown that through my other business, Truro Buzz, companies have hired me to be the face of a campaign or advertisement. Turns out, in some cases, my heavily tattooed skin also makes me relatable.

All the years of being told I was ruining my life, my prospects and mutilating my body – here’s where I stand tall and proudly proclaim, “LOOK AT ME NOW!” Law offices, government agencies, agricultural organizations, high end retailers -all clients of mine that have had me represent their businesses.

I live in an incredibly supportive town where I’ve never had to hide my tattoos at a meeting for fear of not getting the job or project. I don’t even know if they realize how big a deal it is. How I have other tattooed people write me on social when I post about choosing outfits for formal functions about putting on a cardigan or blazer to cover my arms. That’s what they have to do to be accepted in their places of work…it’s sad. There’s been a major shift in acceptance as we all know, but there’s still a ways to go. 

Tattooing my friend Tim with a cancer ribbon as a cancer survivor.

Tattooing continues to give me so much out of life and every time I can tell a kid in high school they can make a living with art or see adoration on a client’s face looking at their new tattoo, I’m reminded of all the good it brings the world. I’m incredibly grateful to be even a small part of that.

Thanks for reading these confessions of an aging tattooer on National Tattoo Day. Thank you for the support over the years, or if you’re new here, thanks for being here. Go get tattooed!

Winning an award for Medium Black and Grey in Moncton, 2016
Founder and CEO Alicia Simms tips for starting a business

5 Tips For Starting A Business With No Business Degree

Founder and CEO Alicia Simms tips for starting a business
Founder & CEO of my own Corporation

Do I need a business degree to start a business? Like most people, I believed you had to have this to run your own business. I’m happy to say I was wrong. If you have a passion for something, you too can turn it in to a successful business venture. While it’s helpful, you do not need a business degree to start your own business. Here are my five tips for starting a business with no business degree.

First, here’s a little about my background. I was mediocre in high school, and far more of a creative person. ‘Type A’ in personality, I could take charge in group work, but not “right side of the brain” enough to excel in math and science. When I finished high school, I applied for the the graphic design program at NSCAD and pursued that. I knew in high school that I loved tattoos and tattooing, but I thought it was like saying I want to be a rock star. I didn’t think it would happen. After graduating university, I moved back to Newfoundland and began working in my field. I met a tattooer whose work I really admired. I then basically harassed him for 2 years to teach me how to tattoo and finally, he agreed.

With 7 years of tattooing under my belt, I decided to relocate to Nova Scotia, where my sister and nieces lived. This would also allow me to travel more easily (there are a lot of limitations living on an island, as well as extra travel cost). I had worked off and on in Nova Scotia over those 7 years so I decided to take the leap and open my own studio here (Rolling Sea Tattooery). I wanted the freedom to be able to travel and work at the same time. If I were working for someone else, I would be limited to the amount of time I could do that.

Winning a tattoo award aliciaetattoo Alicia Simms Rolling Sea Tattooery
Wining first place at the Moncton Tattoo convention for medium black and grey

The idea of running a business was daunting because I didn’t think I could handle the actual ‘business’ side of things. I knew nothing about bookkeeping, paying taxes outside my own income tax (which I didn’t even do myself), ordering supplies, managing costs – nothing! Professionals would ask what my business model was, and I didn’t know. I had to research and learn as I went. I’d go to workshops or seminars, and leave with a list of terms I would have to google after to understand what it meant: ROI, KPI, B2B or B2C!

It was terrifying to open my own business, but 8 years later, I own an award-winning shop and now own two more businesses! It was a big leap to go from my own tattoo studio to creating what became a media and promotions company which is Truro Buzz. From the success of that business came my newest venture, Secret Nova Scotia Tours

I’m not going to sit here and say it’s easy, because it’s not. Here’s what worked for me. You can easily apply it to your own business model (are you business to business, or business to consumer for example).

Create a business around something you’re passionate about.

The first of my tips for starting a business is to start with something you’re passionate about. Do you want to start a business because you have a product or service you know an audience will love, or are you just trying to make money? Building a business around something you’re passionate about is really the secret sauce for success. When you can tap in to WHY you’re doing what you’re doing, that will help set the frame work for your business and marketing.

Identify your customer/ Ideal Customer Avatar

If you don’t know who you’re selling to, how can you market your product or service to them? Chances are you’re creating something you’re passionate about so you are your own ICA, or close to it. That was the case for me. For Truro Buzz, I loved the community and wanted to know what was happening but there was no one stop shop to find that out.

With the tour company, I love visiting new communities, finding unique makers and delicious local products. I enjoyed putting together tours of my favourite local spots when friends or family would come visit. That’s how Secret Nova Scotia Tours was born. It seemed a natural fit for what I was already doing with Truro Buzz. So where is your customer hanging out online? Where are they shopping for a product or service like yours! Spend some time figuring that out and secure your return on investment.

Learn to love the numbers…

Cash flow analysis and cost analysis are your friends, even if you’re like me and your brain is NOT wired that way. I was guilty of looking at the cost of a product or service and then just rounding up without considering value added. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this and have heard of others doing the same.

If you feel like you’re working like a dog, making sales but not enough money’s coming in, you’re not charging enough. If this is not your forte, don’t fret. There are lots of great people out there who thrive in this category and willing to help you and your business! Its ok if you can’t do it all yourself, but don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand. You need to understand what money’s coming in and going out! This is an important but often overlooked tip for starting a business.

You can’t do everything!

Believe me, I’ve tried and it leads to burnout in a hurry. Farm out what you can. It took me years to hire an employee for many reasons: I couldn’t afford it, was afraid to not be controlling everything or losing sight of the details. Hiring a book keeper to take that off my plate was the best thing I ever did. Then once I hired a full time employee (which was super scary) my business was immediately able to grow. I now have five employees across all three businesses and I couldn’t operate any of them without this hard working team!

Get in all the professional development you can

Last of my tips for starting a business, but certainly not least – get in all the professional development you can! Read books on topics you need to know, listen to podcasts, find mentors! Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are doing a great job in their field. Ask them how they got to where they are, or what advice they’re willing to offer you! I’ve been incredibly fortunate that where I live offers free classes to business owners through CBDC-NOBL. I was able to learn accounting for small business, social media for business, leadership training and so much more.

Believe in yourself. You CAN do it. You will have to fight through imposter syndrome. You’ll talk yourself out of trying, or giving up once you’ve started in a million different ways. Believe me when I say, you can do it. The more you read or listen to podcasts, you’ll notice you hear the same advice over and over:

female owned and run media and promotions business in Truro, Nova Scotia. tips for starting a business

Mindset is everything.
Surround yourself with the right people who motivate and support you.
Mistakes will happen – what you learn from them is what makes the difference.

I hope you’ve found my five tips on starting a business with no business training helpful. This isn’t meant to discredit education. If you have a business degree or training, that’s great, but I want you to know you do not need a business degree to start your own business, if that’s what’s stopping you!

I hope you enjoyed my 5 tips for starting a business with no business degree. If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. It’s only through the help of so many others that I am where I am today. Collaboration over competition is what propels us all forward. I wish you success in your own business ventures and hope this helps you on your own journey!


5 Tips That Take The Stress Out Of Planning Your Vacation

Summer may be winding down but fall is a wonderful time to travel! When it comes to taking a vacation, the last thing you want to do is over-schedule your time off, and end up coming back needing a vacation from your vacation. While you may not want a jam-packed itinerary, you will want to take in some of the sites, and make a loose plan with room for spontaneity! Here are my 5 tips for taking the stress out of planning your vacation.


Don’t panic – I’m talking about some leisurely scrolling here. You don’t have to rush to your local book store and drop a stack of money on travel guides (unless you want to – I personally love them!) You also don’t need to spend time deep-diving online, but some light research will definitely make for a smoother vacation when the time comes. There are plenty of regional tourism sites, and blogs full of the must see, must do, must eat spots for just about every square inch of the planet. Google the city/province/state you’re heading to and see what pops up. It’s also good to know ahead of time if places you want to go are closed certain days of the week.

Having a craft beer at Tatamagouche Brewery on Nova Scotia’s north shore

For example, we went to PEI last month for a 5 day getaway and we desperately needed to unplug and unwind, so I didn’t want to schedule us a lot of activities. By googling ‘things to do in PEI’, I got a ‘What do do in PEI’ tourism site, a ’15 best things to do’ travel review site, and ‘Top 10 Attractions’. There are more specific pages like ‘best places to eat’, or ‘best beaches to visit’ – it just depends on what you’re looking for. I could easily sift through these sites and make a note of places we might like to take in.

Make a list

Now that you’ve done some research, make a list of all the places you’d like to see, or the activities you’d like to do. I like to do this on the Notes App in my phone so I can easily add to it and I always have it on me. Once you have your list, which you can continually add to as you go, group those places or activities by area. For example, going back to our PEI getaway, I put everything that was in Charlottetown on a list together, everything that was in the western part of the province together. This way, whatever day we decided we were going to spend in Charlottetown, we already have a list of things we’d like to do in that area. It save time figuring out what to do, and leads in to a much smoother day.

Exploring the seafood options at Dory Mate’s Seafood shop in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Check the Forecast

The last thing you want is to have a week of outdoor activities on your radar only for it to call for rain or high winds the entire time! Check the weather a week ahead and see what it’s calling for. Obviously, you’ll want to check it again a few days before you leave but hopefully this gives you a base to get a rough idea. Have some inside activities on your list in case the weather is unfavourable, and you want to get out of your hotel room!

Tickets & Food Reservations

This is a harder paragraph for those who don’t like to plan. If you want to hit up certain restaurants when you’re traveling, it’s always best to make a reservation. There’s nothing worse than when the time to eat comes and you can’t get in anywhere (where my hangry folks at?!). Where I’m going to eat when I’m travelling is important to me because I’m a food-driven human. As soon as I book a plane ticket, or time in my schedule, my second step is to make restaurant reservations!

If you’re worried about tying yourself down with a reservation when you may have other plans that day and don’t want to rush, opt for a later dinner than usual. Or if you’re really opposed to scheduling anything in advance, check out the restaurants you like that may use apps like Waiting List, or take walk ins. Lots of times busy restaurants have seating available at the bar where you can also eat. When I travel solo, this is my go-to option. There’s usually a great view of the kitchen (where all the action is), and the bar staff are always lovely and chatty which is great dinner company.

Leave Time for Spontaneous Adventure

One of my favourite parts of a vacation is the lack of schedule. I rarely have free time to do anything between scheduled appointments in my daily life. If we’re driving to a destination and see a shop or cafe we want to stop at, I want to have the time to do that. If we see a field full of beautiful flowers or a scenic coastal view, make sure you have time to pull over and take pictures! Allow yourself room to explore the place you’re visiting as you go. If you do have a loose schedule in place for the day, you can double the travel time for example. If it takes one hour to get there, give yourself two hours before the next thing that may be on your list.

Just Enjoy Yourself

Just because you made a list doesn’t mean you’ve committed to everything on it. Maybe you’re heading to an area where you have a list of fifteen places you’d like to see. You might do three of them and that’s enough. By having a list of potential things to see or do, you’re saving yourself precious vacation time by not having to figure out where you may want to go, where that is and are they open.

There are no rules for how your vacation has to go. By taking the time to do some research and make lists if you want them, you can use your list as a guideline, or a safety net if you’re stuck for ideas, or have an indecisive bunch.

I hope these 5 tips that take the stress out of planning your vacation are helpful the next time you’re looking to get out of dodge. If you’ve got your own vacation planning hack, shoot me an email! I’d love to hear them! Until then, happy travelling!

Sunset at Cape Forchu on the south shore of Nova Scotia

How Hiring A Publicist Changed The Course Of My Life Forever

I know this sounds like a sales pitch but I assure you, it’s not going to be that. I want to share my personal experience in case it can help you the way it has helped me. Life has a way of taking us down some weird and wonderful paths. You never know who you’re going to meet, or how that meeting may alter your life. With that in mind, I want to share with you how hiring a publicist changed the course of my life forever – for the better. This is about how the right person asked me the right question to refocus me in a way I didn’t even know I needed.

I met Crystal Richard at a social media convention in San Diego, California in March of 2019 through mutual friends.

My husband and I working remotely from our airstream in a field by a creek in rural Nova Scotia

While I only spoke with her in passing a few times over the course of those 3 days, she seemed like a really nice person with a beautifully sunny disposition. I began following her on social media and was quite impressed with her entrepreneurial side. Like myself, she was a multi-passionate entrepreneur. Crystal owns her own PR firm and often shares the work of her impressive roster of clients. She also had a personal blog that helps you develop a coastal crush on her home province of New Brunswick. Crystal also has an apparel company of sea-worthy designs she was regularly promoting and attending trade shows with. 

While struggling with my own overloaded work schedule, I reached out to Crystal to ask if we could have a chat about how she juggles her own busy workload from multiple businesses. Over a zoom call, we got to know each other, as well as share trade secrets about how we each operated. It was extremely helpful, plus Crystal’s energy and enthusiasm is something that should be bottled up and distributed to the world. It’s contagious, in the best way.

As my businesses expanded, I felt it was time to look in to professional help to spread the word of what I was doing, as well as look for new opportunities. I didn’t have time to write press releases or make media contacts on top of everything else I was doing. I reached out to Crystal again, and we scheduled a discovery meeting to see if we were the right fit. That one meeting was priceless.

Alicia Simms & Crystal Richard, Truro

I feel like I am actually living a dream. A dream I realized when the perfect person asked me the perfect question.

Crystal asked me a series of questions, but the hands down most important one was “what are your dream goals?”

Dramatic pause.

What were my dream goals? I honestly wasn’t sure. If felt like when you wake up kind of remembering a dream, but can’t quite get the details. I had a vague idea, but suddenly wasn’t sure what I was working towards. Like ‘I want to be a whatever-figure business’ – but doing what? What is my end game?  I knew I was working hard on my businesses, and I wanted them to grow and succeed, but what were MY actual dream goals? After sitting back and thinking about it, I outlined a few things for Crystal but once we got off our call I REALLY stewed on it, and it lit my heart on fire. If I could be anything in the world, what would it be? I am in that position now? I knew it wasn’t working 60 hour weeks tethered to my laptop in an office.

airstream trailer nova scotia graves island provincial park mobile living travel writer
Our Airstream at Graves Island Provincial Park, Nova Scotia

One thing I really wanted to pursue was writing. I had done freelance writing for the local paper in St John’s, Newfoundland on the side. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but never considered it as something I should pursue. Now here I am, sitting at my desk in our Airstream trailer (affectionately named Clutterbug) in a field by a creek without cell service. I’m looking at the trees surrounding me, and listening to the gentle rain pinging on the aluminum shell while writing a travel article about my favourite places in Nova Scotia. I feel like I am actually living a dream. A dream I realized when the perfect person asked me the perfect question.

Maybe you’re not in a position to hire a publicist, and that’s ok. If it’s something you’ve considered or think you might be interested in knowing more about, I obviously suggest you reach out to Crystal. She’s your biggest cheerleader – you just don’t know it yet. The moral of the story is that sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to help you see things more clearly. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or to even just discuss options and brainstorm. In the meantime, I’d like to extend the same thought provoking question that she did to me, that lit my heart on fire:

What is your dream goal?

Take your time. Think it out. And most importantly, don’t limit yourself with this answer. Dare to dream big.

Now how will you get yourself there? Start with the goal and work back from that. If you need help with that question or answer, reach out to a close friend, someone who’s doing what you want to do, a coach, or feel free to pop me an email. Let’s reach our dream goals together!

divorced remarried

Divorce and Marriage

His first time. Not mine. 
When I first met Tyson, and people started to ask about him, the first question was always ‘divorced?’. Because its far more common to be divorced than never married once you’re over 30.

I remember the first time I heard of a friend’s parents getting divorced when I was growing up, and it was almost earth shattering. I felt so bad for that friend. None of us had any frame of reference for what she was going through, or what to expect from that point. 

While divorce has become much more common in this day and age, it’s not something we openly talk about outside of the dramatics of the nastier situations. We don’t talk about the feelings you may experience when the person you thought would be your person forever ends up not to be. About how much harder it gets to start over the older you get. Regardless of whether you were the initiator or the other party, we don’t talk about what the whole experience does to you mentally and emotionally in some cases, unless it’s extreme. 

I feel like I wear a black mark on me since I’ve been divorced.

It’s a hard topic because there are SO many scenarios that lead to divorce, and they’re certainly not all the same. There are no blanket statements about moving on. I’ve wrestled with how deep to get in to my own experience because I don’t want to make any insinuations based on my perspective. So let me say this: I feel like I wear a black mark on me since I’ve been divorced. A feeling which is not helped every year filing taxes, and having to click the divorced box no matter how many years have passed since it happened. How card renewals show up with the married name even though you’ve called and called, and been assured it would be changed this time. And then there’s the new relationships, where loved ones continually caution you ‘not to move too fast’ or even worse – ‘Maybe you should just be by yourself for awhile’ This statement is usually made by people who have been in committed relationships for 10+years and haven’t experienced dating (or breakups for that matter) over 30.

What is the correct time for mourning your marriage or relationship? If you even are mourning it. And even if you aren’t – what governing party decided what the right amount of time is to meet someone or dare to try again, whether it’s Mr Right or Mr Right Now? 

Married Again..?

When Tyson told me he wanted to get married and have a wedding – well, let’s just say I internally panicked. Maybe not so internally –  I’m pretty transparent. I told myself I’d never get married again, would never change my name again. I was so mean to myself with my internal dialogue, and told myself people who know I was married before are definitely going to think, “Is she seriously going to have ANOTHER wedding?”. I thought of how many people I knew who’d never been married at this point and wanted to be, like I was somehow flaunting it.

A part of me resented him for it because I knew first hand marriage is not what keeps people together. Why couldn’t we just agree we loved each other and not have to get the government involved? I wrestled with so many feelings and most of them were strangling the little joy there was because this perfect-for-me man wanted to marry me. 

It’s been a constant struggle from the day he asked me until now with our wedding day being just 3 days away. I’m asked ‘are you excited’ on a regular basis and I know my face contorts into trying to show a smile, but it’s like my muscle memory is saying you’re a fool to believe. I would never say to another person who was remarrying the things I have said to myself or felt. We truly are our own worst enemies.

Over this last month, the month of the wedding, I’ve tried really hard to let go of all those past memories of what comes after it doesn’t work out, of the stigmas attached to remarrying, and just focus on the positive of it, but it’s been hard. I worry writing this will hurt Tyson’s feelings but I’ve been honest about my struggle with him.. somewhat. I never wanted him to think my adversity or negativity had anything at all to do with him because it doesn’t. If I wasn’t so sure in our love and commitment to each other, I would never go through with a marriage again, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to let go of years of self-deprecation.

Upward & Onward

I guess I just want to let people who are divorced and maybe wrestling with those stigmas and feelings know; I see you. I know it can feel like you have a black mark on you too, and it’s ok to feel all the things – good, bad and questionable. It’s ok if you never want to try marriage again. It’s ok if you are on your third time. Try not to limit yourself with final statements because you never know where life will take you.

Tyson, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Especially with love. To think I could have let those bad decisions keep me from being here with you today is…. unfathomable. Thank you for understanding, as best you could, what I was going through in my own head, and allowing me the space to process my feelings. 

married remarried wedding divorced
Photo by Erin Falkenham