Showing Courage

For many creatives, years of training, learning, and practice have gone into learning a craft, so it takes courage to reveal the pieces that are produced. On the upside, all those years of connection with art professors and a cohort of friends and colleagues who have been with you on the journey, mean that you know which pieces are safe to let out into the world.

If however you learn a new craft independently, you no longer have the support and advice system in place, so letting your art go out into the world requires you to have courage. The creative act is very intimate, just you and your chosen medium, your thoughts, your hopes, and your skills combining to create the finished piece. This in turn means that you are revealing a part of yourself when you share your finished piece with the world. This is probably less so when you create multiple pieces as part of your work, such a ceramics, but even so, you are baring your inspiration and self when you show your work to the world.

I recently read an article – that I cannot find in my history – that made the interesting point that in many ways we are all amateurs. This was defined as anyone who was putting their art out into the world without the benefit of a commission. In those terms all of us who sell our art are amateurs! The pint the writer was making was that without an intended buyer, we are all trying to create something that is not only true to who we are, but also blending that with what we think others will respond to favorably. We “amateurs” then all have to find the courage to reveal our art to our chosen audience, and hope that it is selected to be bought. Without that final act of courage, we are destined to be closet artists.

It is clear that most artists don’t want to have the “amateur” label applied to them, as it conveys a lack of dedication to the art. Sadly a quick look at many online art sites will reveal an array of art that could be considered professional, and yet it is languishing on a site, largely unseen. It is the “amateur” in this sense of the word who gets their art out and in front of people, who encourages followers on social media and blogs about their process. They may not be among your cohort of artist friends, but they are getting their art out to the world and sold. They are showing courage, ignoring the siren song of the ego saying, “but its not your best work..” and just selling their work.

So what would it take for you to lower your sights and become an “amateur” artist who actively shows – and sells – their work and has a tribe of eager followers? Do you have the courage to go against all you previously knew, and start looking on Instagram for hashtags relating to your medium? You might be pleasantly surprised to find there is a warm and welcoming audience for your work if you just have courage!

Make your website shine

Often busy solopreneurs like you realize that their websites no longer shine as they did at first, but don’t quite know what to do. If you are no longer in touch with your designer, it may be overwhelming to have to to find a new designer, and if you built the site yourself, you may have stopped at this point because you reached the end of your abilities to make the changes you wanted. (We’ve all found a theme we’ve fallen in love with, and then hit a wall trying to make it do the one thing to make it ours, that we naively thought would be really easy to change!)

One of the biggest problems I see is that like cars, web design trends are always changing, so sites gradually start to lose their shine as they become dated. Your state of the art site from 2012 now looks less appealing, although it is still completely functional. You invested good money in getting your site built, but sadly, it is going to need aesthetic updates from time to time. While much of your content can be reused, the appearance will probably need some thought and then reworking. If you aren’t sure how quickly sites get out of date, visit the Way Back Machine site and put in the url for a site you visit often. Then look at the way it first appeared, and how it has changed, either subtly or dramatically in the intervening years.

Another way sites lose their shine is when Google makes changes to the way it ranks sites. While the appearance of the site is not usually the main consideration here, if you previously had 100 visitors a day to your site, and then they fell off abruptly, a Google update may be the reason. For a while the updates most targeted the behavior of spammy marketers who copied material from legitimate sites, or who created pages of gibberish packed with keywords, now Google is working to make sites useful to those who visit them. Are your keywords relevant to your content, or have you slowly changed direction so the original direction of your site has been lost? Google also likes it if you write good, original content that is helpful to visitors, and will reward your domain with better traffic. Google also likes frequent updates, so when their bots come around they find something new. I always recommend that clients have a blog on their site and establish a writing routine. Some resist, but even one client who posts just once a month is seeing more traffic that before they decided to post.

As someone who maintains sites for others, a big issue is that people want to upload high definition photos straight from their phones. These images are too large to use on a site as they would take a long time to load. Fortunately there are a lot of sites where you can easily upload large photos and get web-friendly photo files in return. Your site and/or webmaster will love you if you use a service like this instead of filling DropBox with enormous files for them to resize before using!

If you would like to receive my top 10 ways to make your site shine again, please go here to download it.

 

The Case of the Vanishing Designer

Have you ever been jilted by a designer?

It sets of alarm bells when one of the first questions a prospective client asks me as a designer is, “How do I know that you won’t vanish in the middle of this job?” When I was first starting out, this was a very puzzling question, and couldn’t think why this was such a common occurrence. It took me a little time to unravel the two main underlying problems that caused this phenomenon.

The first I identified was that when I asked who their previous designer was, there was usually a relationship dilemma at the root of it. The answer was something like, “My daughter’s boyfriend, but now they’ve split up,” or “My neighbor’s kid because he’s really good at tech things, but he got on the track team”. Often as a neutral party I could reach the lost designer and get access to the site and help finish the project, but on several occasions the ex-designer simply wouldn’t respond, so gaining control of the project was so much more complicated. In a couple of instances we had to start over because we simply couldn’t get the previous designer to release access to the back end of the site or the hosting. The friend or neighbor ex-designer often meant the person involved had started the work as a favor, and then lost interest in the project and moved on. When I was able to get access to those sites they were either seriously incomplete, or so screwed up that the only option was to start over.

The second reason for jilted clients took me a little longer to fully understand, but once I had got it, realized that it was a valuable information! In these cases the designer had simply got so frustrated with the client they opted to walk away unpaid rather than continue to work with that client. If a found that a potential client had been jilted by several former clients, alarm bells immediately went off in my head and my gut shouted “don’t work with them!” I devised some ways to find out why this potential client had such a poor track record. Designers are very often self-employed, and when they accept a new design project they look at the scope of the project the client has outlined, and work out how long it should take to build the site and when they can expect payments to arrive. It is unfortunate that some clients try to take advantage of this and requesting changes and additions far beyond their original request, and then delay payment based on the lack of completion of these extra requests. While there will always be small changes to make to any project, some clients just won’t make a decision and stick with it. You will notice in many design contracts that the number of changes are clearly defined to prevent this “job creep” phenomenon!

Another problem is that the client feels insecure and are afraid of launching their site. They will say what it is they want and the site will be built, but then mysteriously just as the project is coming to a close, they suddenly involve others in the process. “My friend says” is the first sentence is the email we all hate to receive. While inwardly we know the client is acting from a place of fear, we still have to deal with the information they have provided. The “friend” is seldom a designer and probably has no particular interest in the site, but their opinion still has to be evaluated and either acted on or politely rebuffed. If this situation escalates, this too can be the point at which a designer decides enough is enough, and opts to fire the client because the project has completely changed in scope and they need to move onto the next project.

So how do you prevent being jilted by a designer? Firstly, hire a designer without any emotional or family connections. It is so much easier to work with a professional where the relationship is clear, than with someone who is doing the work as a favor or for a cut rate or barter. Secondly, look at the testimonials others have left about working with this designer. Does the designer sound to be fair and reliable – or are there no testimonials? Are there comments about their speed and efficiency, and do they resonate with you and your expectations? Thirdly, look through the contract the designer sends you as it will reveal the way that designer works and the workflow they have. Does it sound fair and reasonable, and do you feel you can provide what is needed on the schedule you see? If everything passes your gut check, you can feel confident you have found a designer who won’t jilt you and that you will enjoy working with – as well as loving the end result!

 

 

What can I do to help you?

What can I do to help you?

If you run your own business, then you have probably had days when you have spent time doing everything BUT that thing you became an entrepreneur to do! For weeks (or months) you may have been doggedly trying to learn to do things you have suddenly had to learn how to do – or never wanted to learn to do – like filing your taxes! I’ve been there, trying to do it all, but after a few months, the strain of trying to do everything becomes counter-productive and you get too tired to do your real work – which isn’t exactly why you set off on your path to be an entrepreneur.

For me the first time I admitted I needed help was to keep the lawn mowed each summer. I was taking me a good two hours every two weeks to mow and edge my corner lot (yup, should have seen that coming!) but it takes the lawn care crew a mere 15 minutes to do it with their professional tools. After two years of reluctantly dragging myself and the lawn gear outside, getting hot and sticky, bitten by bugs, and cut and bruised by things flinging up from the edger and weed whacker, I realized that it was time to ask for help. The time it was taking to mow the lawn and bandage up the damage I had inflicted on myself cost so much more than the $30 I now pay to have someone else do it – while I am free to work on my business!

The second thing I realized I needed help with up was keeping my financial records. I can put numbers in a spread sheet, and keep a tally of money in and money out and what is currently in the kitty, but I really have no interest in trying to work out how to do anything more than that. I have friends who positively love running numbers and understand what to do with them, and once again, I realized I needed to ask for help. The time I spent laboring over the books was insane, and so having a competent professional take them on has freed up at least 2-3 hours a week – not to mention the hours I spent trying to avoid doing them!

So now you see why, even in the early stages of starting a business, your time is worth money, so it is vital to get help for those things you either hate doing or have no interest in doing. You will be so much more productive if you spend your time getting new clients or working on your business, than you will by forcing yourself to do tasks you have no aptitude for. In contrast, I help people like you, who are frustrated with the look or mechanics of their sites – or with trying to decide what on earth to do with their multiple social media accounts. I love coming up with solutions, or showing alternatives that better fit your needs, and the needs of your business. I love to see – or hear – delight and relief when I have saved someone from the time and frustration of trying to fix something on their site themselves!

So as I try to justify having a cleaner in to save me from my growing dust bunny farm, perhaps you can think about contacting me to help you with the design or technical problems that are eating into YOUR valuable time.

What is the purpose of your site?

I love the thrill of starting work on a new site with a new client. It is a little like the freshness of the new school year; full of potential and the unknown! Even though my initial discussions try to get to the purpose of the new site, I know from experience that it will ultimately deviate from this initially stated purpose. Usually this is because there are so many options to achieve the stated purpose that new options are incorporated, but it can also be because the originally stated purpose turns out not to be the real purpose.

If I am designing a site for a group, an organization, or a church, then the purpose is so much clearer. It is to promote the group and transmit information either to the outside world, to members, or to both. While this purpose may not be clear to the client immediately, once we start discussing the functions of the site, the purposes quickly come to light. Such sites may still gain additional purposes as the potential options are being explored, but the primary purpose doesn’t have much room for maneuver.

The purpose of sites built for individual clients tend to be much harder to pin down. The initial request will be quite straightforwards, such as, “I want to sell my book” or “I need to display my art so it can be reviewed by juries.” It is only as we explore the purpose more closely that we often discover that there are other, hidden, purposes. It may be a lack of confidence in what has been created, or a reluctance to let a strong skill set be seen in public, or sadly, fear that a relative will find the information and use it against my client. So much of understanding the real purpose of a site is a psychological exploration, long before it becomes an overt statement of purpose.

The good news is that you can have a preliminary idea about what you want to do, and we can discuss it and wheedle out the fears that are undermining what you really want your site to do. If the fears are big we can begin small, say by building a blog under a pseudonym so you can dip your toes in the water and start writing or displaying your art. We can find you a supportive community on Facebook and/or Instagram where you can get honest feedback and advice to grow your confidence in your work. In time you may decide to move toward more actively selling your knowledge, art, or writing, but you will do so from a position of strength. Your purpose will be able to come to the fore and no longer have to be hidden away. I really love it when people are able make this transition from hidden expert to overt expert!

So if you are hesitant about starting work an a site with me, don’t worry! The very first thing we will do is chat. You decide the time and date, and then we will talk to find out what it is you are ready to show the world, or what it is you would like your purpose to be once you have more confidence. Start by going here and following the simple instructions. There is no obligation to me if we talk, and no payment s are due until you are happy that we can work together and you want me to build your site for you.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

Telling Your Online Story

Many people see websites as a practical way to sell their products, ideas, courses or seminars. This is a perfectly reasonable use for websites, but today I want to add telling your story into the mix. While your product has definite value, it is unlikely to attract raving fans if you, the creator of that thing try to hide.

What do I mean? I mean clients who struggle over giving me a recent photo of themselves to use on the site, but finally produce a photo from 30 years ago, or solopreneurs who hide behind the use of the plural, “we” in all their information. So why are these things a problem? People interact online because they relate to the person behind the product. They want to identify with your story, the struggles that gave rise to your eBook, or the path you took to get your grandchild to be less shy. In the olden days, say 1995(!), people went into the shop and talked to the person behind the counter (mostly) and in the process looked around the shop and saw the story behind the grocery store, the independent bookshop, the seller of personal care products. Part of the buying experience came from entering the shop and interacting with the owner or staff.

Fast forward 20 years, and you are much more likely to buy products online, and more often from people who you have never met – and who may live a continent away from you. Their website gives you a taste of what their product is like, and something about the life and tastes of the seller – but it is still a long way from meeting the seller in person and having a conversation with them. To overcome that lack of personal contact, it is vital that as the site owner, you allow more of yourself and your story to appear. I may love your eBook about traveling to England, but if I can find no evidence of your ever having been to England, or any travel philosophy tucked into the sales page, I have no idea whether your experience of traveling to England match my expectations. I need to know whether you, as the author, have things in common with me in order to feel I can trust what you are saying, and buy the product.

I know this can feel scary, but it is an important part of the process. If you are uncomfortable with a ‘warts and all’ view of yourself, then craft your story from just the relevant parts of your past – you don’t need to go into gory detail, just hit the crucial spots that explain what caused you to create what you did, who you designed it for, and – if relevant – the problem it solves. It also helps to explain how it has helped you so the reader can get a sense of whether this product is right for them. If they want a quick fix and your system takes 90 days to work, then they will be disgruntled, and disgruntled customers go online and complain…

So think about your story when you come to write your “About Me” page. Write it offline so you can edit it, and never inadvertently allow something you would regret go out online. Remember, this is in part your sales pitch, so it can be a somewhat tidied up version of your life event, it doesn’t need to be the version your sister or best friend might hear. Do make sure that the story has a a beginning to set the scene, a middle where you describe the problem and early attempts to resolve it, then a conclusion where you give the final result and how well it works. (Yes, that is what you were taught in school, and I am a former teacher!)

So, what is the story behind your project – or product?

 

 

Telling Your Story

Many people see websites as a practical way to sell their products, ideas, courses or seminars. This is a perfectly reasonable use for websites, but today I want to add telling your story into the mix. While your product has definite value, it is unlikely to attract raving fans if you, the creator of that thing try to hide behind it.

What do I mean? I mean clients who struggle over giving me a photo of themselves to use on the site, and then produce on from 30 years ago, or solo-preneurs who hide behind the use of “we” in all their information. So why are these things a problem? People buy online because they relate to the person behind the product. They want to identify with your story, the struggles that gave rise to your eBook, the path you took to get your grandchild to be less shy. In the olden days, say 1995, people went into shops and talked to the person behind the counter (mostly) and in the process saw the marketing materials around the shop that told the story of the grocery store, the independent bookshop, the person care products. Part of the buying experience came from entering the shop and interacting with the owner or staff.

Fast forward 20 years, and you are much more likely to buy products online, and more often from people who you have never met – and who may live a continent away from you. The website gives a taste of what the product is, and a bit about the seller, but it is still a long way from meeting the seller in person and having a conversation with them. To overcome that lack of contact, it is vital that as the site owner, you allow more of yourself and your story to appear. I may love your eBook about traveling to England, but if I can find no evidence of your ever having been to England, or any travel philosophy tucked into the page, I have no idea whether your experience of traveling to England might match my expectations. I need to know whether you, as the author, have things in common with me in order to feel I can trust what you are saying.

I know this can feel scary, but it is an important part of getting your product bought. If you are uncomfortable with a ‘warts and all’ view of yourself, then craft your story from just the relevant parts of your past – you don’t need to go into gory detail, just hit the crucial spots that put together explain what caused you to create what you did, who you designed it for, and the problem it solves. It also helps to explain how it has helped you (or the recipient) so the reader can get a sense of whether this product is for them. If they want a quick fix and your system takes 90 days to work, then they will be disgruntled, and disgruntled customers go online and complain…

So think about your story when you come to write your “About Me” page. Write it offline so you can edit and never inadvertently allow something you would regret go online. Remember, this is in part your sales pitch, so it can be a tidied up version of a life event, it doesn’t need to be the version your sister or best friend might hear. Do make sure that the story has a a beginning to set the scene, a middle where you describe the problem and early attempts to resolve it, then a conclusion where you give the final result and how well it works. (Yes, that is what you were taught in school, and I ma a former teacher!)

So, what is the story behind your product?

 

 

 

Finding your story

Several people have told me that it is too hard to tell their story – that there is just too much to say and so it is just too hard to start. While I get that it can be hard to decide which story to tell, I have a suggestion for finding a way into telling your story. We are all hardwired a bit differently, and for some music triggers memories, for some it is smells, for some it is photos. Notice for the next few days what seems to trigger your memories. For my father it was a particular tune he first heard at a dance on the pier in Gt. Yarmouth when he was dating his first wife. Every time that song appeared on the radio he would spontaneously start to tell us more about her. As a rule he loved classical orchestral and organ music, but they never brought about the story telling that pop song did.

For me one particular smell brings back a stream of strong memories. I only have to smell a privet hedge in bloom and I am back on the front path by my grandmother’s front door. She died in the early 1960s, so haven’t been to her house in a very long time, and I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what privet smells like! However when I catch the smell privet as I am out walking, I am instantly transported back to making a trifle with her in her kitchen or lying on the floor sorting out her buttons in the button tin. The smell opens up all sorts of memories that aren’t usually in my thoughts.

Photographs can serve a similar purpose. Like so many people with phones that take photos, I now take far more pictures that I did when I knew I would have to pay to get the reels of film processed. This has led to taking so many photos I often have to stop and remind myself to be present and enjoy where I am… The other side of this is that when I get home and can look at the photos more carefully, I am astonished by the story I inadvertently told – even though the expedition wasn’t ever intended to be a story. (You may notice the similarity between the photo from last week and this week! This photo I took of the cover of the book I created – and am still ridiculously excited to hold “my book” in my hands! It also shows that a story doesn’t have to be an epic adventure, or overly dramatic, or take place over decades.)

So what triggers memories for you? Which sense tends to transport you back to a different time and place without any effort? Which story does it bring to mind? Remember, it doesn’t have to be a huge story, it could be the smell of pipe smoke, the theme tune to a TV show, the feel of your mother’s coat. When you find that trigger, you can hardly help yourself but start remembering the stories about what else was happening when that sense got connected to that memory.

Now tell me that you can’t find a story from your life that you can tell from something triggered by a sense memory!

Case Study – Telling a story

You may have noticed an embedded book on the Your book? page called “Yosemite”. It is the story about a journey I took to California with my eldest daughter, and we both took many photos while we were there. We were so impressed with what we saw that we wanted to capture it all to enjoy again later, rather than taking the photos with any project in mind. From seeing friends’ Facebook feeds, I know many people do the same thing when they travel!

As I was thinking about what I was deciding what to share on this site, I remembered the many photos we had taken, and looked through them. A year on, and it was wonderful to see the photos and relive the memories of our time driving around Yosemite, and soon noticed that although we had both taken our photos in much the same locations, our pictures told the story from very different perspectives.

My daughter is a geologist. She loves rock formations, and is never happier than when explaining how any particular rock or mountain came to be. It was her desire to see the rocks in Yosemite that drove the plan to visit. Her photos are very crisp, scientific documents of the varieties of rock she saw when we stopped. There are often long shots and then close ups to give the context for what she captured. Any people in the photos are purely there by coincidence, these photos were never intended to tell the story of our journey around Yosemite.

My first thought when I heard that we were going to Yosemite was that it would be exciting to see the same places Ansel Adams had photographed, and how much they might have changed. I was eager to see the facets of the park that were beautiful and awing. My photos were of tree formations, plants, waterfalls, people, closeups of textures that appealed to me. My photos showed the park from an artist’s eye, capturing the story of the sensations and beauty I saw.

I had planned to create the book as a gift for my daughter, to tell the story of our trip. It was only when I tried to use both our photos to do so, that I realized that they told two stories. It was fascinating to mix and match the two perspectives, while still holding the chronological trip as the underlying story. It was also a great object lesson in seeing that photos are not only a static record of a scene, but also tell the story that the photographer has running through their mind. It is difficult to separate the perspective of the photographer from the photo.

When you come to tell your story, the photos you choose will also influence the story you ultimately tell. I think there is something hardwired in our brains that even when confronted with a series of images, we have to make story out of them. We can’t simply see them as images that can be arranged in a random pattern. What photos do you have, either collecting dust in a physical album, or buried on a computer hard drive that have a story to tell? Perhaps you could create a book from them?

Uncovering Your Story

We all remember that kid in school, who when the class was asked to write a story seemed to know right away what they were going to write about. Most of us chewed on our pencils, looked out of the window, and looked around at our friends for inspiration before finally settling to the task. Eventually something would come to mind and then we wrote, well aware that we’d have to hustle to catch up, but knew we would get our story written and handed in on time.

I have news for you – life is still like that when were are older – there is always someone who has already written their book, painted their picture, got a gallery of photos all the way up their staircase – but that doesn’t mean we can’t catch up! In the same way we doggedly worked at our story and got it written as children, we can still get to our project now – and get it done!

How people decide what to work on has always mystified me. As someone who always has many projects on the go at any one time, I find it hard to decide just which one to work on at any time. I have friends who find this approach really bizarre. They prefer to research, read, think, buy tools and supplies, get the opinions of others, and do nearly anything but get started on the project. We’re all at some point on this spectrum of fear of commitment to a project and fear of finishing one and being judged on it, so many of us struggle with choosing one project and working on it until it is done.

One way to bypass this indecision is to ask different questions, and let our gut reaction decide which answer feels best. Our ego-lead brains will try to talk us out of doing anything, and yet we keep asking it what to do. So here are some questions that bypass your brain and go straight to your gut to get some clarity.

  1. What do you find yourself doing – when you have free time – that you actually enjoy? Hint: Ignore all the “shoulds” and head straight for the “loves”. (E.g. “I love to go to the beach!” not, “I need to wash the kitchen floor.” ) List 2-3 things, big and small, that you love to do, then look at your answers to see if there are any common threads. Are they all about getting outside, uncovering mysteries, or eating, perhaps?
  2. What did you spend a lot of time doing as a child? Again, this refers to your down time, the things you would go to your room and pick up to play with, or start to do, that made time disappear? Or did you go outside and play with others or refine your own skills?
  3. What is it that others say is unique and wonderful about you? Do they admire your homemade cooking, your ability to do your taxes without breaking a sweat, or your organizational skills?
  4. What personality traits do others tend to comment on about you? Are you the go-to carer, listener, no-holds-barred-tell-it-as-it-is person, the stoic who can be relied on to listen without freaking out?
  5. What could you stand up and speak about or demonstrate for 15 minutes (or more) right now this second?
  6. What do co-workers or clients say about working with you? What do they most like about your interpersonal skills and ethics?
  7. What do you feel you have still to achieve in life? What is driving that need?

If you jot down all your answers, you will probably find your story in amongst the words on the page. Your personality will start to appear – like it or not – and threads like “freedom”, “friendship”, or “family”, will start to emerge. Sit with this list for a few days and see if you change or add words. This task has no due date, so work on it until you’re ready to act on your project.