Soft & Sweet Moodboard

moodboard

Once the Collaboreat got going, I cut back on design work as I spent all of my time trying to figure out processes and reach out to people and get the new blog off the ground. And then I took a good Christmas break. And now I’m back. And it feels oh so good! I’ve started a few new projects, some small some large and long-term and I’m so happy to be working with some incredible bloggers and small businesses.

One of these clients has been an absolute dream to work with and we’re already almost done with the process! It’s a beautiful design that I’m pretty excited about as it’s right up my alley- classy, clean, soft, and sweet. It goes perfectly with the client- a lifestyle blogger who is sweet and professional and sophisticated. I can’t wait to share more!

And now that I’ve got good processes in place for the Collaboreat and have more time for design, I’ll be working on a few fun self-initiated projects. I haven’t done those in ages! It will be loads of fun. Here’s to designing and doing what you love!

Establishing Your Sweet Spot

sweet-spot

I’ve recently been reading what could possibly be my favorite book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been underlining and taking notes, seeking out the information that helps me better understand myself and the way I do things and why. I highly recommend you take a read and see what you can discover about yourself.

A section that really spoke to me, especially as far as my business goes, was one where they discussed finding your “sweet spot.” They discussed how extroverts and introverts need different levels of stimulation to feel totally comfortable.

“Introverts have wide-open information channels [the mechanisms that send signals to parts of our brain causing us to feel energetic or calm], causing them to be flooded with stimulation and over-arouse, while extroverts have tighter channels, making them prone to under-arousal.” Cain goes on to discuss how introverts tend to get overstimulated rather quickly in comparison, leading to an uncomfortable “I’ve had enough” feeling, while extroverts tend to need more stimulation otherwise they get “cabin fever.”

To feel most comfortable in our environments, we need to really study ourselves and figure out what our “sweet spot” is- where don’t feel understimulated or overstimulated- you have the perfect balance to focus and get things done. Once you figure out what this sweet spot is, you can put yourself into environments that work best with your personality and make you feel most energetic and alive.

While reading this, it occurred to me that most of what I hated about my past jobs and most of what I love about this job has to do with that sweet spot. At a past job I worked in a very open environment where my coworkers could come up behind me at any time to ask about projects or simply chat. We had meetings just about every day where we would be asked to “group-think” or even do team-building exercises. It was a rare day when I could put on my headphones and work by myself from nine to five, something I always craved.

And while this environment wasn’t necessarily bad, it wasn’t my sweet spot. Far from it. I needed quiet and planned interruptions (lunch breaks, scheduled meetings, etc.) so I wasn’t caught off guard and my day thrown off. I needed a closed off space where I could bask in the silence of an office and get my work done, not a ginormous cubicle that I shared with my entire team who might ask me to watch a funny YouTube video at any moment.

Then I quit my job to work on this here business full-time from home. Without even realizing it, I set up my processes, workspace, and schedule to create my “sweet spot.” I don’t hand out my phone number to clients so they can’t call at any time to interrupt my workflow. Instead, I tell them they can email me anytime and then when I am ready, I can check all my emails at once and respond. I turn on music or background noise on my computer so I can be lightly stimulated while I work, but when my brain needs more room to focus I can completely shut it off and concentrate. I can adjust the temperature based on my own body and can go work at a cafe if I need the presence of other people. This is my sweet spot.

So for all you solopreneurs out there, where’s your sweet spot? How much stimulation do you need to be most productive? Do you need to find a friend to work at a coffeeshop with or do you need to create a separate quiet space at home for yourself to work? Do you need your clients to stop calling you so you can focus or do you thrive on the spontaneity of it all? Do you need to schedule lunches with a friend on a regular basis so you can have some social interaction in your day or would you prefer to save that for the weekend?

Pay close attention to how much stimulation you need and what things give you any sort of anxiety when you’re working and then put processes into place so you can create your own sweet spot. We solopreneurs are so lucky to be able to create our own work spaces and call all the shots- use that to your advantage and create that environment that will work to your advantage and help you be productive!

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Looking Back

This past year was a big turning point for me.

I started out making goals and plans and filling in every hour of my brand new planner that was without question my favorite gift of the year before. I had big dreams and goals about getting published, speaking, teaching, and getting rich off of the work that I loved so dearly.

But as you may have noticed, somewhere along the way I lost momentum. I stopped filling in every detail of my planner. I was failing to send out newsletters every month, let alone every week. My blog posts had slowed down nearly to a stop. I took on less and less design clients. As much as I hated to admit it, I didn’t love the work as much as I used to.

You see, somewhere along the way, I took a step back and looked around at the life I was living. The evenings spent in tears or ranting to my husband because this or that wasn’t working out and I was a complete failure. The late nights trying to meet deadlines I shouldn’t have set. How every conversation with my husband ended up being about my work. The way it was taking over my life, but I couldn’t keep up.

When people would ask me what hobbies I had, I would come up blank. Does work count? No? Well then… Sleeping? Binge-watching TV while I work? I realized I hadn’t read a [non-business related] book in ages, when just a few years back I was carrying around two books in my purse at all times. I rarely saw friends and had a hard time keeping the conversation away from my all-consuming work when I did. I was turning into those workaholics you see in movies that desperately need a life adjustment but don’t know it yet.

That was me.

This dream of doing what I loved and doing it incredibly well had consumed me. But I kept on, knowing that my job was awesome and I was doing fine, so why change that? I wanted to be like the bloggers and authors and designers that are on top of the world and loving it and preaching to the dreamers below them that they can do it too! That it will be totally worth the late nights and hard work and will be incredible. But the pressures of all the work I was doing and the promises I’d made and just the sheer fact that I had started and was running my own business were making my job un-awesome. It wasn’t fun anymore. I wasn’t on top of the world. I wasn’t loving it.

As much as my dreams had always been to work work work all the way up to my grave, I didn’t want it anymore. I wanted fun. I wanted relaxation. I wanted me time. I wanted to remember who I was before my business took over my life. I wanted, no, I NEEDED balance.

So I took a step back. I started the Collaboreat, a website focused on two things I loved and have fun with- food and travel. I started reading books again. I got back in the kitchen to experiment with food. I pulled out my dusty camera to improve my skills. I designed stuff just for fun. I spent a lot of time with my husband, talking about non-work stuff.

And yeah, my business took a hit. We had to learn to live with less money as I took on less and less clients. I struggled with the guilt of blogging less and never sending out my newsletters. I felt bad spending money when I wasn’t making a lot. I got less design inquiries and interest as my marketing efforts were weak at best.

But I am oh so happy. I crocheted a scarf! My photography actually looks decent! I’ve created some new recipes for myself! I designed some fun prints for my house! I’m having lots of fun and feeling more like myself than I have in a long time. It’s wonderful.

So where does that leave my business? It’s still trucking on, I’ve just downgraded from a semi to a Toyota Tacoma. I never have more than three clients at once, I blog when I have something to say, I send out newsletters when there’s news to share, my Twitter and Instagram are no longer arms of my business, I stop working at five every day and don’t work weekends, and I’m working on new projects that will bring the fun back into my design work.

And it’s wonderful, guys. Here’s to looking back, looking forward, and making life changes that feel oh so good. Thanks for sticking with me through my inconsistencies and changes that ALWAYS seem to be happening. You’re awesome and I love you.

Being An Awesome Guest Poster

Guest Posting

Working on the Collaboreat, I spend much of my time emailing my writers and editors and editing and scheduling posts. When working with different writers on a daily basis, there’s a lot of details to take care of and check up on before publishing so it takes a lot of time and work to publish each and every post.

With each and every blogger I’ve worked with, I’ve learned a lot about guest blogging from both sides of the coin. It’s been a great learning experience as I learn how to be a great host as well as how to be a good guest poster for others. So here are my thoughts on how to be the perfect guest poster as someone that works with guest posters on a daily basis.

Only accept if you know you can
As per my last post, it’s okay to say no! If you don’t have the time or energy or ideas to write a guest post for someone, don’t say yes. It will inevitably leave you both frustrated as you can’t put out your best work or worse not come through at all. Unfortunately, I’ve been in the awkward situation many many times where a writer falls through after making a commitment and I have to scramble for a last minute post which always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Blegh.

Keep up great communication
Need to brainstorm ideas for the post? Ask! Have questions? Ask! Have a last minute hiccup and need some extra time? Ask! Everyone wants the guest post to turn out great so there is no such thing as being careful and emailing too often. And when they email you, be prompt in your replies (reply in at least 72 hours) so they know they can count on you. Reliability is key!

Write a thoughtful post
When pressed for time, it’s easy to just throw something together and send it off so you can relax or spend more time on your own blog. Don’t. Do. That. If you’re tempted to do that, see tip number one. Guest posting is a great opportunity to bring in a whole new audience, and don’t screw the pooch by making that audience think you’re a terrible blogger. You also have a fellow blogger counting on you to respect their blog and write some great content- don’t disappoint. So put your best foot forward and take the extra time to write a fantastic post and take some great pictures.

Proofread
Don’t send off a post that’s riddled with grammatical errors and terrible spelling. Not only does it make you look bad, it gives your host blogger a whole lot more work as they have to read through everything three times to make sure they caught every error and that it passes the standard for their blog. Read through it a time or two (out loud always helps!) so you can make sure you’ve caught everything and are putting your best food forward.

Promote the post
Guest posting is always a win win for both the writer and the host blogger. It’s gives you a whole new audience with eyes on your post plus an opportunity to write something new and interesting. Then they get a free post and, if you’re kind enough, some of your audience! To be an extra good guest poster, make sure your audience is checking out their blog to see your post! Promote the post on your blog and social networks and share the love! Also, check back for comments and leave your replies to keep the conversation going!

Continue to follow and support the blog
And the cherry on top of the perfect guest posting experience- be a big fan! Not only does this show good will and gratitude towards your fellow blogger, it also encourages them to collaborate even more with you as they know you’ll continue to stand by them.

I wish I had learned these lessons long ago when I was doing a lot of guest posting myself. Oh what I would’ve done different! My apologies to the friends I have posted for in the past.

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!