How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time

Let’s work to build our businesses together this summer. You’ll need to be able to find the extra time to do so without slipping far behind on your day to day tasks. You’re not likely to find more hours in a day. Instead, let’s find your most focused and productive way to work.

You're not likely to find more hours in a day. Instead, let's find your most focused and productive way to work.

Let’s clear the decks so we can make the time we have this summer count! Here is what I do when I have a project to focus on, and need to put some serious time into it.

Drop distractions

If your schedule is light on true work hours, you have to guard your time. Cut distractions that make you lose focus. Do you ever find that the day is ending and you’ve barely put a dent in your to-do list? You were pulled in several directions all day. Try these popular methods of focusing on your real work:

Turn off notifications

Those little beeps, banners, and red dots can steal more time from you than you think! I have read articles about how multitasking is the worst way to work. Even without facts and figures, I can see this for myself. Have you ever gotten a ding that made you switch tabs in your browser or move to something new? You complete that task, and then stare blankly at your computer, wondering what you were originally working on.

These moments where you’re shifting focus and have to get back on track again mess with your productivity. Especially if you consider that they may be happening dozens of times a day.

I recommend turning off notifications entirely. If you can’t bear to, you can switch to “Do Not Disturb” mode while you’re working. You should control when you check mail, Facebook, Instagram. That red dot with a number absorbs more of your time than you realize. If you’re getting alerts or banners making a noise or popping up visibly, it will be hopeless to stay on track. Do you really need to know the moment one of these generally non-urgent messages comes in? Or could you turn off the notification and check in when you’ve made the time to?

When you’ve made the time to check in on distractions, consider limiting it. For instance, I have been enjoying Instagram. I post my photo and then I scroll through to like and comment on others’ photos. This often takes me more time than I intended. If I set a 15 minute timer on my phone, I can remember to turn it off and get back to work without losing 30-45 minutes to chitchatting.

Find a productive place and time to work

I work by myself in my quiet office in our finished attic. I’m two floors from my husband, who is working to a musical soundtrack in his basement office. For years we’ve worked together, but when my job shifted to be more focused on reading and writing, I needed silence.

That’s just me. Maybe you do a task with your hands and you work better with some company and some noise. Try out different places and ways to work to see which results in the most productive work.

Don’t underestimate the value of finding the right time to work. I work best in the morning. During the school year, Saturdays were my only chance for that, since the kids were out of the house then. Sometimes I wilt in the afternoons and can’t focus and that’s when I head outside to get some exercise.

Plan your day for success

Make to-dos reasonable

Put one important task on your to-do list for each day. If you finish it, bravo! You can do one more, or call it a day

It’s easy to feel ambitious, give yourself a crazy amount of work to do, and never feel caught up. I find that it’s best to keep your expectations low as far as how much work you can get done in a day. Put one important task on your to-do list for each day. If you finish it, bravo! You can do some of your other to-dos or call it a day.

I like to have one big project per day, with perhaps two little extras that I know I can fit in. You’ll get better at deciding what to focus on each day as we get farther along in this series. We’ll be talking about your responsibilities and how to reduce busywork.

If you’d like to follow along in shaping up your business with me this summer, set aside one day a week for this. Your only to-do that day should be working on your business. I’ll be posting with plans for you on Tuesday mornings, 7am PDT.

Start with the important work

Do the most important task on your to-do list before you open your email, social media, or any other communication tool. I tracked my computer time all spring, and found that communication was where most of my time was disappearing. Even if you end up putting out fires the whole rest of the day, your important work is already done.

This article from Trello about “timeboxing” is a winner, and I urge you to read it:

Can you be as effective in 35 hours as you are in 80? Startup veteran and developer Jess Martin thinks so. He has worked tirelessly to optimize his productivity in order to work better, not longer.

It’s easy to feel busy and enjoy little “wins” all day by answering emails and helping people out. Then you’ve spent all day doing reactive work for others and getting none of the proactive work of building your business done. I suggest avoiding your email inbox in the morning. When you do open your inbox, answer it and close it again to focus on your next task.

You’re ready!

That’s it – pretty simple, but any day that I follow these steps tends to be a great one. Even though the steps needed to focus are so straightforward, I slip out of them all the time. Especially when a task is daunting, it’s tempting to go back to your inbox where you’re needed and you can solve problems. Or to Instagram, where you’re getting supportive messages and hearts all day.

Be wary of these internet sirens! Block your ears and do what will get you to where you want to be instead. What if you could get your business to where you could take a two week vacation, just by cutting down on Instagram or reactive work? That’s a no-brainer, right? Keep your end goal in sight and take your work day as seriously as you can.

Could you get your business to where you could take a two week vacation, just by cutting down on reactive work?

Your homework

This week:

  1. Check to see what notifications and reminders are set on your phone or computer, and turn off any that aren’t life or death.
  2. Evaluate your current workspace to see if you can make it distraction-free and conducive to serious work.
  3. Plan your to-dos for the next week, keeping expectations low.
  4. Adjust your schedule so that you timebox your important work before opening up the communication floodgates.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group! Request to join and we’ll hook you right up.

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

Choosing A Goal: Lisa Orgler’s Best Next Step

This post is part of our Best Next Step series, where you will hear from creative business owners like you, who are wondering what to focus on next. The background stories and questions are from all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, and I share my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. Today we’re hearing from Lisa Orgler Design.

Lisa Orgler Design

Business: Lisa Orgler Design
Owner: Lisa Orgler
Site: lisaorgler.com
On Etsy: lisaorgler

Below are screenshots of Lisa’s website and Etsy shop:

Lisa Orgler's website

lisa-orgler-etsy

lisa

About:

I am a garden designer and illustrator. I often use my illustrations to teach garden design on my blog and through products, plus sell stationary products that incorporate the garden and food. Currently, my products are sold on Etsy, retail and wholesale, but I mainly market through my main site.

Challenges:

My business has been in different forms over the last 10 years. I originally focused on food illustrations, but I recently began teaching landscape design at a University three years ago, so finally made the switch to garden design on my blog instead. My challenge has always been combining my illustration skills with my landscape design background. I feel I’m getting closer now, realizing that I can teach illustration techniques for the landscape design industry, plus teach design skills using illustration. All of this in my quirky style…

Objectives:

As my next steps/goals would love to:

  1. Write a book on landscape graphics (in a fun and quirky way) (maybe in the next couple of years)
  2. Streamline my products for wholesale (be more selective and take out some of my older items) (within the next year)
  3. Start printing more of my cards professionally (I might be doing one set in the next few weeks!)
  4. I’m struggling with the idea of whether to license my artwork (and keep running into closed doors) or move forward to just create my own products. I want to create my own path, rather than relying on someone else to say yes or no.

I don’t need this to be a full-time job, since I teach 9-months of the year, but I may want to teach less in the future to focus on this.

Promotion:

I currently promote my business through my blog or personally connecting with shops. I use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Google+. I focus mainly on those in the landscape design industry, though also connect a lot with other illustrators (since I’ve been involved in Lilla Roger’s MATs class). Pinterest and LinkedIn seem to push the most traffic my way.

My site visitors are on a growth trend. I moved my blog from Blogger to Squarespace a few months ago, so have had to rebuild.

In terms of sales. On the Etsy site, sales are very low. I make most of my money from people contacting me directly for logos, illustrations and presentations (which I share on my blog). I have also increased my wholesale business (slowly). One last income source is art fairs. I only do two a year, but make a decent profit at each one.

This is interesting…I put so much effort into my Etsy site and it really doesn’t push a lot of sales my way. Hmmmm….

dandelions

print

stickers

Lisa Orgler Design’s Best Next Step

Hello Lisa,

Thank you for entering our Best Next Step giveaway – hooray, you’re a winner! My thoughts follow (read them with a grain of salt, since I only have a brief outline of your business and challenges right now).

What is Your Goal?

It has been fun following along with your business, and I’m glad to hear that it feels like you’re getting closer to merging your two interests as a business.

I like the idea of licensing your artwork, and I think you should look into that before you give up on it. Have you considered showing your work at Surtex or another show where people can see your work and consider licensing it?

From what I’ve heard, writing a book isn’t going to be much of a moneymaker, but certainly could increase your authority in your industry and enable you to attract more interest.

It sounds like the Etsy shop is more trouble than it’s worth, and Etsy isn’t likely driving much traffic to your website. You could probably quit that and use the time on other aspects of your business.

The objectives you gave me look less like goals, and more like steps on the way to a goal. If you’re not clear on what your goal is, start there, and that should make the next step easier to choose. For instance, do you want to quit teaching and move into illustration and garden design full time? Are you leaning more toward a career in garden design, or toward a career in illustration, or do you want to be sure to keep both things up equally? Is there a certain amount of money you’d want to make to feel confident moving ahead with Lisa Orgler Design?

For each of your four listed objectives, think about why you want to do each thing. Would it be fun? Would it make money? Is it something people say you “should” do, but you’re resisting? Make your choices based on where you want to end up, and make sure they’re things you can realistically do and things you can stay interested in.

Thanks for the chance to learn more about your business. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to clarify what you really want out of Lisa Orgler Design, then adjust your next steps as makes sense.

Are you ready for the next step?

If you’d like the power and experience of the Aeolidia team behind you, please get in touch! We would love to untangle your business priorities and take a few tasks off your hands so you can do your work. Contact Aeolidia – we never bite!

How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time

I work with a couple hundred clients a year on projects big and small, and manage a team of 20 on about five and a half hours a day. My “secret” is not a secret at all. My main trick is that I’ve been doing this for over a decade.

I would hope that after a decade, you’ll price your work reasonably, hire help when needed, keep to an enjoyable schedule, and be profitable! The key is noticing when you’ve hit points in your growth that allow you to make changes.

Reach the next level with your business by noticing when you’ve hit points in your growth that allow for changes.

A creative business owner has so many hats to wear. Aside from making sure projects run smoothly, clients are happy, and that the Aeolidia team has what they need, I also need to be sure the bookkeeping is under control, keep an eye on the software we use to run our business, keep our website up to date, solve problems, improve processes, plan services, present proposals, analyze our stats, and do HR type tasks. Of course there is also outreach and marketing, which includes blogging, newsletter, social media, interviews, and speaking at events.

How do I decide what to do in any given five hours of time?

Luckily for you, I have been forced (by having children) to severely cut back on my available work hours, and in doing so, I had to figure out how to get everything done anyway. I want to share some of what I’ve learned with you.

I have always been the “jack of all trades” type that has a hard time requesting help. When I do ask for help, I then have difficulty stepping all the way back and letting other people own the job. I know more about it, I have a method, I can do it more quickly, etc. It seems like it would take longer to teach someone than to just do it myself. That ends up being shortsighted, though, and in the long run is harmful to myself and the hopes I have for my business.

I have achieved a schedule that works for me and that I feel good about. I take planned and unplanned days off, I don’t work at night or on Sundays, and I take vacations with my family where I can unplug nearly completely.

Let’s spend the summer working on our businesses

I don’t know about you, but summer is historically a less frantic time for Aeolidia. If your summer looks like it may have a slow moment or two, will you join me in shaping up our businesses before the holidays hit? I have some ideas, advice, and thoughts that should be helpful to a business at any stage of growth.

If you’re just starting out, I have some ideas about what you should be thinking of now to make a smooth and easy transition when your business grows. If you have a very busy business that is just you, and you feel like you’re losing it, this series will be perfect! If you already have employees, and know that you should be working at a higher level, I have some thoughts for you.

Even if you don’t plan to hire employees, you should be getting some kind of help. Being handy at a lot of things is nice, but if you want to make jewelry, you’ll find you have a hard time doing that if you’re also the bookkeeper, accountant, legal counsel, sales rep, marketer, order fulfiller, web developer, etc.

  • You can get people to help you
  • You can get software to help you
  • You can even help yourself by becoming more focused

So let’s talk about how you can keep doing the work that you’re best at and that you enjoy doing without getting burnt out by all the rest.

Do your best, most enjoyable work, without getting burnt out by all the rest. It’s achievable and you’ll love it!

6 steps to shaping up our businesses

Stay tuned over the summer, and I will cover:

  1. Finding time to get this work done.
  2. Determining what your personal responsibilities should be, as a first step in getting future help.
  3. Finding focus, so your efforts aren’t scattered over many things.
  4. The who, what, where, why, and how of getting help, whether it be through hiring or outsourcing.
  5. How to build solid systems so you can make more money doing less work.
  6. Wrapping up by considering whether you’re being a good boss and employee – and how to fix it if you’re not.

How do we get started?

What should you do to make sure that you’re prepared to do your best work? I think we can do this using one day each week. If you’d like to join me, make plans on your calendar now to set aside one day a week to spend a solid block of 2-4 hours on that week’s step. That means no emails, no social media, no other tasks. Just you and a notebook and a quiet place. I’ll be sharing these posts every Tuesday.

After you’ve gotten the work done during your time block, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group! I’m feeling great about the group of creative, product-based business owners that have come together – so un-Facebooky. We’ve been having a lot of smart and helpful conversations, and in the few weeks since starting the group we’ve seen nothing spammy or off-topic.

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

I’m excited! Let’s do this!

Selling Downloadable Art: Printable Wisdom

Ashley Gardner started selling downloadable art on Etsy in 2012 while she was still in medical school (yes, you read that right!). Printable Wisdom quickly grew into a full-fledged shop that needed more flexible ecommerce options because customers were having difficulties navigating her site. Problem, meet solution.

Ashley was initially nervous about investing in a design team for her business. Having transitioned from an Etsy shop to a WordPress site, she was now in need of an ecommerce shop that gave her more control. Functionality and ease of purchasing were some of her biggest concerns:

“I feel like I can’t add my shipped and printed items to my current ecommerce store without it being confusing for the customer – I need a clear distinction there since each design can be a digital OR a printed item.”

Design the Right Ecommerce Solutions: Get a Team of Experts Together

Our first step was to group huddle (like we do) to discuss the new Printable Wisdom site. This is the part at the beginning of each project where we put our heads together and brainstorm goals, best approaches, and specific solutions for each client.

Designer Margot and developer Jon decided that the best way for Printable Wisdom to distinguish between digital items and printed items was with a navigation menu that would give customers the option to shop Ashley’s “Digital Shop” or “Print Shop.” When a customer hovers over each category, it expands into a drop-down menu that makes it easy for them to choose between sections like Quotes, Wedding, and Stationery. Two other categories on the primary navigation—”Home & Gifts” and “Collections”—further showcase Printable Wisdom’s diverse offerings.

printable wisdom website design - selling downloadable art

When Ashley got a first look at the site, she was thrilled with the solution:

“Wow! This is awesome. It is very very clear what to click on depending on what type of item you want. So much better than the way I had it laid out :)”

Design the Right Ecommerce Solutions: Guiding & Collaborating from Start to Finish

Jon started the initial site setup early so that Ashley could begin adding her products as we worked. He walked her through the process of creating and saving custom field details, adding wholesale and retails variants, and inputing information that would display on each product’s page.

In both development and design, the process was quite collaborative; Ashley supplied Margot with hand-lettered illustrations that she used for the new site’s titles, which gave the design an added touch of Printable Wisdom!

We checked in with Ashley after the new site launched, and in just a short week or so, she’d already noticed a difference: “The site seems to be doing great! We’ve gotten way more sales than on our old site!”

printable-wisdom-collection

 

printable-wisdom-custom-printable

This made our hearts pitter-patter, because the only thing we love more than beautiful sites are beautiful sites that sell. Ashley made us blush even more when she told us:

Everything about working with the Aeolidia team, from start to finish, was seamlessly well organized and transparent. I was nervous about making such a big investment in my business – the biggest so far! After researching for about six months and reading their expert blog posts on creating a “big little” business I knew that there wasn’t any other web design team that would intrinsically understand my business like Aeolidia did.

Our goals for the new website were to make it very clear which items were digital downloads and which were physical art prints – something that I had no idea how to do! It was great to get everyone’s input about this and I think the final result is spectacularly clear (and something I never could have come up with on my own). The entire site is just like my experience with Aeolidia – clear, easy to understand, and perfect for a creative small business!

Are you looking for a team of creative experts to help solve your ecommerce and design woes?

Our designers, developers, branding specialists and artists are solution go-getters. Contact us to help brainstorm and create your next big move. After all, several Aeolidians are better than one!

Setting Up Wholesale Accounts on Shopify

Shopify doesn’t currently offer a wholesale solution as part of their core software. It’s something we hope they are adding, and we are in touch with them about what our clients are looking for. Please contact Shopify yourself with your request for a wholesale solution! If they know how many people want this, they will be more likely to implement it.

While we are able to develop fairly custom wholesale solutions on a per-client basis, we prefer to keep things simple and work with the tools that Shopify provides. The reason is that Shopify is constantly updating and upgrading the shop software. This is a good thing! It does mean that a highly customized site is more likely to become incompatible with future versions of Shopify.

The current state of selling to wholesale accounts on Shopify

Here is Shopify’s official word on how to set up wholesale: Can I offer wholesale?

Let’s go through these options!

1) Set up discount codes

Pros:

  1. This is very simple and easy to do.
  2. Your inventory will be tracked for both retail and wholesale orders.
  3. You can set a minimum order amount OR (not “and) restrict discounts to a customer group OR restrict discounts to certain collections of products.
  4. Shopify recently added a feature that allows you to mark certain customer accounts as being tax-free.
  5. It’s future-proof! Using discount codes for your wholesalers is never going to break your site.
  6. If/when Shopify launches their own wholesale solution, nothing on your site will need to be “un-done” to take advantage of the new features.

Cons:

  1. You can’t control payment terms, or shipping options.
  2. You can’t have different wholesale dollar prices for individual items within a collection.
  3. You can’t set more than one restriction (as in #3, above) on a coupon code.
  4. You can’t prevent people from sharing or accidentally “leaking” the coupon code, unless you restrict by customer group.

2) Use an app

I’ve looked through the apps, and I’m not completely impressed with any of them. They may work for some folks, but not for our clients. Below is my quick impression of the available wholesale apps, based on the features our clients most often want. Disclaimer: I haven’t personally used any of these apps, and I’m basing my information on what is available in the descriptions and reviews on Shopify’s app store.

Supple Wholesale app: $19/month. Certain things about this app look like messy hacks (your customers need to choose Aruba as their location to avoid taxes, and it populates your admin with hundreds of discount codes – which could possibly be exploitable). This app is percentage based per collection. If you want each product to have its own wholesale price, you would need to create collections for just one or a few products. Product variants (option, such as color or size) can’t have different percentage discounts.

Customer Pricing app: $30/month. This seems more intended for retail customers, though they suggest you can use it for wholesale. It doesn’t use discount codes, but instead uses customer groups – and you can have different pricing levels for different groups. You can have tiered pricing per-item and per-variant. It has a lot of creative ways to adjust pricing based on a wide variety of variables.

The snag is that it doesn’t allow any changes to how you offer payment/shipping, so it is only customer pricing changes, and not any changes to your checkout process. I noticed some reviews listing bugs and problems. It appears that it doesn’t work with inventory apps, such as Stitch Labs, and that it may conflict with other apps and cause you to lose some core Shopify functionality. I would recommend reading through a few pages of customer reviews before deciding if this is a good fit for your shop.

Wholesaler app: $25/month. This has less information online than the Customer Pricing app. It seems similar, but geared more tightly to wholesale shopping than to rewarding retail customers. It appears that it may be better for keeping track of inventory between wholesale and retail. It doesn’t appear to allow for changes to checkout, and won’t sync correctly with inventory software. Reviews also suggest that it is buggy and hard to set up without the developer’s help.

3. Open a separate wholesale store

This is not quite as crazy as it sounds. If your retail store, for example, is at www.mystore.com, your wholesale store could simply be at wholesale.mystore.com (or anything else you’d like to call the subdomain). Copy your existing shop over to a new one, password-protect it, and then customize it to be the exact shopping experience your wholesale customers want.

Pros:

  1. You can password-protect it, so it’s only accessible to your wholesalers.
  2. You can get all the pricing exactly as you want.
  3. Payment terms (NET-30), tax exemption, and shipping options can be tailored to your wholesalers.
  4. You can include only certain products, and have unique wholesale pricing per product.
  5. You can create a unique wholesale experience, such as a single-page simple order form to add products to the cart.

Cons:

  1. You now have two shops to manage.

You would need an app if you wanted to enforce a minimum order amount, or to code (or hire someone to code) a minimum on the cart page.

One thing that is not a pro or a con is that your inventory would be separate from your retail store. This could be a good thing, as you don’t want to run out of stock for wholesalers, and you may want to order or create more product based on their orders. If you do need inventory to sync between your two shops, it looks like Stitch Labs can manage this.

4) Customize your store to restrict access:

This is usually where we come in! But again, I like to err on the side of caution with all customizations. One of the best things about using Shopify is being able to rely on your site to continue working as expected, and relaxing while Shopify upgrades your store behind the scenes. Any special customizations that must be coded by a developer can interfere with this process.

When we do custom work for clients, our preferred method is to use customer accounts and groups and create separate wholesale and retail products, which are hidden from the wrong customer groups. This means wholesalers will see just their items when they’re logged in, and regular customers will see just retail products.

With this method, shop owners can control the price per unit. It does run into the inventory problem (or feature!) mentioned above.

Or, you could manage wholesale orders manually:

This is as simple as it sounds. Do you really need wholesalers to be able to shop online? Maybe it’s a needless complication. I have heard from some of our clients that their wholesalers just want an order form, and get confused by the shopping site. If you don’t have many wholesale customers, it might not be worth the cost and setup time of making something especially for them.

Instead, you can have a wholesale contact form on your site, and send them to a page with more information and perhaps a downloadable PDF order form.

Interested in giving this a try yourself?

You can sign up for a free Shopify trial here and test things out.

Let me know if you’d like our help with this! It would be great to be able to offer your clients a smooth purchasing experience on your professional-looking site.

Quick Fixes For 6 Common Blog Mistakes

You want to look like you know what you’re doing, but is your blog plotting to make you look like a fool? I see these same content and technical mistakes on blogs over and over, and most are easy to fix. If these common blog mistakes have been driving you crazy on your own site, I’ve got some tips for you today.

My fixes use WordPress menu names, but most blogging programs will have similar functionality, though perhaps tucked behind a different menu.

The mistake: Images that click to the same size image

Blog mistake: clickable photos

This is a common problem with a simple fix. As a reader, I see a photo in a post, and notice that when I hover over it, it’s a link. Expecting to either get a lightbox-style pop-up over the screen with a larger photo, or at least be taken to the larger photo directly, I click, and I get… the exact same photo at the exact same size, but on a blank page. Now I need to click my “back” button to get back to what I was reading.

The fix:

When you’re adding the image to your post, make sure the “link to” choice is set to “none” in WordPress. WordPress will remember what you did last time, so it’s always good to check the setting for each new image, rather than assuming it’s set how you want it.

If you do want to link to a larger image, make sure you upload the large image itself, choose to have it resized in the post, and set the “link to” field to “media file” or “attachment page.”

The mistake: Images that are the wrong size

Blog mistake: small photos

It irks me when I’m reading a blog and the photos don’t take advantage of all the width of the column they’re in, or  when photos are all different sizes throughout the blog.

The fix:

Always upload images that are as large or larger than the space you have. Sometimes this isn’t enough, though, as your WordPress admin might be set up to size and display photos smaller than they are.

If big photos turn small when you add them to the blog, you need to adjust some settings. Find out how many pixels wide your photos need to be to fill the space available. There are a lot of different ways to do this, none of which are quick to explain, I’m afraid. Ask your friendly web designer friend (me)!

Now that you know how wide you want your photos to be, make sure WordPress is set up to help you with that. Go to Settings in your WordPress admin and choose Media. You can set three standard sizes, and then you’ll be able to choose from between them whenever you upload a new image. Your small size could be used for thumbnail graphics that lead to posts, your medium could be the photos in the posts, and large could be the size people see when they click to view it larger.

The mistake: Photos that have been distorted

Blog mistake: distorted photos

It’s weird to come across a photo that’s obviously been stretched or squished, like a piece of chewing gum.

The fix:

You are probably changing the height or width of your image without changing the other side. For instance, if your image is 400 pixels wide and 400 pixels tall, when you change the width to 300 pixels, you need the height to change by the same amount.

The fix for this depends on where you’re having the problem. If the problem happens when you edit the photo, be sure that when you change the width of an image, the height is also changing proportionately. This would be in Photoshop or whatever other photo editing software you use.

If your photos look fine on your computer, but then look crazy on your blog, check your media or file upload settings to make sure that they aren’t automatically being resized on one dimension only.

The mistake: moderating comments unnecessarily

Blog mistake: holding comments

If you want your comments section to be lively, it’s always best to have a discussion going as quickly as possible. Holding comments to be approved manually by you slows things down, and in the time it takes you to click and approve a comment, people may have missed out on the opportunity to discuss.

The fix:

Allow comments to flow freely on your site, unless you begin having a problem that requires you look at each comment individually. This is under Settings > Discussion in WordPress.

The mistake: being overwhelmed with spam

Blog mistake: allowing spam

As soon as your site is ranked in Google and starts getting traffic and interest, spam robots will flood it with tons of garbage comments. Letting these pile up on your site is bad for business, and spending all of your time manually deleting them is a waste of your time.

The fix:

Pay Akismet $5/month to wipe this stuff out before it even makes it to your blog. If you spend more than 5-10 minutes per month tackling spam comments, I’d say this is money well spent.

The mistake: A bunch of garbage in your sidebar

Blog mistake: sidebar garbage

WordPress gives you so many handy dandy widgets that it’s super tempting to fill your sidebar up with lots of neat looking goodies. However, clogging your sidebar with clutter will just cause visitors to ignore everything they see to the side of the real content, and you will have lost the opportunity to make your blog an easy place to explore, or to promote what you most want people to know about.

The fix:

Edit your sidebar ferociously. Look at each thing you’ve added, and ask if it’s something your reader needs, or if it helps you with your business goals. Remember that the more distractions you give your reader, the less you’ll be able to guide them through your site to your ultimate goal (purchasing your products, signing up for your service, etc.).

Making our blogs professional

If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, I share many more tips like this. What mistakes do you see on blogs that drive you batty? What questions do you have about your own blog?

If you missed my post with 260 blog post ideas, that’s a good place to get started on improving your blog!

Using Your Brand Identity: Siamese Social Club

We’ve talked here before about why you need to start with the logo. Your logo and branding are a vital part of how you explain your business to your customers. Think of your logo as the keystone that holds everything else together.

A solid brand identity makes it easy for customers to understand your business, and to recognize your products. Using your brand identity throughout your marketing materials is important, and we’ve been excited to watch one of our recent clients, Kristen from The Siamese Social Club, begin to use her brand identity as she builds her new business.

siamese social club custom tissue paper

Custom tissue paper created with one of the brand identity patterns, made even more special with a custom stamp!

The Siamese Social Club is for design savvy cats and cat-loving people. Kristen and Bollini (the cat) share an appreciation for minimal, yet aesthetically pleasing comforts. They came to us last year to create a logo and identity for the brand-new Siamese Social Club. Kristen told us:

My specific goal for this project is to develop a logo and branding that will be appropriate for my business in its early stage as a small, etsy-run business, but will also remain relevant as it progresses into a larger, collaborative entity. Ideally, I would like people to be able to tell when they see the logo that this business is something different and not just another crazy-cat-lady business selling catnip mice or another “modern/contemporary” cat business that makes weird-looking litter boxes.

My ideal logo is clean and simple, with a slightly quirky or whimsical flair. I would love it to include an icon, image, or abbreviation that I can use in stamps or embroider onto products that would make it easy to identify the business without having to spell out the entire name.

Sarah created a fun and modern logo and identity for Kristen’s business. When she showed her the initial idea, she told her:

The “siamese” font is hand made using straight, simple lines and I used that cool “M” shape to make your icon, keeping it looking cat-like but again super minimalist style.

Once the logo was finalized, Sarah extended the brand identity to include some quirky elements that can be used in branding products and packaging, and included simple icons that are perfect for identifying the business without using the full name.

Siamese Social Club brand identity by Sarah Connor for Aeolidia.

Kristen really understands why her brand identity is such an important first step in building her business. She told us:

In the early stages of starting my business, I decided to invest in a professional logo design instead of settling for something I created myself—hiring Aeolidia for the logo design was the best decision I could have made. Having a brand new business with no previous logo, no website and no finished products yet, I was worried that I would’t be able to convey the design I wanted simply through written descriptions. Sarah, however, was a dream to work with and listened carefully to all of my feedback, crafting a logo that was exactly what I wanted but couldn’t envision. Not only did I end up with the most amazing logo to launch my business with, but the process helped me fully define my brand.

Take a look at all of the fun ways that Kristen is using her new brand!

creating tags using your logo and brand identity

Kristen uses a heat embossing stamp to create these leather tags!

Siamese Social Club custom packaging

A custom stamp makes it easy to create branded packaging.

Bollini is definitely impressed with Kristen’s hard work, and we’re so happy to have been a part of building this new brand!

creating custom tags for products

Are you ready for a new brand identity?

Talk to us! We’d love to help you begin to grow your business with a solid brand identity.

You Can’t Do Everything and That’s OK

The following post is by Val Bromann, the lifestyle and travel blogger of Choosing Figs. We recently worked with Val to create a new brand identity for her blog, and wanted to share her post about working with a designer, even though she is a self-described control-freak. Please enjoy Val’s thoughts about why you can’t do everything, and that’s ok!

You Can’t Do Everything and That’s OK

by Val Bromann

I CAN’T DO EVERYTHING.

That’s something hard for a control-freak like myself to admit, but it’s true. I. can’t. do. everything. Now, I’m the kind of girl who wants to do everything, who tries to do everything, who wants to do it all herself, even if it’s beyond me. I can learn. I can do it. I can figure it out. I can.

In some ways it’s a good quality to have. I pick up so many more skills that way. “I’ll figure it out,” is one of my favorite things to say at work because I consider it a challenge if my boss wants an email to be formatted a different way or a page on the website to look different than the template allows.

And, usually, I do figure it out. I consult a book, or the internet, or Skillshare. I make things happen.

But it’s a detriment sometimes too. Because I have a hard time asking for help. I have a hard time letting go. I have a hard time accepting that I can’t do something. And that can be exhausting. Like at work when I complain all day that I have way too much to do. But then someone suggests help and I say no, I’ll do it. I’ll get it done. Because I don’t trust anyone else to get it right.

Control. Freak.

It became apparent to me in this past year that I really can’t do everything when I took on a major freelance project: redesigning someone else’s blog. I’d worked for years doing small web projects: email designs, informational websites for friends. And I’d been designing my own website since 2003.

This was one of those opportunities to push myself, to say yes to something I thought I could do even though I’d never done it before. To find out if I could make a freelancing career work.

But what was fun to do for myself turned into a nightmare trying to do for someone else. I’m mostly self taught and everything is constantly evolving. So, sometimes, when designing for myself, I will spend hours with the code, changing little things here and there until everything looks exactly how I envisioned it. Hours, sometimes, on one minute detail. But that’s fun to me. Because when it finally looks right, I feel accomplished.

But trying to do the same thing for someone else was draining. I’d still spend hours in the code trying to get everything to look right. To get everything to look like I envisioned it in my head. And then the client wouldn’t agree. Because I couldn’t get in their head like I could get in my own. So I’d be back at the start. It would take too long, too many hours I didn’t have when traveling. I didn’t feel the same accomplishment with the little victories, I just felt like I was trying to get it done, I just felt like I was wasting everyone’s time.

After months of working on the website, and not getting anything right, I backed out. It was best for everyone. If it was just the development, the coding, the manipulating of a theme, I maybe would have continued. But there was no logo to work with and it was really hard for me to create a site with no real direction on the look. “I’m not a graphic designer,” was something I repeated throughout the project.

Print

the Choosing Figs logo: before Aeolidia

I’M NOT A GRAPHIC DESIGNER.

When I had started thinking about redesigning my own site and rebranding last year I knew I had to give up some of my control. It was hard for me, I’ve always done everything for my website myself. (Bonus: this is what my very first website looked like in 2003!) But I am not a graphic designer. And as much as I like designing and want to learn more, it’s not something I’ll ever be good at.

I’m not a graphic designer. And I knew if I ever wanted my blog to have the branding I imagined, I had to find a someone who was.

Finding someone was both easy and difficult. Easy, because I had already fallen in love with the work of Aeolidia. They specialize in small businesses, makers with shops. And in a way I felt funny approaching them. I’m not a shop. I’m not a business. I can’t craft anything for the life of me. But when I thought about designs I loved I thought about the brands I’d see at craft fairs or on Etsy. Small creative businesses. And I’m small and creative, right?

Plus I didn’t want to go with someone who worked with travel bloggers because I wanted something different. And, let’s face it, I’ve never had a travel blog.

But it was difficult to commit. They were expensive, for me, way more than a “hobby blogger” like myself should have considered spending. Especially when everyone I knew suggested to go on Fiverr and get a $5 logo.

But as I scoured their site daily, going through their projects, reading their blog, I knew that I couldn’t settle. Just like I refuse to settle in any other aspect of my life.

I MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE.

I knew I had made the right choice when Sarah, my designer, told me about herself. Her family was living in a big city and felt like something was missing. So her husband quit his job and they moved to cottage in the middle of nowhere. “We have ALWAYS been passionate people and have chased after things we wanted in life with both arms out-stretched,” she told me.

And I knew she was my kind of people.

I knew she’d get me and that she’d get my brand.

And she did. Through the coming weeks we went back and forth, she came up with different options for the look, for the colors. Every time she’d send me a new pdf of design options I was giddy for hours until I realized I actually had to choose between them. Which was the hardest thing ever because they were all so good in such different ways. But as we focused each round it became clear which option worked best for me. I wanted something that was modern but a bit feminine. I wanted to incorporate the fig without it looking like it belonged on a canning jar. I wanted it to convey what my blog was about. And the more we focused, the more it all came together.

working with a designer when you're a control freak

 

“It’s edgy and a bit wild and free,” Sarah said during one of the rounds, “By adding that pop of pink, it ties it all together and I have to say… just matches you so well. I find your writing beautifully honest and I want to give you an honest logo to match.”

I don’t think I could have gotten that from Fiverr.

And the end result of the logo and all the other design elements and the graphics and the icons and the backgrounds and the patterns and the color scheme went above anything I ever had in my head. I would have never thought of using the dark blue. I would have never thought of 99% of the design elements she laid out in a style guide, many of which are reflected here now.

I was so sad when the project ended that I wanted to fly to Australia just to hug her and came very close to asking her to continue the project and design the whole site.

But, I couldn’t. I had already spent way more money than I had on the branding and so a plane ticket to Australia or website development were simply out of the question. And so, the rest, I would take on myself.

That was back in December.

working with a logo designer

And, finally, after months of working every spare moment, after going through three premium themes because none of them felt quite right, after hours manipulating code to make things happen, after breaking things, after piecing things back together, after second-guessing, after Googling, after fighting plugins, after so many little feelings of accomplishment, my new blog is almost done.

Almost. I still need to do a few small things, I still need to make some adjustments to the mobile theme, I still need to go back and edit over 1,600 old blog posts to re-categorize and update images.

But I couldn’t wait any longer to launch.

Choosing Figs Website

It’s everything I dreamed of and more.

And I couldn’t have gotten here without Aeolidia, without Sarah, without admitting that someone else could do something better than I could.

It’s hard to accept, sometimes, that you can’t do everything. It’s hard to let go, give up control. But sometimes it’s necessary to concede when you can’t. Whether that’s making sure someone else gets what they need or making sure you get what you want yourself.

So, I guess, I can’t do it all. And that’s OK. Because I can do a whole lot of things. And there are others out there who can do the things I can’t.

Choosing Figs brand identity by Sarah Connor for Aeolidia. Valerie shares her experience working with a designer, even though she's 'a control freak.

 

This article was originally posted on the Choosing Figs blog and is reposted here with permission. Thank you so much for letting us share your thoughts, Val!

You Can Easily Host a Legal Giveaway

This post is by Kiffanie Stahle, lawyer and friend to creative businesses.

Is your giveaway legal?

Do any of these look familiar from your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feed?

  • My new product is live! Go to my blog to find out how you can enter for a chance to win!
  • #regram this photo for a chance to win my new product!
  • I’m entering to win @bloggers giveaway! Do you want to win too? Go here to enter: bit.ly/giveaway

I see giveaway promotions like this every day. You probably do too.

It’s no wonder; a giveaway can be a great opportunity to get exposure for our products. And I’m sure your goals, like mine, include getting your products in front of more of the right people.

Hosting a legal giveaway

When I’m wearing my lawyer hat, most of my job involves understanding the laws and assessing how risky a specific action is for my client. And right now, when I talk to my clients about how to host a legal giveaway, I get a lot of eye-rolling.

I’ll admit no one is really cracking down on the thousands of illegal giveaways that happen every day. But that doesn’t mean that giveaways are the Wild West and anything goes. Or that you aren’t taking risks when hosting an illegal giveaway.

Part of my disconnect stems from the fact these laws are pretty easy to comply with. And since I’m a pretty risk-averse person, it seems like a no brainer to take a couple simple steps and set my giveaway up properly. Especially when doing so removes any possibility that I’ll get in trouble.

And I’m sure you like me, have a million other things that will keep you awake at night that you can’t control.

What might surprise you is that the first step to hosting a legit giveaway is to determine the goals of your giveaway:

  • Who do you want to get your product in front of?
  • What are your ideal outcomes?
  • How will you measure results?
  • Why are you hosting a giveaway?
  • Where do you want the giveaway to be primarily held?
  • When’s the perfect time for this product giveaway?

It’s only by understanding the goals of your giveaway that we can move onto the next step: determining the type.

What you call a giveaway, the law has calls three different things: sweepstakes, contest, and lottery. What’s the difference between these?

  • Sweepstakes = random winner + prize + no consideration
  • Contest = winner selected on skill + prize + consideration
  • Lottery = random winner + prize + consideration

Lotteries are illegal in every U.S. state except for the official state lotteries (and technically some casino gambling). Which means that we need to understand what consideration is so that we can determine how to pick our winner.

(Sorry, Canadian friends, but I’m not even going to touch on the crazy matrix of what kinds of giveaways are and aren’t legal up there.)

What’s consideration?

Consideration is a term you’ll come across frequently in the law. The short definition is that it is monetary or non-monetary payment.

What’s considered consideration?

The laws say that requiring a purchase, making them invest significant time or effort, or giving you something of marketable value equals consideration. But what does that mean?

  1. Purchase:
    – requiring entrants to make a purchase or pay an entry fee
  2. Significant time investment or effort:
    – filling out a long survey
    – going to a sponsor’s website, finding your favorite product, and reporting back
    – creating a Pinterest board using the product photo
  3. Giving you something of marketable value:
    – signing up for your/sponsor’s email list
    – following you/sponsor on social media

What’s not considered consideration?

The law also outlines that the following aren’t consideration:

  1. requiring entry via the internet
  2. calling a toll-free number
  3. filling out a simple survey
  4. visiting a single store

This is why it’s important to understand the goals of your giveaway. Because if your goal were to grow your Twitter following, then entrants would be providing consideration and you’d need to host a contest.

Hosting a contest

Hosting a contest comes with a whole host of headaches. Which is why you need to understand the legal loophole that will turn your contest into a sweepstakes.

Understanding this legal loophole (called an alternative method of entry) gives us the best of both worlds:

  • Random winner
  • Some entry methods requiring consideration

Once you’ve determined the type of giveaway you are hosting, you’ll craft your Official Rules, promote, host, and administer your giveaway.

But the real key to hosting a legit giveaway starts with these two steps: determining your outcome and picking the right type.

Have I convinced you that hosting a legit giveaway doesn’t have to be stressful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Kiffanie Stahle is the founder of the artist’s JD, a community designed to teach creative entrepreneurs that the law doesn’t have to equal scary. She’s on a mission to convince you that it is good to have a lawyer as a friend. Kiffanie has published a quick guide to help you navigate the 5 simple steps to hosting a legit giveaway.

Shopify vs. Etsy Fees: Try Our Fee Calculator

The first month I paid $3400 in Etsy fees was the real moment I was like ‘WTF.’ Amy, Little Hip Squeaks

How do Shopify vs. Etsy fees stack up? Often, shop owners come to us ready to set up their own ecommerce website because they’ve watched their Etsy fees steadily increase. We shared Amy’s story last year – once you are paying such high monthly fees, it’s an easy decision to make the move to setting up your own ecommerce shop.

When you are first getting started with ecommerce as a product-based business, it can make sense to set up shop on Etsy to test the waters, or test your proof of concept. Will your products sell? Are there adjustments you can make to your photography to make your products more appealing online? How can you bundle your products together for more sales? The list of things you can test out as you are beginning your business is long, and Etsy is an easy platform to use for that testing period.

Once your business has grown, and you are ready to make the leap into setting up a shop on your own domain (www.yourshop.com, not www.etsy.com), where should you go? We’ve talked before about why we recommend Shopify. When new clients write to us, one of their concerns is the fee structure on Shopify. When does it make sense to set up your own shop? Will your monthly expenses, the fees that you pay to run your shop, increase? How do Etsy and Shopify fees compare?

Well, I did the math!

Shopify vs. Etsy fees for a low volume business

only $10 more per month to set up your own shop!

The spreadsheet above represents a fairly new business, selling an average of 20 items per month at an average price of $50 per item. You can see that for this shop owner, Etsy is the least expensive way to run their shop, but not by too much!

Sometimes business owners will write to us wanting to set up an informational site that simply links to their Etsy shop because they are concerned about monthly fees. On the surface, this makes sense, but the amount that you will pay to host your informational site on WordPress, for example, can be $10 and up per month. Think about that!

If you are selling on Etsy and paying for hosting, you could be running your own ecommerce site on Shopify, for not much more (if any) AND you would be building your business on your own website. That is a game-changer!

Moving away from Etsy will position you as a legitimate business, and make it easier for you to form long-term relationships with your customers, as well as giving you greater ability to work with wholesale clients. Having your own shop gives increased flexibility as far as design and features go, and your site will be able to change with you as your business grows.

Shopify vs. Etsy fees for a higher volume and lower item price

$871 saved with Shopify’s Unlimited plan!

As your business grows, and you begin making more sales, it can be more cost effective to run your own ecommerce site, rather than paying Etsy’s monthly fees. The example above shows a relatively low average item price with a fairly high number of monthly sales, and all three of Shopify’s plans are now less expensive than Etsy. Keep in mind that this only includes one Etsy item fee of 20 cents per sold item. Often, shop owners are listing and relisting items multiple times before making a sale, which means those Etsy fees could climb quite a bit higher!

Shopify vs. Etsy fees for a higher volume and higher item price

Wow – $3571 saved with Shopify’s Unlimited plan!!

I found after running the numbers that shop owners who sell goods with a fairly high average price are even more likely to save money by selling on their own ecommerce site. With an average item price of $75 or higher, it doesn’t take many sales per month to recoup the monthly fee of running your own website on Shopify. In the example above, a shop owner would save over $3500 with Shopify’s most expensive monthly plan.

A quick note about variables:

The fee calculator we are sharing here is a great tool – there are a few variables to mention that can affect the overall monthly fees:

  • Credit card processing fees may vary, depending on which payment processor you use for your shop.
  • Shopify waives the transaction fee for transactions using Shopify payments.
  • The ‘fee per order’ is calculated as a fee per item sold in the fee calculator to simplify things. Actual fees would be charged per order, not per item sold.

Are you ready to do the math?

If you’re not quite at the point with your business when setting up on Shopify could save you thousands of dollars, why make the move? What are the benefits that you get on Shopify that you don’t get on Etsy?

  1. You build your business on your own domain. You OWN your own future!
  2. On your own website, you control the design, the overall look and feel of the site. This allows you to extend your brand identity to your website for a memorable customer experience.
  3. Rather than visiting Etsy (and potentially clicking to visit another shop) customers will return to visit YOU!
  4. By setting up a professional website you are in a better position to reach out to potential customers, press and wholesale clients.
  5. You don’t need to rely on Etsy to send your traffic, nor worry that if they adjust their algorithm, all your sales will dry up.

Learn more about Shopify here:
Shopify.com

If you’re thinking about making the leap into setting up your own ecommerce website, you should do the math! Would you like to try out my Fee Calculator? You can download this simple tool, and find other free resources by subscribing below: