Advice I Should’ve Taken: Saying No

Should've Said No

The other day I was using my hole puncher when I thought back to my days as a kid when I would test the limits of our hole puncher by putting too many papers in, trying to save time. My parents had told me not to overload it, that we should only cut a few papers at a time, but I didn’t trust their experience and advice and instead chose to learn for myself. And I broke their hole puncher. How expensive it is to be a parent, where you kids need to learn for themselves, in the meantime breaking a lot of household items… 

Similarly, when I started my business I was given a lot of advice, both directly and through books and articles. I took a lot of that advice seriously, but unfortunately some I didn’t take seriously enough. So I’m starting a new series about the advice I should’ve taken and the lessons I learned from my experiences. Maybe you’ll learn from my mistakes?

You hear it all the time that as a business owner, you need to learn to protect your time and business by saying no when necessary. And when is it necessary? For me, there’s a number of situations that I have deemed necessary to say NO.

  • If I’m feeling overwhelmed by work or falling behind on projects, I won’t accept any new work or collaborations that will take up more of my time. That overwhelm will start to affect my personal life and family and I won’t allow that.
  • If my gut tells me that a potential client won’t be a good fit for any reason, I need to say no. My gut has always been right and if a project just doesn’t feel right, I shouldn’t do it.
  • If a project or collaboration isn’t a good use of my time or experience, say no. For example, when potential clients want to use me for projects outside of my expertise or when I’m asked to do a time-consuming collaboration that won’t help me reach my end goals.

But I wasn’t always so good at saying no. For example, in my early days of designing blogs a few years ago, I was a bit desperate for work. I wasn’t ready to say no to potential clients because I needed the money and experience, something I don’t regret because we all have to start somewhere. I took on a client who’s design still wasn’t a great fit for me and I ended up being her workhorse as she called all the shots regardless of my input and experience. The design never made it to my portfolio. But that wasn’t the mistake. She was one of my first clients and I learned a lot about customer service and how to share my opinions and feedback with my clients.

The mistake was just a few months later when I took on a friend of hers that saw her design and wanted to work with me. I knew I should’ve said no. If I hated working on that design, why would I want to work with someone that loved it and wanted something similar? But I wanted that money and experience so I said yes.

Each step of the process led to clashing as she made requests that my design experience said was a bad choice or her asking me to do things I wasn’t capable of. With each email I was more and more frustrated, ruining my day each time I had to work on any task for her project. It was making my job miserable and I knew she wasn’t enjoying the experience of working with me either.

Finally I listened to my gut and before we got too far, I told her that it wasn’t working out and I thought she would do better with a different designer. I refunded her the deposit, gave her some recommendations, and did all I could to end things on a good note. While the experience was definitely one I wish I could’ve skipped, I did learn the hard lesson of how to cut things short with a client when things aren’t going well, so it wasn’t a total loss!

That wasn’t the last time I said yes when I should’ve said no, as apparently I need a reminder every once in a while of why it’s okay to say no every. But I did learn that I should never ignore my gut just to make some extra cash. Learning to say NO has saved me a lot of time and heartache and taught me to respect myself as a designer and business owner. If only I’d caught on to that earlier!

Tweet me a time when you should’ve said no!

My Favorite Productivity Apps

producivity-apps

I recently realized something- I really only use my phone for business stuff, Instagram, and Twitter. And now with The Collaboreat, even Twitter and Instagram have become business stuff. This is why I suck at texting. I grab my phone to check something for my business, see a text, and then keep going about my business completely forgetting to text them back. Tell me that’s not just me?

Well anyways. Most of my apps have something to do with my business, with the occasional few personal apps. And since I use my phone for so much, I don’t have the space for apps I don’t use or like. So each app gets thoroughly tested and used and anything less than ridiculously helpful will get removed.

So what are these super helpful apps that I use for my business?

Any.Do
This app is more of a recent discovery after I got started with the Collaboreat. I found that I was doing a lot of repeat tasks and I wanted a to-do list app that would let me set up recurring tasks so I didn’t have to enter them in myself week after week. This app does just that and more! You can set up tasks for today, tomorrow, and any date in the future, including “someday” tasks. I like its ease of use and it syncs up with the computer app so I can access everything from anywhere.

Cal
This app is another favorite that goes hand in hand with Any.Do! It’s a calendar where you can create detailed events, including adding locations from Google Maps so I know exactly where the event is taking place and can just pull up the map when it’s time to go! You can also make notes, set it up as a reoccurring event, add contacts, and more. And since it syncs up with Any.Do, you can pull up all the tasks you’ll have to do that day as well so you can see your whole day on one screen.

Dropbox
Dropbox has been one of my favorite business tools for a LONG time. It’s so handy to have my files in a cloud that I can access from anywhere, especially with this app. When I’m out on the road, I can access client files, documents, photos, and just about anything else I might want to see while I’m out and about. It’s especially handy for posting Collaboreat pictures to Instagram, as I can save the high-resolution files in my Dropbox to my phone and upload them to Instagram from there! Its usefulness goes on and on!

Latergramme
Speaking of Instagram, I’ve waited a long time for an app that lets you schedule pictures for Instagram. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t let anyone autopost (boo!) but Latergramme found a way to work around that. You can upload the picture you’d like to use, write out the caption, and then schedule it for later. At that later time, it will send you a notification that your picture is ready to post and with a single swipe you can open it up and just hit publish! Voila!

Gmail
I know so many people swear by the fancy mailbox apps for your phone, but I haven’t found an app that better suits my needs than the good ole Gmail app. I already keep my inbox filtered and access it enough on my computer that I don’t need all the crazy folders that other apps have. I also love that the Google apps can sync up with each other- any documents can be viewed or saved to my Drive (another well-used app on my phone) and all links open in my Chrome app where I have all my bookmarks and history saved.

And since I’m about to get a new phone that has room for many more apps, what are your favorites? Business, personal, fun, whatever! Tweet me!

Why I No Long Accept Comments

No more comments

Over the past few months, my life has gotten much busier and I’ve found myself saying “no” a whole lot more and dropping a lot of unnecessary tasks off my to do list. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride for this serial multi-tasker, but I’ve noticed a complete change in my perspective on things.

I now take a step back to examine each and every aspect of my work, judging whether it’s really necessary or how it could be changed to cut back on time and improve my process. Things that I once thought were absolutely necessary to stay organized and the seemingly important tasks that I had learned in a book somewhere have fallen by the wayside. I’ve ignored the many articles titled something like “Ten tools every small business owner needs” and “Fifteen daily tasks for bloggers.” I’m learning to trust my gut instead of the plethora of “experts” out there in the world.

And my gut has told me to turn off comments on my blog.

As I considered the subject, the voices inside my head screamed, “WHAT?? Comments are necessary on blogs! Everyone has them! People love commenting! That’s how advertisers judge how engaged your audience is! That’s how you keep the conversation going and ask for the input and opinions of others! No one turns off their comments!”

I listened the voices for quite some time, but that feeling in my gut wouldn’t go away as reason upon reason kept piling up.

1. I just don’t have the time to comment back.

My blog is just a marketing aspect for my business and on some days, blogging would end up taking more time than doing a whole design project for a client. Then I’d read yet another blog post telling bloggers to respond to each and every comment and would feel guilty. I barely had time to post, let alone come up with a thoughtful response for each and every comment. If it’s between posting or going back to old posts to respond to comments, I’d rather post something new and useful that will actually help my readers. Which of course comes after designing. It’s always been a battle to remember that I’m a designer first, not a blogger and I have to make sure my design work comes first.

2. Comment quality has gone down.

Let’s be honest. Over the past few years, the quality of comments has gone way down. Comments used to be a place to share common experiences or advice or to get to know readers. Instead, it has turned into a way for other bloggers to get their link out to more places or to give the blogger a nice ego boost by saying, “Great post! I agree!” While the ego boosts are always nice, they’re unnecessary and just give me more work as I have to find yet another way to say “Thanks for following along! Glad you agree!” The higher quality comments that offer opinions, advice, or experiences are few and far between.

3. Why not interact on social media?

When those occasional high-quality comments did come up, I found myself wishing they had said it on social media so we could have kept the conversation going without clogging the comment feed. Why not Tweet me a response instead? I’m much more likely to see it and respond, and this way we can keep the conversation going and invite others in! I just didn’t feel like the footer of my post was an appropriate place to have a conversation, not when there are amazing tools like Twitter and Facebook where we are all already active.

4. Keep interaction in one place.

When I’m getting comments from all sides- Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email, and my blog- it’s hard to keep track and make sure everything gets taken care of. By eliminating comments and encouraging conversation on Twitter, I can focus my efforts on to fewer places which always results in high quality. My time isn’t as stretched and I can make sure each and every loyal reader gets noticed.

If you’ve been overwhelmed by the unwritten blogging “rules” about comments, maybe it’s time to take a step back and consider shutting off comments all together. It has offered me so much relief and I no longer feel guilty every time I look at my blog and see unanswered comments. Instead, I can focus on designing and writing up quality posts!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Feel free to Tweet me!

 

How To Create a Weekly Schedule

Create A Weekly ScheduleThere have been a few times in the past few years I’ve been in business that experts, gurus, friends, and fellow solopreneurs have recommended creating a weekly schedule for myself. Set aside different tasks for different days of the week so you don’t get bored or burnt out.

But I never did. Working with any number of clients at the same time in different parts of the design process with different deadlines and different package inclusions made it seem impossible. How can I set aside Mondays for blogging when I have an installation scheduled for Tuesday that I need to get ready for? So I never created that weekly schedule and my days were a series of long to-do lists and scatter-brained “Oh I’ll just do this now while I’m thinking about it.”

But now I do less design and do more managing of The Collaboreat. My days consist of pretty regular tasks that I repeat over and over again. Editing posts. Emailing writers. Researching. Planning new content. Writing newsletters. And yes, there’s still design but just not as much.

And suddenly a weekly schedule made sense! Enough with the long to do lists that always spill over to the next day or randomly deciding to work on other tasks when I think of them. So I sat down and made myself a schedule with these things in mind.

1. No more than four tasks a day.
Granted each task takes time. My tasks consist of things like “inbox zero” and “schedule a week’s worth of content” so four tasks can really take a full day. Tasks can take between an hour and four hours, but I’ve made sure that I don’t schedule too much so if other things come up or if I need a little break, there’s time for that!

2. At least one task each day should be fun.
There’s a lot of things I love about my work (duh, since I’ve created my own job), but there are definitely things I don’t love. I dread seeing “inbox zero” on my to-do list and sending followups to my writers isn’t my favorite. However I LOVE planning new content and doing research (a.k.a. reading food and travel blogs and magazines). So I’ve made sure that every day has something fun in store for me so even Mondays can be enjoyable.

3. One day of the week is much more relaxing.
The thing I love about creating my own schedule is that when I want to spend my afternoon with a friend that came in from out of town or getting a much needed massage, I can! Or if, heaven forbid, there’s a design emergency I have a day that I can set aside for that. So I’ve made sure my Fridays are more chill, including things like “research” and “schedule instagrams”- tasks that don’t take TOO much time and can really be done from anywhere. Now Fridays are my favorite day of the week, the day I can look forward to after a long week and when I can schedule lunch with a friend.

4. Each task is in order of importance.
This way, if one task takes up most of the day, I know that it was important and the less important tasks can be put off without a problem. I can easily work through the tasks for each day and know that at the end of the day I’ve done what’s important.

My new weekly schedule has made my life so much easier. Each day I know exactly what I’m doing and don’t get distracted by other things that will need to get done at some point because I know it will get done later in the week. Everything that will need to get done has it’s place in the week, perfectly laid out for me to get done at the appropriate time.

But like I said earlier, this schedule wouldn’t have worked five months ago when I was working with seven clients at a time, all with different appointments and deadlines and processes. And it definitely wouldn’t have worked when I was just starting out and trying to do a million things for my business after I got home from my full-time job. It would’ve been impossible.

But if you find yourself doing the same things all the time, take a good look at your schedule and your tasks and see what you can do! It just might make your life ten times easier.

Never Start A Blog For The Money

Never Start a Blog For the Money

I’m going to repeat that for you.

NEVER START A BLOG FOR THE MONEY.

Every once in a while, I get a client who is brand new to the world of blogging and they admit that their ultimate goal is for their blog to be their primary source of income. They aren’t sure how exactly they’ll make that happen, but online classes and workshops will eventually be in the picture, maybe a shop, oh and of course working with big advertisers. Target maybe? Or J. Crew? They’re not sure. But they’ve got big plans.

And then we have a talk. We’ll skip the part where I try not to dash their hopes and dreams by telling them that it’s totally possible and it would be so much fun. Let’s skip to the part where I tell them why they need to back up and reevaluate their plans and come up with a different reason for starting a blog. One that has nothing to do with money.

Why?

It’s HARD to make a good income from blogging.
At the very least, you’ll spend the first six months trying build up any sort of following that advertisers would even be interested in. You’ll be busting your butt, commenting on every blog you follow, posting all over social media, sending out emails to bloggers you love, and paying your hard earned money for sponsor spots all over the blogosphere. And if you aren’t exhausted and questioning what the heck you’re doing after those six months, you’ll end up working with small brands that don’t have much to offer you, definitely not anything that will help you pay the bills. Next step? Maybe collaborating with a business people have actually heard of. While blogging might seem easy, like something you can do in the evenings when you’re bored, it’s not. It takes hard work and stamina to really get anywhere.

You’re missing the point.
By putting your focus on making money, you’re missing the point. Blogging is so incredible. You make so many friends and connections from all over the world that love the same things as you and really GET you. You get to share the lessons you’ve learned and the skills you’ve been taught to other people. You get to help! You get to have a voice where you can start discussions with other people about things that matter to you. You get to be creative and call all the shots and have a place all your own. And yeah, maybe sometimes you make money. But when you put your focus on something so material, you’ll miss out on all the other amazing stuff.

Your readers will see right through you.
Blog readers are smart. They follow lots of other blogs and they have for a long time. They’ve seen their favorite bloggers sellout and start only doing sponsored posts. They’ve seen their favorite bloggers get busy and quit. They’ve drama happen between the lines. They’ve seen a lot. They are very observant. And when you sound salesy or push some sponsor product on them that neither you or them care about, they’ll smell it coming from a mile away and they will leave. The less genuine you are and the more you try to make money off of your interested readers, the less they will stick around and stay interested.

The most successful bloggers focus less on money and more on creating genuine content.
When I look around at all the blogs out there, the ones that are successful are the ones that let themselves shine through their content. They work hard on making each and every post meaningful. They’ll stay up till 2 a.m. working on a post because they are so excited for readers to see it, not because they have a deadline with a sponsor. When bloggers put their heart and soul into their work, brands and businesses notice them and want to work with them.

So yes, making money off of your blog is totally doable. But there is so much more! Don’t let the money blind you from seeing it’s much much bigger purpose!