How To Start A Creative Business: Focus on the Foundation First

I started my first blog back in 2011. 

May 18, 2011 to be exact. How do I know this? Well my first post still exists. You can read it here. (But not yet! You have a whole email to get through first before I lose you to the time machine/rabbit hole known as the internet. SO keep reading then you can satisfy your curiosity by seeing what the 2011 version of me found so interesting to write about…)

Back when I started this first blog, I had just ONE intention: get the thoughts and ideas swirling in my head out and “on paper.” I felt like I had things to say and every day that went by without saying them felt like a waste of creative potential.  

My own self-doubt was my greatest challenge, so just hitting ‘publish’ on a post was a HUGE win for me. The more posts I published, the less fearful I felt. The more confidence I gained. 

Once I got a handle on my doubt and cultivated the self-discipline to sit down and actually write, my One Intention evolved. 

I actually want people to read this, I thought. So I shared links to my blog posts on Facebook with my friends. And on Twitter with people following me. And people started to read my posts and share them. I started to build a tiny audience of people who cared about what I was making and what I had to say. 

For the next three years, it didn’t even occur to me to try and turn this creative outlet into a business. I let pure passion and curiosity direct my time and attention. I taught myself design and Photoshop. I honed my voice and my writing skills. I learned how to stick to a content schedule and to get over my perfectionism. I figured out what I believed in. 

All of these things turned out to be essential in building a strong foundation for the creative business that would evolve from it all by 2014 when Made Vibrant was born. That’s when my One Intention became finding a way to turn my creative expression into something of value for others, something my small audience of people might pay me for. 

Now… why am I sharing all of this with you and taking you down Made Vibrant Memory Lane? 

It’s actually to illustrate a point that I think could help SO many of you out there, especially those of you still searching for a way to turn your skills and passions into a business. It's starts with this advice:

Focus on trying to walk before you try to run. 

I know you’re probably searching for the blog posts or the online programs or courses that are going to give you that one magical shortcut — the thing that is going to take you from no audience to a paying audience like yesterday. And it’s only natural for you to want that, especially with how many more resources there are now online about how to start your business. 

Trust me when I say this, though:

Searching for a shortcut is actually just distracting you from the one tactic guaranteed to be effective: putting in the TIME. 

Searching for a shortcut is actually just distracting you from the one tactic guaranteed to be effective: putting in the TIME.

Every day and month and, yes, YEAR that goes by while you try to plan out the perfect strategy, that is all time that you could have spent actually making something, which is the foundation for any profitable creative business. Time you could have spent honing your voice and your skills. Time spent figuring out what YOU believe in.   

It’s all too tempting to focus on the big, complex, well-oiled machine thing right out of the gate. You want the polished brand, the booming blog, the online products bringing you passive income, the adoring audience with thumbs and hearts and comments at the ready, the segmented content based on interests, the podcast interview requests, the book deal and the sponsored travel.

If this is what you’re chasing down though, it’s likely that you’re going to find yourself with a lot of half-baked ideas, more spinning plates than you can handle, and a lot of unmet expectations. 

Instead, I recommend doing what my 2011 self did. Begin with ONE intention: to get your ideas out of your head. 

Hone your message. Develop your confidence. Figure out what you want to say. Better yet, figure out HOW you want to say it by going within to understand who you are and what makes your perspective on the world one-of-a-kind.

To put it simply: focus on the foundation first. 

All big, beautiful trees must begin with a seed, right? This seed may be a simple beginning, but it is powerful with potential. From it, a network of strong and sturdy roots begins to spread, creating a foundation that will support whatever complex growth this tree might undergo in the future. 

If I was starting my business over from the beginning, here’s how I would start simple and layer in the complexity as I grew. 
 

  1. Begin by making things FOR YOURSELF. Practice getting those ideas out of your head and into reality. What is your craft? How can you improve it and develop your own unique recognizable style or approach to what you do? Do you enjoy what you do? Would you still do it if no one ever paid you for it? There is no shortcut to making things, so start TODAY. Quit strategizing and start making.    
     
  2. Share your work (consistently). Once you know your intention is pure and your craft is somewhat focused, you’re in the best place to connect with an audience. However, you can’t build an audience of people who value what you do if they can’t see what you do. Create a portfolio. Share your writing. Post your artwork. Take on pro bono work. Whatever you need to do to make your work visible, do that. Stay connected to your audience with a newsletter or through email correspondence — social media changes all the time but email is still the best way to maintain a line of communication with your audience that you control. 
     
  3. Identify ways to package your skills. AFTER you’ve spent time building an audience and you know you have something that connects, consider ways that someone could pay you in exchange for your skills, services or work. Then... ask. Avoid making assumptions about what people will or won't pay for. Instead, test those assumptions by making the ask and learning from the results. 
     
  4. Evolve, evolve, and evolve some more. It’s entirely possible that you’ll go through several ideas — some winners, some losers — while you figure out a business offering that connects with your audience AND makes you sustainable income. That’s okay. That is the core challenge of being a creative entrepreneur. If you can’t find a way to enjoy that process of trial and error, well it’s possible that owning your own business may not be the right path for you. 
     
  5. Optimize your processes and deepen the connection with your audience. Many people make the mistake of trying to over-optimize before they have any sustainable revenue streams, and this is what leaves them completely overwhelmed and exhausted. (I've been guilty of this myself.) It’s probably not all that helpful to distract yourself with automation and list segmenting and marketing to new audiences if you don’t even have a product or service offering that is working yet. Remember, focus on the foundation BEFORE you add unnecessary complexity to your business. That is the key to not completely burning out before you land on something that works. 


I know we all want to skip ahead to “the good part.” The part where it’s all working smoothly, we're making a sustainable living, and we get to spend our days creating and doing what we love. 

But trust me, for the sake of your creativity and your sanity, begin with the roots and THEN branch out as you go, when it makes sense. 

If you give yourself permission to block out the branches for now, to focus on the foundation — planting the seed or strengthening the roots — you may finally get that “shortcut” you’ve been hunting for in the form of some good old fashioned hard work. 😉

 
 

State of the Union 2017

Happy Monday, my dear friends!

Boy does it feel good to be back in your inboxes. The holidays were an amazing time to slow down and be present with family and friends, but given how much I love my work, a part of me has definitely been itching to get back to it!

We actually just moved back in to our place yesterday after two months of living in a temporary unit thanks to some flooding, and the timing has me even more excited about the new year since it feels like our place has become new again! I took the opportunity to finally deck out/cozy up my studio space, and I’m thrilled with how it’s coming along. I’ll be sharing more updates as it comes together over on Instagram, so check back there if you want to see how it comes together!

Last year I kicked off 2016 with a post idea that I stole from my friend Paul Jarvis titled “State of the Union, 2016.” To continue with the tradition, today I wanted to share with you guys the highlights from last year, what lessons I learned, and where I think this year could be headed. Let’s get into it!

What Went Well

Painting!

It’s hard to believe that my obsession with acrylic painting originated only a year ago because it has become such a huge part of my daily life. At the beginning of 2016, I knew I wanted it to be the year that I really started to embrace my identity as an artist. I knew creating art was central to my core being, but there was a part of me that was still lacking confidence since I wasn’t “trained” as a painter. I knew the only way to overcome that insecurity would be to create A LOT of work, which is why I challenged myself to a year-long painting project, Abstract Affirmations Daily, creating and sharing one hand-lettered abstract painting a day.

Even though I wrapped up the project before the year was over, without a doubt I can say my “plan” to gain confidence and find my voice definitely worked. I don’t think you can go through that amount of paintings or spend that amount of time (around 400 hours!) without gaining confidence in a skill! I formed my own processes, experimented with all kinds of mixed media, changed up my style several times, and now I can look back on this huge body of work with immense pride and joy.

When I originally had the idea for the project, the business side of me wanted a way to justify the time I knew it would require (and the cost of my art supplies) so I wondered if I could sell prints of each of the pieces. That may have been the biggest surprise of the year with the Art Shop bringing in over $10,000 as a revenue stream.

Previously I had the notion that physical goods are hard to make any money on because of the low margins and high time/cost investment. I still believe that to be true but selling prints has shown me that if you have something people like and support and you’re willing to put in the effort and overcome the hurdles that pop up along the way, physical goods are definitely a viable (and fun!) business opportunity.

Color Your Soul

This was the other big win for me last year. Color Your Soul was something I had envisioned for over a year — a kind of hybrid monthly mindfulness subscription that was part community, part online learning, and part content/art discovery all built around one monthly theme.

Now, four months in, I can honestly say it’s my favorite thing I get to work on every month. I pour such love and care into every single aspect of the subscription, and I can see that come through in the responses I get back from subscribers. The biggest surprise has come in the form of the private Slack group that accompanies CYS. I’ve been blown away by the quality of conversations and connections forming there. It’s such a beautiful thing to see other soulful creatives sharing their insights and their challenges, getting feedback on ideas and helping each other. In a way it makes me feel grateful to be somehow offsetting some of the more surface-level interactions that social media so often facilitates.

Now that I have a few months under my belt, I definitely intend on trying to up my marketing game for this offering, mainly because I’m that confident in the experience it provides and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice by keeping it largely hidden from sight. Color Your Soul is definitely one of those things that for me blends art and commerce beautifully and I want to be able to show people you CAN actually earn a living off of some weird idea that is hard to explain. It may take longer and be harder to do, but it’s worth it.

I went back an re-read my State Of The Union from last year, and one of my goals for 2016 was to throttle up the intersection of creativity and personal growth in my work. Looking back at Color Your Soul and my Abstract Affirmations project, I feel I definitely followed through on that intention and it’s allowed me to carve out a little niche that feels 100% me. The fact that I am making a sustainable living doing that? Well I can’t ask for much more than that.

Moving to Oceanside

On a personal note, the best move I think we made last year was moving to a condo in Oceanside, CA. Finding this place is a perfect example of why I say “you get what you settle for” because we turned down tons of potential properties before we found this place, which we actually discovered by accident. It popped up on Zillow outside the general areas we had been considering, but with its modern style and location just two blocks from the ocean, we decided to check it out. I’m so glad we did because it only took us a day to snatch it up before anyone else could. Despite a little plumbing snafu that forced us to move into an empty unit for two months, living here has been beyond a dream. The natural light and panoramic views of the California coast have me waking up to gratitude every single day. I’m someone who draws a lot of inspiration from my environment, and I definitely think this home has played a large role in making last year so incredibly rich and joyful for myself and Jason.

Fitness

I honestly can’t believe I’m even saying this but… 2016 was a good year for fitness. For years I’ve struggled to stay consistently active. I’d find something I liked (barre workouts, for instance), go all in for about a month or two, and then something would knock me off the wagon and I couldn’t get back on.

Around June of last year though, Jason and I made the commitment to start working out again together, despite the fact that working out as a couple has not worked well for us in the past. (Picture me throwing a temper tantrum because Jason told me to use heavier weights. It wasn’t pretty.) We joined a local gym here in Oceanside and stayed consistent for about three weeks when… the gym went out of business. Now, in the past I would have taken that as a well-timed sign form the universe that I am simply not meant to be “a fit person.” But, determined not to lose our momentum, we worked out a deal with our property manager to use the small “amenities” gym of a condo about a half mile walk from us, and we actually stuck with it!

With the exception of a few trips (many of which we actually worked out in hotels while on the road — who are we?!) we’ve been able to work out about 3 days a week. In no way is my health perfect but I feel really great about the slow, steady and most importantly SUSTAINABLE progress I made in 2016 to making it a real lifestyle shift. I still hate the gym, but at least now I have a love/hate relationship where I can see the benefits it’s bringing to my life, benefits I definitely want to keep making a priority.

Now… let’s talk about what didn’t go so well…

What didn’t go so well

Better Lettering Course

The proof is in the pudding, folks. If you neglect a revenue stream, it will show up in the sales. Better Lettering Course was my first online course and it has brought my business over $100,000 since its creation (that’s nuts considering it’s a $20 course!) But, in 2016, with my focus moving to painting and creating other courses, I no longer felt inspired to tend to that community and improve that low-priced course. Sales went from about $3,000/month at the beginning of the year to about $500/month in the last part of the year. I still am very passionate about hand-lettering, and I have a lot more to teach on the subject (including iPad Pro lettering and more digital topics that have become relevant since the course was created in 2014), so I have a plan to update and revive the course to give it new life. Stay tuned for that in the next month or so.

Being glued to screens

I spent way too much time on a screen in 2016. Even though I feel I was able to cultivate more balance in my work schedule by taking walks, spending time painting, reading, etc., the time I DID spend with my phone in my hand or in front of my laptop was not spent very intentionally. If I’m being honest with myself, I got way too sucked into the trap of trying to “keep up with” technology, which probably just stems from a place of not wanting to be left behind in my business. Too often I felt stretched thin, in a comparison mindset, and, honestly, kind of addicted to the validation of this little screen in my hand.

As I took a step back over the holidays, I was reminded that it’s not the amount of Instagram posts or one’s use of Snapchat that ultimately determines the growth of a business. It’s doing things differently and authentically enough that you create real connections with other humans who want to share your work. I’m going to do my best to remind myself of that in 2017. While social media can still be useful and fun, I want to make sure I’m keeping my usage in check.

What’s ahead in 2017

Travel!

Last year Jason and I were finally able to pay off our debt, putting us in a position to spend more money on something we both highly value in 2017: travel. As of right now, we have three big trips planned for the year: a family trip to Asheville, NC; a two-week vacation exploring Italy with two of our friends who moved to Sydney last year; and a week-long trip to Iceland for a friend’s wedding!

To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. I think back to three years ago when we were over $100,000 in debt, living modestly and busting our butts to build the foundations of our businesses. These trips were just a dream at that point, but with smart saving, hard work and values-based living, we’ve been able to design a life with enough financial room for the things we care about.

ps. Jason and I also have a fun side-project to share our travel adventures in the future, so you'll be able to explore these new places with us!

More unconventional projects

While I love online courses as much as the next person, I really want to stretch myself to create more things that go beyond what’s typically seen in the online business world. I want to embrace experimentation, put aside my fear of failure, and try out some things that are a bit unconventional. I have no idea what this means specifically yet, but ideas have been brewing in my head for new art experiences, short films, interesting product pricing (like the Vibrant Stuff Bundle!) and fun software tools. I want to continue to challenge myself to create things that are beyond what you all are seeing out there in order to keep you (and ME!) inspired.

Learning to focus

Man, this is what I struggle with the most as a creator/business owner. I come up with a plan, but then I lose interest in following through when a shiny new idea comes along. I’ve enlisted the help of the self-discipline master himself Jason to act as a sort of project manager for me and to implement a level of accountability to my focus. Like anything that you want to improve within yourself that doesn’t come naturally, I think it takes time and intention to slowly shift those habits over time. Rather than declaring some resolution to focus more this year, I’m viewing 2017 as my year to learn how to focus, acknowledging that it will take time and practice to cultivate this skill.

More writing

It’s funny, I’ve been writing consistently through this newsletter for three years now and yet there’s a part of me that still struggles to call myself a “writer.” I see similarities in this lack of confidence with my hesitance to call myself an artist in 2015. That’s why I want to continue to make writing a priority this year, and i want to work to integrate this more fully into my identity as a creator. Could this mean there’s a book on the horizon? Who knows. You guys will just have to stick around to find out. 

My word for the year: LIGHT

Finally, for the past few years I’ve chosen a guiding word for the year and I know many of you do the same. In 2015 my word was SAVOR; in 2016 it was CURATE; and now my word for this year is LIGHT.

Here’s how I see that potentially manifesting in my life, though I’m sure it will change and take on new meaning as the year unfolds:

 
 

I find it interesting that for the past two years my words have been verbs, while “light” is more of a noun. That shift reflects a broader shift I’ve seen in my growth journey which is that the past two years I’ve been focused a lot on DOING, and now I’m sensing a move toward BEING.

I used to be largely focused on what I want to be creating and how I want to be creating it. But now I find myself more interested in how I show up in the world as a person, separate from the things I’m creating. Just an interested observation I thought I’d share!

Alright friends! That’s the state of things around here. I’d love to hear how your 2016 went — what worked? What didn’t? What’s your word for the year? Feel free to hit reply and I’ll do my best to get back to you. I love hearing from you all and getting to know you better.

Looking forward to another year of growing together and navigating this thing we call life!

 
 

How To Thrive Through The Uncertainty Of Your Creative Business

In January of 2015, my Better Lettering Course (a $20 basic course on hand-lettering) made me $5,100/month of (virtually) passive income.

Basically one blog post on my site was getting an unbelievable amount of traffic from Pinterest and it was converting to sales of the course. My gifts/talents/products were aligned with a need in the market, plus I had an effective marketing machine that was pumping life into my business. Times were good, and I actually thought to myself, I think I’m getting the hang of this independent business thing.

Fast forward to yesterday when I pulled the financials from September (I do this every month separately from my bookkeeper to keep myself actively evaluating my business revenue and deciding which projects to focus on and which to let go of.)

Do you know how much income that same lettering course pulled in for September 2016? $460.

$5,100/month to $460/month.

Quite a difference from the basically full-time salary it was creating for me throughout last year.

Now, thankfully I’ve been smart enough to diversify my revenue over the past two years so my business health doesn’t hinge on the sustained success of one product. 

But I wanted to share these numbers with you guys to illustrate a very important lesson in running a creative business, one that I don’t see enough people talking about online: The market is ALWAYS changing.

As artists and creatives, we often want to operate in an ideal world where we can simply create what we want to create, build an audience of devoted patrons, and watch the money follow.

(Let me be clear, I still VERY much advocate for making this kind of idealism the primary approach. We’ll never even come close to creating an ideal life/career for ourselves if we don’t start by aiming high and believing in what’s possible.)

BUT, I also believe we have to temper that idealism with the pragmatism of what actually works in business and what will actually bring us money.

I believe that delicate balance is the cost of entry for the immense privilege of earning a living solely from your passion. The truth is that we can’t go on creating our heart’s work if we don’t have money to sustain us. So while money will never be a primary driver for me, the financials have to be stable in order to give me the space and oxygen I need to create.

Which is exactly why it can be so terrifying when a once stable source of business revenue stops being stable.

Turns out, there’s actually a biological basis for this fear. See, humans CRAVE certainty. When faced with uncertainty, our brain’s go into a state of defense. Here’s a particularly interesting passage on the subject from Psychology Today:

“A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or 'alert' response in your limbic system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn't like uncertainty - it's like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.” 
- David Rock, Psychology Today

Did you catch that? To our brains, uncertainty basically equals pain.

To make that uncertainty even more complicated, not only is the market a moving target, but WE are a moving target ourselves. What we want today may not be what we want tomorrow.

What I value right now in my life above all else -- flexibility, freedom, experimentation -- may not be what I value in five years when, let’s say, I’m starting a family.

So that’s the core challenge of running a creative biz: the market is always changing, and YOU are always changing. Either way, what worked yesterday won't work today, and that leaves us in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

The challenge of running a creative biz: the market is always changing & YOU are always changing.

 

To my creative business owners out there (or aspiring creative business owners), does this hit home with you? Can you relate to that sense of anxiety that comes when something that was once solid ground for you becomes dust beneath your feet?

Maybe it’s a revenue stream that takes a downturn. Maybe it’s social media growth that suddenly stalls. Maybe it’s a launch plan that worked a year ago but is no longer connecting.

Or… maybe the uncertainty is stemming more from the moving target within. Maybe you no longer feel connected to a creative project you started a year ago. Maybe your values have changed and now you don’t feel aligned with what you’re producing in your business.

In either case, the question remains:

How do you thrive when the game changes on you?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but after contemplating this quite a bit, here’s the advice I’ve been giving myself.


Tips for Thriving Through the Uncertainty of Business:

1. Learn to love the puzzle.

The unfortunate truth is that the uncertainty of “the puzzle” will never end. This mixed up rubik’s cube where all the variables are constantly changing -- you, the market, social media, technology -- will never stop changing. Though we’re hard-wired to seek out certainty, we have to come to terms with the fact that we live in an uncertain world.

Part of being an effective business owner is learning to love and appreciate that constant flux. To find joy in the variety of it all and to let the puzzle feed your curiosity. Can it be exhausting and frustrating sometimes? Sure. But, flip the script for a moment and it can also be fun and interesting and incredibly rewarding when you see yourself solving level after level of the complicated puzzle.
 

2. Don’t let your uncertainty turn into self-doubt.

When we’re facing the unknown, it’s natural to feel fear. But unfortunately, what so many of us creatives do in response to that fear is we make it say something about US. When things go changing on us, it’s our immediate reaction to suddenly question all that we are or all that we’ve ever done, as if any wins we’ve had to that point weren’t a reflection of our capability but instead a fluke.

I could have let the change in my lettering course revenue affect my confidence in my own work. “The course must not be that good. People don’t want to learn from me anymore.” Ummm…. Over 3,000 students seem to disagree. Instead of letting the uncertainty of the future turn into self-doubt, I was able to look at all the revenue that product has brought me over the years and let it FEED my confidence, not diminish it.


3. Make your internal metrics as clearly defined as your external metrics.

This is HUGE one. It’s so much easier to define and measure our success with external metrics. Followers, dollars, subscribers… these are all NUMBERS and numbers are well within the comfy, non-painful certainty camp. That’s why we cling to them. They feel like a concrete, REAL reflection of the health of our business.

But what happens when you’re ONLY measuring your business health or success with metrics that reflect external factors? If you’re defining your success only based on how the market responds to you, you’re placing all the power into the hands of something you can’t control.

You can’t control how people respond to your art or your business offerings or your products. You can only create, experiment, observe, learn, and grow. If you’re only measuring your success by the level of market validation, then you put yourself at risk to be disappointed every time you try something that doesn’t work. (Which, as I’ve pointed out, is almost 100% certain to happen in the life of your business given how ever-changing the market is.)

Instead, we have to soften those expectations and external metrics with inner ones. So, ask yourself: how can you measure whether your business is meeting your internal desires and values? Can you count the amount of mornings you’re able to take 15 minutes for a gratitude practice? Can you do it in the number of hours you’re working, or the number of times you create something that feels scary?

The external metrics may feel real and satisfying to our need for certainty, but the internal metrics -- the ones that tell you you’re fulfilling the deep, true desires of your most vibrant life -- are the ones that bring important context to those numbers. I’m perfectly happy to see a drop in my revenue if it means I’m working less hours, taking more breaks, and stretching myself creatively.

This week, your challenge is to write down your own internal metric system.

Next time you find yourself in that spiral of uncertainty when something in your business stops working the way you thought it would, I want you to first come back to that metric system and remind yourself to also measure your internal alignment. Find peace in the fact that at a core level, you’re still making decisions aligned with your true self.

THEN, remind yourself that business is merely one complex puzzle after the next. Keep changing one variable at a time until you land on something that IS working again. (And prepare yourself for the moment when that too changes yet again.)

We live in a time when it’s easier than ever to create a business around who you really are and the things you love. BUT, that’s doesn’t mean it’s EASY. It will never be easy. And I’m starting to think that could be part of the fun of it. 😄

I hope this week’s letter was helpful. I haven’t dedicated an entire letter to a business topic in a while! I love sharing this ever-evolving journey with you guys, so THANK YOU for reading week after week.

 
 

Finding The Flow in Slow: 8 Lessons Learned from Slowing Down in My Business

Today marks the end of my “summer sabbatical” -- a five-week period in which I took a break from my regularly scheduled weekly newsletter, a Monday missive I’ve been sending for almost 120 weeks straight.

The decision to take this time off started back in the beginning of May when I began really exploring the idea of why we continue to thirst for MORE everything as humans and entrepreneurs. These questions ignited in me a desire to focus less on how to grow bigger as a business and more on how to grow TRUER as a business.

  • What did I REALLY want Made Vibrant to be about?
  • What parts of my business do I love and what parts do I want to eliminate?
  • What am I doing for love and what am I doing for money?
  • What do I define as ‘enough’ (enough money, enough subscribers, enough success?)

Pondering all of this led to the realization that since the inception of my business in 2014, I’d never actually taken a real break. 

I have worked most weekends and on most vacations, and even the occasional few days away never felt like a true separation. Part of this, yes, was because I truly LOVE my work. But once I got honest with myself, I realized it was also because I was afraid of losing momentum.

Every time I had an idea for a product or project, I usually slapped on some unfathomable self-imposed deadline, worried that any kind of delay might result in missed opportunities.

Once I realized this, it became clear that I not only needed a break to confront this fear, but I also needed to challenge myself to take a much SLOWER approach to building and releasing projects long-term.

My solution was the five-week break from my newsletter, but it also included intentionally pushing back a website re-launch by a whopping two months (more on that later.)

I'm now happy to report that over the past two and a half months, I’ve discovered more presence, more fullness, and more VIBRANCE than any other time in my life.

What I’ve discovered is that in taking a slower (almost painfully slower) approach, it has given me the breathing room to let my authentic creativity rise to the surface. I feel more in control of my decisions and true feelings than ever before.

Now that I'm re-emerging from my hiatus and kicking the newsletter back up again, I wanted to share with you guys eight lessons I’ve learned these past five weeks away, and why I think there is a tremendous benefit to baking WAY more down-time into your business (and life).
 

1. Time & space are like oxygen for inspiration.

Have you ever tried to write something under deadline and found yourself staring at a blank page feeling literally incapable of forming sentences much less communicating something of worth?

On the other hand, with the pressure off and singing Taylor Swift in the shower, have you ever been surprised to find thoughts flying through your head at warp speed and thought to yourself,“Wait! I need to write this down!”

So why the heck is that?!

Well, when we feel under pressure to make something happen in a specific timeframe, many times we can end up smothering our inner muse.

Our hearts need space to wander freely and our minds need time to form meaningful connections that spark creativity.

During my hiatus, I found that the more time I spent away from my work (resting, walking, getting sunshine, etc.), the more I was able to let my ideas simmer and stew together to form beautiful new flavors.

MY TAKEAWAY: DON’T SUFFOCATE YOUR CREATIVITY BY ALWAYS TRYING TO PUT IT UNDER DEADLINE. TIME AND SPACE ARE LIKE OXYGEN TO INSPIRATION.

Time and space are like oxygen to inspiration.

2. Play is essential.

Speaking of more time and space, once I finally gave myself more of both, I realized I also had the ability to take on things that weren’t on my to-do list.

I had time to experiment in my art journal, mess around with new design treatments in Photoshop and make up stupid songs in my head (don't worry, not dropping an album any time soon slash EVER).

In other words, I let myself PLAY.

When you’re under a strict pace, it can feel like there’s never any time for nonsense or experimentation or frivolous creativity. And yet nonsense is what can actually lead to a freer spirit and surprising new discoveries.

I learned for myself what Greg McKeown says in his book Essentialism:

“When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality.” -- Greg McKeown

During this break I discovered that play is, in fact, essential.

Play brought my life more laughter (and less anxiety), more surprising ideas, new branding and website design treatments, and new art processes -- all because I allowed myself to create for the joy of creating.  

MY TAKEAWAY: PLAY IS ESSENTIAL TO CREATIVITY AND SLOWING THINGS DOWN MAKES ROOM FOR PLAY!


3. The greatest form of renewable fuel is authenticity.

I’ll admit that part of my fatigue at the beginning of May was the feeling that I was always just trying to keep up with the Jones’s in the entrepreneurial sense. Here's how my thoughts would go:

  • "So-and-so launched a podcast /  Should I launch a podcast?"
  • "Higher priced courses are making this person six figures / Should I be doing that?"
  • "Here's a thingy about funnels / Should I go back through and optimize all my blog posts for conversion?"

Ew, right?!

Despite being aware that it’s never a good sign when “shoulds” pop up in my head, I still found myself sinking into the slippery quicksand of comparison. And it left me feeling constantly exhausted.

This break has taught me, though, that defining my own pace also helps me solidify my own voice.

Removed from the constant stream of consumption and trying to keep up with everyone around me, instead I can focus on moving forward based on what I feel most connected to, what feels most authentic TO ME. And the result is that instead of feeling exhausted, I feel completely energized like I’m finally hitting a stride that is 100% dictated by ME.

In Connecting With Your Core, I talk about the fact that when you are truly aligned with your core self, you discover a form of renewable energy -- like a turbine that is always refueling -- rather than a tank that can often feel empty and depleted. Slowing down reminded me of this fact as I was able to feel it first-hand.

MY TAKEAWAY: WHEN YOU STEP AWAY FROM THE NOISE, YOU FEEL ENERGIZED BY YOUR OWN AUTHENTIC VOICE.

When you step away from the noise, you feel energized by your own authentic voice.

4. Clarity can’t be rushed.

Originally, when I had my mini-epiphany in early May, I had planned a website redesign for early June to reflect an idea for where I thought I wanted to steer Made Vibrant moving into later this year and next.

But, at the wise suggestion of my partner Jason (who is currently taking his own break this summer away from social media), I pushed the launch back, first to August and now to September (😱), which seemed like a CRAZY amount of time to wait. So much time that I might have had a panic attack before this summer. 

But now? Now I’m SO glad I gave myself the extra time because what the site and vision has evolved into over the course of MANY weeks feels much closer to what I really want.

If I had rushed things, I might not have arrived at the clarity I needed to make it truly aligned with my goals and values moving forward long-term.

MY TAKEAWAY: WE ARRIVE AT CLARITY WHEN WE HAVE TIME TO FULLY EXPLORE OUR VALUES AND DECISION-MAKING.

We arrive at clarity when we have time to fully explore our values & decision-making.

5. Challenge the belief that it will all fall apart.

As I talked about in this post, I had this deep belief that if I took a break with my business things would start to fall apart.

I'm such a big believer in consistency, and a part of me was convinced that if I wasn't putting out consistent newsletters, people would forget about me and forget about Made Vibrant. (Okay, typing it now it sounds really silly.) 

I knew it was important for me to actually challenge this belief and prove to myself that it was just a story I was making up.

What I discovered is that if you're putting out work that you believe in -- work that truly resonates with people -- that kind of emotional connection can’t be broken overnight. In fact, if you've attracted the right people in your business (people whose values align with yours), they’ll often respect you more for taking time away.

Did I lose some email subscribers while I was away? Sure. Did some jump ship to discover a new favorite blog? Probably.

But, YOU are here and that’s who I care about. And everything clearly did not fall apart. In fact, I think the slow-down was crucial from a business perspective so I could see that even when I was taking a more laid-back approach, the business was still making a consistent base revenue each month.

This ACTUAL real-life experience (vs. the old story I made up in my head) will definitely help alleviate any lingering financial anxiety that I have to keep things at a faster pace.

MY TAKEAWAY: IT’S ONE THING TO WONDER IF YOU’VE BUILT A BUSINESS THAT CAN LAST; IT’S ANOTHER THING TO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF.

It’s one thing to wonder if you’ve built a business that can last; it’s another thing to see it for yourself.

6. Distance allows you to see the big picture.

When you’re moving at the speed of light, not only can everything start to look a bit blurry, but everything feels like it’s being held up right to your face. When you’re entrenched in trying to burn through your to-do list as fast as possible, it’s hard to find the time to ponder what all you’re trying to accomplish.

The more days and weeks went by, the more elevated I began to feel -- like I was staring at my business from 20,000 feet. That distance allowed me to see the big picture in a whole new way, and now I feel much more aware of how every single tactic and to-do fits into my higher purpose.

MY TAKEAWAY: IT’S HARD TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE WHEN IT’S RIGHT UNDER YOUR NOSE.

It’s hard to see the big picture when it’s right under your nose.

7. We have to untangle our work from our worth.

This is probably one of the most profound benefits I’ll walk away with from this break. I think most entrepreneurs to some degree feel that they are a direct reflection of their business. Business success = personal success.

But, this is a very dangerous belief because if that is the case, the second that a product flops or a sales dip occurs, we can start to feel negative emotional effects from those “failures.”

Honestly I think that’s what the whole work/life pendulum is really about -- reminding ourselves that while work can fill our lives with meaning and purpose, the worth of our lives is an unconditional precept.

Meditating on this new view and actually LIVING it these past few weeks has helped me evolve to a place where I no longer hyperventilate at the idea of not opening my email on the weekend. I want to arrive at a place where soaking up the sunshine feels just as urgent as my inbox because the truth is: LIFE is what's urgent. Work? Less so. 

MY TAKEAWAY: YOUR WORTH IS NOT DEPENDENT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR WORK.

Your worth is not dependent on the performance of your work.

8. When we slow down we can feel the flow.

Ah yes, “flow.” That beautiful state of being when the world melts away and we lose all sense of obligation or worry or doing and instead lean into a joyful and immersive experience of being. Can you remember the last time you felt this way?

For me, it was yesterday. And a few days before that. And all summer long. Why? Because I allowed myself to slow down long enough to settle into it. When we stop trying to run so fast toward a moving target, that’s when we’re actually able to feel and use the energy within us and around us.

MY TAKEAWAY: TO RECEIVE THE SLOW FLOW OF BEING, WE HAVE TO LET GO OF THE RAPID PACE OF DOING.

To receive the slow flow of BEING, we have to let go of the rapid pace of DOING.

Now, I'm not saying that any of this was easy at first. The first week when I didn't hit send on a Monday morning email, I was anxious all day. Seeing no new blog posts pop up in my blog feed this summer made me feel strange, like something was missing. But I had to wade through the discomfort in order to remind myself that a sustainable pace and a LASTING work/life integration is what I'm after.

I know at different times and for different people, there are always going to be seasons of rest and seasons of productivity. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been in a place to accept all the benefits of a slower pace when my business was still new because those were the days when resources were scarce and hustle-mode felt appropriate.

Still, now I know that hustle-mode is a state of being that I’m ready to let go of. I want to fold this slower, more deliberate pace into my life and my business, and redefine what “work” could feel like for me.

I can’t promise that I won’t get all fired up in the future and enter a more turbo-charged season of making, but for now I feel I’ve discovered the incredible power in taking a break and finding a more sustainable pace.

I know now that presence is more important to me than productivity, and that is why I’ll continue to work toward this practice of intentional slow-flowtion 😜 in my business.

Thanks to all of you that stuck around while I was away and I can't WAIT to share with you what's coming in the months ahead. 

 
 
 
 

Are You Afraid of Taking A Break With Your Business?

Happy last-Monday-before-summer-sabbatical, my friends!

If you read last week’s newsletter, then you know I’m taking a five week break from these Monday morning missives.

As much as it pains me, I really feel that it’s important to practice what I preach when it comes to building a sustainable, well-balanced business and creative practice, and part of that means taking time to reconnect to my own voice and to refill my creativity tank.

I’ll admit though, that doesn’t mean this type of break doesn’t come without its own set of fears.

No matter what stage you’re in with your business (or heck, your life), every few months or years it's like you get issued this shiny NEW set of fears.

You start your business and you have this little arsenal of terrified voices saying: 

What if no one buys, what if no one cares, what if I fail, what if I have to pack it up and go back to a 9-to-5 job, what if I’m not good enough, etc.

THEN, once you’ve been at it a while (you’ve experimented and explored, you’ve gotten more comfortable with putting your work out there), it's like you finally graduate from your white belt to getting your yellow belt. You celebrate the quieting of those first fear gremlins to an almost undetectable level and then... SURPRISE! New fears, ahoy!

For me, my Yellow Belt Fears came once Made Vibrant was making enough money every month for me to live on. I was so thrilled that this was actually working, and I celebrated for about half a second before the NEW fear gremlins starting to rear their ugly heads: 

What if you make a wrong turn and this all goes away, what if the creative well runs dry, what if they get tired of what you have to say, what if you take a break and they forget about you, etc.

That last one's a doozy for me: What if they forget about you.

For whatever reason, I have this irrational fear that if I take time for myself, if I cut the cord even just a little, that it’ll all come crashing down. I have so much I still want to say, and I guess I'm afraid that one day I'll wake up and have no one to say it TO.

BUT, I’m finally ready to challenge those fears.

I’m ready to unpack them and understand them and DARE them to materialize so that I can prove to myself they’re really just constructions of my insecure psyche.

Despite knowing this is something I’m ready to confront, I still spent last week wondering if I was doing the right thing.

Is it too late to call it off? I have plenty of things to write about! Maybe I’ll just send out an email saying JUST KIDDING and I won’t have to see how it feels to walk away for a few weeks.

Then, last week’s #theimperfectboss campaign happened.

Did you all see this on Instagram? Ashley from Fire & Wind Co. decided to create a 3-day awareness campaign encouraging entrepreneurs to share their vulnerabilities, their confessions and their missteps in an effort to promote REALNESS among a community that is often all glossy, glamorous girlboss stock photos. She wanted to offer up an opportunity for people to share how it ACTUALLY feels to run a business, especially imperfectly (as we all do.)

If you have ever felt alone on your creative journey, I highly recommend scrolling through the hashtag feed because I know it will provide you with an amazing and overwhelming sense of comfort seeing so many fellow solopreneurs post their truths. I found the whole thing very moving. (I shared my own confession here about my tendency to hide behind my confidence in my work rather than my appearance.)

The timing of this movement could not have been better, because as I read through these different fears, post after post after post, it shined a spotlight on this simple truth: We’re ALL scared of something.

We create these stories in our heads and when we hear them enough times in our minds, they feel true.

But that's exactly why we have to bring those fears, those stories out of our HEADS and into reality so that we can upend their power. 

We have to bring our fears out of our heads and into reality so we can upend their power.

Now I know many of you on this list are still at Square One, working up the courage to even create in the first place. And I hope you’ve found discovered some of these weekly letters that have brought you one step closer to making that happen and unseating your own White Belt Fears. 

But I also know that there is a large group of you that have worked so hard to get to Square Two and you’re desperately afraid, like me, that if you take a week off for vacation, or go silent on social media, or pause for a moment just to BREATHE... that it all might come crashing down.

So I’m taking this break for me AND I’m taking this break for you.

To show you that these stories are just that -- stories.

We as creatives HAVE to find a way to deal with this false belief or we’ll run ourselves ragged.

So...here’s my plan.

I’ve decided to think of myself as a musician (mainly to further indulge my own fantasy of becoming Taylor Swift, OBVIOUSLY...)

Think for a moment about how musicians and recording artists view their work.

They disappear, often for months if not years, to craft and create an entire album. They immerse themselves in their process. They remove themselves from the burden of promotion and performance so they can simply MAKE. They evaporate from radio play and interviews and in many ways they disconnect from the general public.

BUT, when they emerge, they present the public with something they’ve painstakingly created, something they’re proud of as if to say “I went away to make this for you and now here I am again. I hope you like it.”

When Justin Timberlake goes virtually silent musically for 7 years between albums , do we forget how awesome he is? When Adele peaces out for four years to hang with her new baby and write gut-wrenchingly beautiful songs, and then comes back with a new album are we all like... YAWN, Adele, you’re old news.

HECK NO.

Because here’s the truth:

Good work is always good work.

A message that resonates is always a message that resonates, whether it’s delivered for 120 weeks straight or not.

Yes, consistency is key in building an audience from scratch, I still believe that. But if you’ve been delivering good work consistently, if you have a mission and a message that connects, taking a break won’t erase that.

The truth is, I’m not taking these five weeks off because I’m tapped out. Quite the opposite actually, I feel more inspired to write than ever.

But, the fact that I don’t feel I NEED this break is all the more reason to take it because I know that the next challenge I need to master in running an authentic business is the challenge of walking away.

I need to learn to be present in my own life even when it feels uncomfortable. 

I need to learn to be present in my own life even when it feels uncomfortable.

Because when we challenge ourselves to do the thing that feels uncomfortable, that usually means we’re growing.

So, that's my small challenge to you this week.

Ask yourself: what do you need to take a break from that you've been too scared to until now?

It might sound cliché, but I seriously am going to miss you guys over the next five weeks!

 
 

Shifting Your Mindset To Avoid Burnout

I’m feeling PUMPED about this week, and I hope you are too!

It’s a new month (hello, May! how’d you sneak up on us?!), a new week, a new YOU if you want it to be.

However, if you’re reading this right now and you’re NOT feeling super pumped, keep reading because this post is likely geared specifically towards you!

We’re approaching that precarious season when the novelty of a new year has worn off and we find ourselves trying to stack up to all those initial hopes and aspirations we set forth on January 1.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the pinch.

Which got me thinking a lot this weekend about the idea of that dreaded creative burnout.

Not necessarily because I’ve reached that point (thank goodness) but because I’ve been around the block enough times to know when I’m getting close to it and I desperately want to understand how to avoid hitting that point.

First though, you know what I mean when I say burnout, right?

That feeling of exhaustion and lack of inspiration that comes from pushing yourself too hard for too long in too many directions.

It’s that frazzled state when you feel simultaneously at a dead stand still and also like you’re a lost chicken running around with your head cut off. You know the feeling I’m describing, right?

The longer I’m in the game of running my own business, the more I’m starting to understand the patterns that emerge when it comes to burning out. In my personal experience, this feeling can come from a few different places:

  • Overwhelm - Trying to do too many things at once without a clear plan of attack can leave us feeling completely paralyzed, and in turn, exhausted from trying to mentally sort and prioritize.
  • Hyperfocus - Intense focus takes willpower and when you’re engaging your willpower muscles for too long without a break, it’s just like when you get a stress fracture injury from repetitive exercise — that willpower muscle needs rest.
  • Boredom - As creative people, we need stimulation. When we find ourselves in the same routine loop for a while, the lack of new energy and spark can actually leave us feeling drained.
  • Comparison - This is a big one and I've found it's my own silver bullet route to feeling burnt out. It starts innocently enough by going down the rabbit hole of similar websites to mine but before long I’m feeling completely uninspired by my own work because I'm comparing it to so many others.

Do any of these burnout sources apply to you right now?

The first step to battling burnout is knowing where it’s coming from, so if you’ve identified it, you’re already on the right track.

But, my question for today is…

Is it possible to actually prevent burnout? Can we create lives in which we never allow ourselves to get to the end of our ropes in the first place?

In the past I thought the secret was simple enough: Just take more breaks. Manage stress better. Be present. Rest.

However you want to say it, I thought this issue could be solved with a walk around the block or a Saturday spent in bed with my favorite book/Netflix binge session.

But after mulling it over this weekend, I’ve realized it takes a lot more than that.

Preventing burnout is not about taking more breaks.

Preventing burnout requires a complete mindset shift in the way we operate as creatives, and especially as business owners. 

Preventing burnout requires a complete mindset shift in the way we operate as creatives, and especially as business owners.

Instead of framing work as a sport where we’re one player in an endless sea of other players trying to grab the same prize (success, money, visibility, legacy), we have to think of work as a game with only TWO players: ourselves and our craft.

What we do is not a highly competitive sport; it’s a highly personal craft.

The ultimate goal of this personal game then should be to make sure that the actions we’re taking are aligned with who we are at the core level and that we’re practicing our craft in whatever way that feels congruent with that core self.

To me, that's not a recipe for burning out, that's a recipe for burning bright.

This mindset shift creates a few very important distinctions that protect us from burnout:

  • It renders comparison futile. If we picture everyone playing a different game with a different set of rules, what’s the point in comparing ourselves to them? The truth is, that person you’re comparing your work to has a different definition of success, a different ideal lifestyle, different values, motivations and goals.
  • It keeps us in control of our pace. Part of what often traps me in the overwhelm/hyperfocus/comparison loop is this constant urgent feeling that I need to stay ahead of the curve, that I don’t want to fall behind. But again, this thinking is predicated on the idea that I’m in a race against other people. If I recalibrate and think of life and work as a highly individual journey where I’m the only player, it’s no longer a race and there’s no longer a need to feel rushed.
  • We get to rewrite the rules at any time. Whether we’re bored or uninspired or feeling like a certain path isn’t working, if we’re playing our own game then we have the power to write and re-write our own rules. Mix it up, take a hiatus, change directions whenever you want and don’t listen to what anyone else tells you about whether it’s a good or bad idea. They’re not playing your game; you are.

If I’ve learned anything about avoiding burnout, it’s that while a morning ritual or vacation days or breaks from technology can help, these things can't solve the underlying problem.

We have to retrain ourselves and our minds to see our path as separate from those around us. 

We have to retrain ourselves and our minds to see our path as separate from those around us.

But you can’t just flip the switch and start thinking this way. It requires a DAILY reminder that you are the master of your own game and you get to decide how that game gets played.

Focus on burning bright — on doing whatever feels best to you on your terms — and if you manage to stay in your own lane playing your own game, I truly believe you can avoid getting burnt out.

This week I challenge you to a week of burning bright.

Create a reminder for yourself to keep playing your own game — whether it’s a post-it on your computer or a Google Cal reminder, or today’s Abstract Affirmations print below — and pay attention to how it feels after one week. Did you feel more jazzed about your own path and your own craft? Did you come back from the edge of burnout? I truly hope so.

Wishing you a week filled with inspiration, energy and light!

 
 

The Benefit of Going Deeper Not Wider In Your Business

One of the words I’ve been trying to live by lately is CURATE. 

After reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown (I highly recommend it), I wanted to frame the next chapter of my life and business with this notion of “thoughtful reduction” -- or the pursuit of less but better things. 

The first few years of Made Vibrant were an important period of exploration and discovery for me, expanding my projects to include offerings under all three pillars of the MV mission: 

  1. creative growth (ie. Better Lettering Course and my #AbstractAffirmationsDaily art prints];
  2. business growth (ie. Better Branding Course and Make Money Making];
  3. personal growth (ie. Connecting With Your Core and Color Your Soul).

These are all areas that I’m passionate about, and it felt amazing to see my business broaden throughout 2015 to serve all three pieces of my mission.

However, I’d be lying if I said that managing this many projects at once wasn’t a little bit taxing. By the end of the year I was starting to feel like I had planted all kinds of promising seeds without really taking the time or energy needed to help them grow to their potential.

While I still strongly stand behind the symbiotic, collaborative relationship between these three ingredients of creativity, business and personal growth (living my most vibrant life has certainly relied equally on all three), it became clear to me that serving all three properly would require a different approach.

In more metaphorical terms… I started to feel like it was time to take a break from planting seeds in order to properly cultivate my crops. To give each one the nourishment it deserved to really thrive.

Just as I was contemplating all of this, a few weeks ago I heard something that led me to think about this strategy in an even more meaningful way, which is really the lesson I want to share with you guys this week.

I was watching a live workshop with Marie Forleo where she discussed trimming back her business offerings to focus on her one signature program, B-school. In explaining this decision, Marie said something that really hit home with me. She said her gut was telling her to make an intentional choice to go deeper, not necessarily wider.

When I sat back and thought of my own business in these terms, I realized that my gut was telling me the same thing.

It’s no secret to most of you that ‘deeper’ is kind of my jam. As an INFJ, I love less but more meaningful friendships. I love digging into complex problems and peeling back a more profound understanding layer after layer. I love diving deeper and deeper into my own emotional and psychological worlds to get to know myself better.

But, despite knowing this about myself, something had been holding me back from incorporating this concept into my business. So I thought:

Why in the world do I struggle with wanting to dive deeper into my own business? Why do I feel resistance to doubling-down on my own programs like Marie mentioned?

That’s when it occurred to me that perhaps my business/emotional needs weren’t totally lining up with my creative needs.

From a creative perspective, I find that going WIDER not deeper is always my instinct. When that spark of inspiration hits, my creativity can’t help but want to follow it, and this often leads me in many different directions.

I’m aware this is not a particularly unique problem for creative people. So many of us find ourselves at some point or another with a wild case of Shiny Object Syndrome, bouncing from one project to the next because the novelty excites us.

For the past two years, this is the instinct I’ve been leaning into -- the allure of developing new projects, new services, new offerings in an effort to expand my business. And I think I know why.

For one thing, it feels natural. As humans we’re wired to want bigger and better and more, and so it’s instinctive for us to always ask ourselves What’s next?

Sometimes this also comes from a place of wanting to meet the expectations of those around us. I’m not just talking about our friends and family (feeling a need to have something to say when they ask “What’s new with the business?”) but also from the audience we’re building. I know I’ve thought on more than one occasion that I want to keep giving you guys new and exciting things to look forward to, and I’m sure this pressure to keep going wider is tied to that.

Lastly, and let’s just be honest here, new things are FUN! Everybody loves the beginning of a project when ideas are flying, possibilities are abounding, and you get to start molding that shapeless hunk of clay before you into something that resembles your vision. You know what’s NOT as fun? Following through. Pushing past challenges. Dusting off that project that has lost its shine and breathing new life into it again.

BUT, this is when I have to put my business hat back on.

Working on something that’s not necessarily as FUN might actually be what your business needs.

Working on something that’s not necessarily as FUN might actually be what your business needs.

For instance, I’ll let you in on a little secret here: my Better Branding Course was the project that brought in the most revenue for me in 2015 (48% of my revenue to be exact). It was also the program I spent the most time and effort developing, AND it still remains the project I’ve gotten the most positive feedback on in terms of the benefits my students have experienced.

AND YET... it’s the one program that has sat dormant, just begging for my attention for the past four months.

Why? Honestly just because my creativity got bored with it.

Now, I’m all for letting creativity steer the ship most of the time, but I’ve also been at this business thing long enough to know that our creativity only has the freedom and flexibility to do its thing if our businesses are profitable enough to allow us plenty of room to play

And our businesses will only remain profitable if we make smart decisions about where to invest our efforts.

Smart business decisions give our creativity the room it needs to play.

Once I realized that, I started fighting my urge to keep making NEW things, and instead I thought about how I could reinvest my time and energy into improving things that were already working. 

This means making decisions like: creating blog content and resources for new customers to find Better Branding Course and Better Lettering Course. Or teaming up with my husband Jason on BuyOurFuture, which gives you lifetime access to all our combined 35+ projects for one price.

So, as I cozy up to this new approach of going deeper, not necessarily wider…

Your challenge this week is to ask yourself: is it time to cast a deeper net with your business instead of a wider one?

If you’re still in the beginning phases of your business, you may very well want to stay in that exploration mode and cast a wide net. I’m all for that.

BUT, if you’re a year or two in and you’re starting to resist being pulled in too many directions, consider that it might be time to deepen your net for a while. To reinvest in what’s working in your business. To quit planting seeds for a time in order to see what you can really make grow.

Going deeper, not wider, allows you to uncover the true potential of your ideas.

Even if it means fighting your instinct to follow the shiny objects, consider the good you might be able to do (for your audience and your business) if you double-down on the projects that you’ve only yet to scratch the surface with.

Have an awesome week!

 
 
 
/color-your-soul
 

The Power of Sunk Cost Bias in Decision-Making

Happy Monday, friends!

Hope you’re all jazzed up for a new week to begin!

This week I want to kick things off with a quick story…

Two Sundays ago I sat staring at my laptop, eyes glazed over and on the verge of pulling my hair out. I was going on four solid hours of trying to fix a monumental issue between my website (on Squarespace) and my email list (on Mailchimp).

My website forms weren’t collecting properly (a fact I had just found out about a week prior), and after finally finding a workaround to fix that issue, like a hydra, three more had popped up.

I was deeply concentrating, trying to make sense of the complicated system I was patching together — this form to this Google Sheet to Zapier and back to Mailchimp — just desperately trying to manufacture an efficient system that would work properly AND make sure I was sending you guys the emails you wanted to get. Finally, amidst the intense focus, I had the good sense to take a step back and look at what I was doing.

I knew that a solution to my exact problem existed because it was a solution I’d known about for months. My friend Nathan Barry had been telling me about his software service ConvertKit for so long and how it’s built specifically to organize subscribers and send emails for bloggers.

So, the question is, if I knew a solution to my problem existed, why was I practically beating my head against a wall rather than simply signing up for ConvertKit?

Well, for one thing, I had been using Mailchimp since I started my business over two years ago and I’d invested an unspeakable number of hours learning how to use it effectively. I knew how to segment my list and customize my template and check out my stats like a pro. So every time I encountered a problem with Mailchimp and even considered switching, my brain would think of all the time and effort and energy I had already spent. Switching providers would feel like all that work was for nothing, a feeling I wasn’t prepared to confront.

On this particular Sunday though, finally I decided I’d had enough. I popped over to ConvertKit and signed up for an account, telling myself I would just give things a test run and poke around. Within the first few moments, I experienced complete relief from the problem I had just spent hours troubleshooting. The deeper I dove, the more I was kicking myself for not switching over sooner.

That’s when I realized I was the only one responsible for keeping myself in a frustrated and confused state, stubbornly refusing to jump ship on a system that clearly wasn’t working for me. And it was all because of a little thing called sunk cost bias.

Which brings me to what I want to talk to you about this week — how sunk costs can cloud our judgment and keep us fixated on things that simply aren’t working for us.

But first, what exactly is sunk cost bias?

Sunk cost bias is just a fancy psychology term to describe our tendency to keep going with something we’ve invested our time or money or energy in, even if that something is a losing proposition. It’s a way of justifying our efforts when we’ve taken on a cost that we can’t possibly get back (hence the term a sunk cost.)

Essentially, the more we invest in something — the deeper we see it through, the more money we throw at it, etc. — the harder it is for us to walk away.

Now let’s talk about how this can show up in our daily lives. Think about how many times in life we make decisions based on a sunk cost we’ve already put in to something:

A friendship turns toxic but you won’t distance yourself because you’ve “known each other forever.” It becomes clear that a relationship won’t end well, but you avoid breaking up because you don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted months or years of time on it. You keep throwing money toward a bad investment like a junky car that keeps breaking down on you.

Heck, I even know people that are lawyers and hate it but they refuse to quit because of how much money they’ve spent on law school! Can you imagine working at a career you loathe simply to justify an expense that is already long gone?

That’s exactly why acknowledging our sunk cost bias is extremely important.

Decision-making is one of the most essential tools to living our brightest, most vibrant lives. We need to be clear-minded when we’re evaluating which projects to take on, what activities to spend our time on, what relationships to invest in, etc. Part of that sound decision making means recognize our bias and then having the strength to overcome it and discard or disrupt a course of action when it’s no longer serving us.

It comes down to this:

Don’t let poor investments in the past sabotage the right decisions in the future.

My challenge to you this week is to identify three ways your sunk cost bias has played into your decision making recently.

Has it stopped you from quitting the job you don’t like? Or scrapping the website you hate but that you’ve paid someone good money to design? Or is it even smaller than that — Have you been using the same terrible vacuum for years because you invested in the expensive attachments?

And when you encounter a decision in the future, I challenge you to ask yourself: Would I still choose this route if I hadn’t invested any time or energy into it at all?

If not, that’s your cue that sunk cost bias is swaying your vote.

I’m still working on the kinks in my new ConvertKit system, but I’m so glad I finally made the switch! Hopefully it means less headaches for me and more quality email content for you!

Wishing you a motivated and happy week filled with decisions that are conducive to living as your best and brightest self!

 
 

3 Lessons I've Learned About Time

Happy Monday, dear friends!

I hope some of you are enjoying a bonus Sunday with the holiday!

Last week, as part of my daily drawing exercises on Instagram I drew this set of playful, colorful watches. As I drew them, I was suddenly reminded of a charming and poignant movie I saw months and months ago called About Time. Have any of you seen it?

The film was disguised as a romantic comedy (and was promoted as such), which is maybe why I never bothered to see it in the theater. (Something you should know about me: I think there’s nothing more luxuriously girly than watching a great rom-com when Jason is out of town in the comfort of my own bed with my favorite yoga pants on. It’s just delightful.)

After the movie ended, I remember just sitting there in bed, struck by all of the philosophical questions that were raised about this powerful force called time. Questions about how we choose to spend it, what we’d do if we could expand it and travel through it, and the beauty of the seemingly mundane moments in the practiced pace of our daily lives.

As these thoughts came back to the surface of my mind, around the same day I had a Skype call with a friend and fellow creative in which she was asking me about things I’d learned on this journey to owning a creative business. I was surprised to find that SO many of them boiled down to lessons on time:

  • Charging clients what you’re worth is about valuing your time.
  • Being more productive is about getting intentional about your time.
  • Completing “less, but better” projects is about recognizing the limitations of your time.
  • Prioritizing projects is about demonstrating your values through your time.

It’s about TIME.

Time is the most precious, non-renewable resource we have.

Time is the currency of our human lives, with the all-important caveat being: we do not get to replenish the piggy bank. However many days and hours and moments we have until we’re no longer here, there’s no getting more of that so we’d better treat our allotted moments for the precious things they are doing things that matter the most to us.

To further emphasize this fact, in today’s newsletter I thought I’d share just three of the many lessons I’ve learned over the past few years about time, and how each one has helped me live a brighter life and run a brighter business.

+ What you do with your time should be a direct reflection of your values.

People have said “you vote with your dollars” as a way of saying that we demonstrate what’s important to us by the things we spend money on (ie. you opt for the more expensive organic veggies because you care about eating food without pesticides.)

Well, in this case, I say “you vote with your minutes.” You show what’s important to you by the way you appropriate your time.

But, this doesn’t always feel like it’s the case, does it? We can say that family is important to us or that we value deep friendships, but if we choose to work the day away instead of making that phone call to Mom or finally mailing that birthday card, what it appears that we’re saying is: work is more important than those other values. (Hi, I’m especially guilty of this.)

Knowing that I vote with my minutes, I’ve learned that it’s important to take a step back, evaluate how I’m spending my time and to ask myself: Does my schedule accurately reflect my values?

If it doesn’t — if, say, working time is incredibly disproportionate to family or friends or relationship time — then that’s when it becomes clear to me that I need to start making the time to employ those values.

“Making time” usually refers to something we value — something we WANT to do — but something that doesn’t fit into the habitual schedule of our daily lives. It’s something that requires a conscious reallocation of our time to achieve.

This practice of evaluating my time and comparing it to my values has been essential in making sure I’m living authentically — in making sure that what I do aligns with who I am.

+ Time that is budgeted is spent more thoughtfully (and efficiently).

Now, let’s get more practical for a moment. We can have the best intentions about spending our time on what we value, but it always seems to get away from us, doesn’t it? How can we make sure that minutes and hours don’t just slip away from our days? The answer I’ve found is through budgeting.

Budgeting is an incredibly helpful tool to help us consciously spend our money, right? It creates a mental boundary that keeps us from mindlessly allocating too much money to something we don’t need. Well, why wouldn’t we want to do the same thing for a resource even more valuable than our money -- our time.

When I was starting my design business, I couldn’t figure out why it felt like I was working all the time yet never making enough money to sustain myself. That was until Jason did a simple exercise to show me just how much time was leaking out of my day. “How many hours a day realistically could you work on client projects?” he asked. My answer was five. “Now multiply that number times 20 week days in a month.” My answer was 100, roughly how many “work hours” I could charge for each month. “Finally, multiply that number by your hourly rate to get your potential client revenue for a month if you were fully booked and if you spent the same amount of time you quoted clients on their projects.” It was $7,500!

That was thousands of dollars more than I was making at the time and it was all because I wasn’t using my time thoughtfully or efficiently. I would quote a client a certain number of hours but without an intentional way to track my time, I was spending way too long on things and letting hours creep by without noticing.

Here’s the lesson there: Your brain needs those hard stops, those boundaries, in order to operate at its most efficient capacity. Once I started blocking out my time (two hours for this task, 45 minutes for that), my project estimates started getting more and more accurate and I was able to fit in more clients each month.

I truly believe that budgeting my time saved my business. It was that point when things turned around and I was able to get my head above water financially.

Whether it’s your business or your life, experiment with the idea of blocking out tasks on your calendar. I know it might seem overly regimented, but it can be highly effective in actually giving you more freedom within each task because you’ll be at ease with the control you have over how you spend your days.

+ Down time is not wasted time.

I used to feel guilty for spending time relaxing. A moment away from my business or work felt like a missed opportunity to accomplish my goals sooner and faster. But, I’ve now experienced enough phases of burnout to know that down time is absolutely necessary. Rest is an essential part of my creative process. (And, yes, sometimes rest looks like an entire Saturday under the covers watching Netflix.)

Here’s what I believe:

If it’s spent with intention, it’s not wasted time.

If I know that I’m having a lazy day because I need to re-charge my batteries, then I have no reason to feel guilty. If I know I’m taking two hours away from my computer to go on a hike with Jason because being in nature grounds me and inspires me, then that’s time well spent.

It’s the mindless, intention-less time that’s the wasteful time. The involuntary scrolling of social media feeds. The 8 minutes spent reading a celebrity news article you got click-baited into because you’re resisting whatever creative work you’re afraid to dive into. Those are the moments that I've trained myself to become aware of. Those zombie-alert moments when my conscious mind kicks up its feet and the habitual mind takes over.

If we want any hope of making that time I mentioned earlier, we have to recognize when we're spending down time thoughtfully and when we're spending it mindlessly. Cutting out social media and senseless blog scrolling has been one of the best decisions I've made for my productivity (and my self-confidence for that matter.)

___

I'm sure I could go on and on because I truly do feel that this shift in being more intentional with my time has created so many positive benefits in my life over the years. I hope that you'll take a few of your precious moments today to think about your own schedule and how small changes in how you view your time could add up to a larger impact.

Because I value this limited resource we all have so much, I can't tell you what it means to me that you all continue to spend yours reading my words each Monday. I choose to spend my allotted hours writing to all of you because I truly value this dialogue we continue to have. I love hearing from you all, and I love knowing that these weekly letters help you stay mindful and ever-evolving toward your best and brightest self.

Thank you so much for that! Now go have a great week!

 
 

12 Ways to Digitally Declutter Your Online Business

Psst. Wanna get all 12 decluttering tips in an easy to download checklist? Scroll to the bottom of this article to get yours! Happy digital cleaning!

It’s officially December, and among all the holiday tasks on my to-do list (watch Elf five times, consume ample amounts of hot chocolate, avoid the mall at all costs, etc.), I’m also utilizing my end-of-year cheer as motivation to perform some “routine maintenance” on my digital life.

Whether we realize it or not, digital clutter takes just as much of a mental toll on us (if not more given how immersed we are in it day in and day out) than physical clutter. And while I may love a good messy desk, creative chaos abounding, I’ve learned that I do NOT have the mental energy to withstand rogue files on my desktop, mountains of email subscriptions that go un-opened, and useless apps clogging up my hard drive. My anxiety simply can’t handle it.

That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 12 ways to declutter, streamline, and clear out the various digital pipes of my business below. If you’re an online business owner (or, heck, really anyone that uses a computer!), I hope this list will prove helpful for you in creating a clean slate to start off the year right come January.

Doing this type of regular check-up on your digital life will hopefully contribute to less overwhelm in general and a more restful state in general.

And hey, if it’s a little too daunting to take all of these on at once, well as of today you’ve still got 20 days left until January 1st. Try tackling just one of these a day for the next 12 days and you’ll be all spick and span before 2016 hits!


1. Organize Your Files

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, but if you spend hours a day on your laptop like I do, it’s crucial to your sanity that you’re able to find what you’re looking for fast AND that you don’t have file pile-ups clogging up your machine’s memory. (Believe me, I’ve been working on a project at the 11th hour and suddenly I have ZERO disk space and everything starts crashing. It’s not a fun game to play!) To avoid all that, here are a couple tips for cleaning up and organizing your files.

 

+ Create a naming convention for your most-used files and folders.

I recently learned this trick from my roommate Julia Roy, but did you know that you can use special characters to sequentially organize your folders? (This is on Mac, not sure about PC!)

Yep, you can include special characters like _, -, <, (, [, and / at the beginning of your folder names to control which rise to the top of your finder window (when sorted by “name”) and which fall below. Finder will prioritize them based on the order I listed above. I use this to my advantage by placing the name of my current project folders in parentheses, placing my secondary folders (things I use often but not every day) in brackets, and then my lesser used “archive” folders with a / in front.

 
 

I not only use this to organize my Desktop but I do the same thing within each folder.

 
 

And don’t forget you can drag and drop your most used folders to your Favorites in the sidebar of your Finder window! That comes in handy for me quite a bit!

Regardless of whether you take advantage of the special characters or not, the important part is just that you come up with a system so that when you do create new files, you know where to put them and when you go to look for files, you can navigate to them without frustration.

As you go through your files, I recommend creating one "Master Archive" folder of things that you want to keep on an external hard drive but that you don’t need in your day-to-day business operations.

Which leads me to the next step...
 

+ Back up your computer and archive outdated files!

Once your files are organized and you know which ones you don’t need daily moving forward into 2016, I recommend backing up your hard drive onto an external hard drive (if you're not familiar, think basically a USB drive on steroids!) 

I recently invested in a more slim and portable drive via Amazon. My old one weighed several pounds and had to be plugged into the wall! How antiquated! ;) I’ve been really happy with it so far because I can actually keep it in my tote and keep it on me if needed. If you're in the market for one, the one I have is the Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable External Hard Drive  (aff link).

Once you backup to your drive using Time Machine, you can trash the Master Archive folder from your active Desktop because you’ll always be able to access the files within it on your external hard drive if you need to.

If you’re feeling EXTRA zesty and really want to boost the performance of your computer, you can do what I did and you can restore your Mac to its factory settings -- after you back up, of course.

I followed the steps in this article, which basically wipes your hard drive, allows you to reinstall OSX and then you can pull over your necessary files from your backup that you intend to use daily.

**Warning: Be careful though! If you choose to do this you’ll have to reinstall any paid applications from the Mac app store and you’ll lose all of your custom preferences/settings. You'll also have to re-login in to any of your saved accounts like social media, web apps and banking portals. **

Still, for me I was able to free up about 150 GB of available storage by doing this which has definitely sped up the processing speed of things quite a bit. Plus it’s nice to feel like you’re starting the year off with a brand new computer!

Okay, now that you’re hard drive is clean, you want to make sure it stays that way...
 

+ Keep your screenshots off your Desktop.

This may not apply to everyone, but I’m an absolute nut when it comes to using my ⌘+SHIFT+4 Mac shortcut to save screenshots, and because the default location for screenshots is the Desktop, inevitably I end up with a Finder window that looks like this:

 
 

As Jimmy Fallon would say, "EW!!" Not exactly the easiest way to find anything!

A while back I was fed up with all of this gibberish staring at me from my finder window so I searched for a way to send them straight to a folder on my Desktop instead. (At least that way I could sort through them regularly and they wouldn’t clog up my pretty desktop wallpaper!)

That's when I found this article, How to Change the Screenshot Save Folder on Your Mac, and it worked perfectly! It’s a little scary at first because you have to open the program “Terminal” on your Mac that looks veeerrry technical, but I promise if you just follow the simple instructions you’ll be fine.

And now my laptop background looks like this, with all my screenshots being saved to one “Screenshots” folder:

 
 

Ahh yes, that’s much better.

Now that the place is all tidied, you can also put a few easy processes in place to make sure it stays that way!
 

+ Create recurring reminders on your calendar to keep the place cleaned up.

To make sure that your digital home stays this organized all year round, use your calendar or project management software to leave you regular reminders. 

Once a week I... clean up my desktop and empty my trash can.

Every two weeks I... empty my downloads folder.

Every month I... reassess my folder prioritization and backup my hard drive.

I use recurring tasks through Asana (or you can use Google Cal) and it only takes me a few seconds but it keeps me sane!


2. Update Your Browser Configuration

Now that your file structure is streamlined and your machine is hopefully moving at the speed of light, let’s talk about your browser (where I’m guessing you spend most of your time when you’re on your computer). Here are a few items to help you bring your browser into the new year.
 

+ Make sure your browser is up to date.

I use Chrome because I’m a Google nerd and I love using Chrome extensions, but regardless of what browser you choose, take a few moments to make sure you’re using the latest version of the browser. This will ensure you have the latest design features, functionality and security updates. Chrome updates automatically for me so if that isn’t a default setting for you, now would be a good time to make that change so you don’t have to worry about staying up to date in the future.  
 

+ Clean up your bookmarks and bookmarks bar.

Am I the only one that has wildly outdated bookmarks? I mean, I hadn’t updated those puppies for YEARS before just recently. I guess before Evernote or Pocket I pretty much used my bookmarks as a “save for later” app and things apparently got out of hand.

If you’re like me, I recommend going through them, tossing the ones you haven’t had a second thought about since you saved them, and then keeping just your most-visited work-related sites to your bookmarks bar. Right now for me that’s basically just Made Vibrant, Asana and Mailchimp. It’s nice not to have 14 different links staring at me from the top of my browser (especially since I’m a recovering tab-aholic and it’s usually crowded enough up there!)

One thing I want to note: If you do end up restoring your computer to its factory settings like I mentioned above, you can carry over your newly-overhauled Chrome bookmarks by exporting them and re-importing them once your machine is restored to brand new.

To Export, simply click the Chrome menu , select Bookmarks > Bookmark Manager, click the "Organize" menu in the manager, and select Export bookmarks. That will save your bookmarks as an HTML file that you’ll just make sure you carry over with your files to your new Desktop.

To Import the HTML file and restore your bookmarks once you’ve restored your computer, click the Chrome menu , select Bookmarks > Import Bookmarks and Settings. Select the HTML file that contains the bookmarks you'd like to import, click Import and click Done. Then you’re all set!

Pro-tip: try leaving social media sites OUT of your bookmarks bar. The less easy it is to get to them, the less time you risk wasting during the day while trying to be productive.
 

+ Take a look at your browser extensions/apps/add-ons.

There are a few Chrome extensions that I love and use (WhatFont?, Eye Dropper) but over the course of a year I tend to accumulate some that are completely worthless and just taking up wasted space. If that’s the case, now’s the time to kick those puppies to the curb! Visit your browser settings and disable or delete those that you aren’t using.
 

+ Make your default web page a useful one.

For a few months now, my default home page used to be Panda which was a pretty cool service that would deliver articles and Dribbble shots specifically for designers. It was awesome for a while because it was a constant source of inspiration every time I opened a new web page BUT I found it more distracting than inspiring.

Recently I switched over to a Chrome Extension called Momentum (another great recommendation from my roommates Julia and Clay) which basically sets your home page as a clock, a beautiful photo and one intention that you can set for the day. That way your most important to-do is front and center reminding you to stay on task! Just click the link above to sign up and it will update your settings for you.

 
 

That’s it for your browser! While we’re on the subject of web-based de-cluttering, let’s tackle some of those cloud-based files!


3. Clean Up Your Cloud Storage

If you’re running an online business, especially one where you’re collaborating with other people, my bet is that you are using one or more cloud-based storage solution like Dropbox or Google Drive. If that’s the case, you’ll want to make sure those file structures are getting some attention just like your desktop files.
 

+ Organize Dropbox and assess your Selective Sync.

One feature of Dropbox that I find especially useful is the ability to drag and drop files using their integration with my finder window. However, did you know that if you sync your Dropbox folder to your desktop that essentially you’re creating copies of those files and storing them on your machine (which pretty much defeats the purpose of housing files on Dropbox anyway!)

To avoid this, there is a way to sync your Dropbox to your machine and then edit your Selective Sync settings so that only certain folders are available to you through finder.

To do this, simply visit your Dropbox settings from the application in your toolbar, click on Account, and select Change Settings... next to Selective Sync (see below). 

 
 

This will pull up a list of your Dropbox folders and you can simply uncheck the folders you DON’T want to sync to your desktop. This comes in handy if you want to host things like large video files or even design files that you want access to but don’t want them hogging up space on your hard drive.

 
 


+ Delete unused Google Drive documents and file the rest.

I use Google Drive a TON, not just for collaborative documents with my assistant, Laura, but for brainstorming and project planning as well. Over the course of the year there are blog post drafts that never get completed, spreadsheets that go unused and random shared documents that pile up.

That’s why I go through and consolidate relevant documents into folders, deleting any documents that got started but are no longer useful. I also use the same special character filing system I use for my desktop files to order the files for easy navigation. And of course, utilizing fun bright colors to codify my primary, secondary and tertiary folders is a must!

 
 

4. Perform A Website Audit

As online business owners, our websites are arguably our most valuable brand asset, so making sure they are up-to-date and reflect the latest, greatest version of whatever's going on in your business is key! 

If you're like me and you're creating new products or writing blog posts often, you want to make sure the back-end of your site isn't causing you all sorts of mental anguish.
 

+ Delete incomplete and abandoned pages.

Do you have pages of your website you’ve created but never fully finished? Maybe it’s a landing page for a product you never released or a portfolio project you wanted to update but never did?

Well, I’m notorious for this. I have about 35 pages in the back-end of my site and about ⅔ of those are hidden/incomplete/abandoned. (I mean, just take a peek to the right -- all the light gray pages are ones that aren't live.)

So many of them are for ideas that I never brought to life and then I just let them sit there in my Squarespace dashboard collecting dust and cluttering up my brain every time I do update a live page. But not anymore!

Before the beginning of the year, I've set aside one day where I plan to go through each one, deleting those that will never see the light of day and fully finishing those I want to push live but I abandoned for lack of time or focus. 
 

+ Go through each live page of your site and update any images or text.

I know for a fact there are pages on my site that link to old products or say “new to the shop” for products I released months ago. When it's just you or a small team, it's hard to find time to make all those tiny updates along the way. (And, to be honest, you're looking at your website every single day and you kind of become blind to those glaring out-dated items.) 

 
 Umm.... I guess four months after the launch, the Resource Shop is no longer the "NEW" resource shop anymore, right? :) This image is going to get updated STAT!

Umm.... I guess four months after the launch, the Resource Shop is no longer the "NEW" resource shop anymore, right? :) This image is going to get updated STAT!

 

However, I really want to enter next year with a site that's completely up to date and that promotes my latest, greatest projects. By going through each page and swapping out more up-to-date images/copy, you can make sure your website feels current and relevant for readers that have been around for years and new ones that arrive to your site each day. 

So, for each page of your site ask yourself: Is this easy to navigate? Does it lead someone through the information I want them to know? Are there any calls to action or images that need to be updated?

And then refresh accordingly!  


5. Tidy Up Your Inbox And Email Settings

Yes, we’ve arrived at the dreaded inbox! I’ll be honest with you guys, emails can be the bane of my existence. Not because I don’t love getting email -- I do! Especially from readers and community members because that’s where I really get to know you guys and connect in a meaningful way.  

My biggest problem with email is that, until recently, I had never developed a solid system for managing incoming messages and trying to respond to them. Without any sort of protocol, it’s all too easy to let messages slip right through the cracks and then suddenly they’re piling up on you and you find yourself avoiding your inbox at all costs like you would the dark and crowded attic.
 

+ Develop a system for organizing incoming messages.

Before we clear out the cobwebs, I’ll give you the basic rundown of how I organize my inbox and mark incoming messages. Everyone’s email tendencies will probably vary, so I recommend structuring your inbox according to what your bad email habits are. Here’s what I mean by that:

My worst email habit used to be opening a message, realizing I didn’t have the time or focus to respond right then, but not doing anything to mark that message for later. Since the message was now "read," it would just get buried among everything else, never to see the light of day again. Not good.

But now, with my email flagging system, if there’s something I need to respond to but don’t have the time at that moment, I can simply assign a colored flag to it which let's me know it needs a response and what level of priority it is. Messages that require a timely response OR that contain revenue-dependent opportunities (ie. the chance to make the biz money) get responded to first. Then, every week I have a set time that I try to solely focus on responding to the remaining flagged emails from that week. It's not a perfect system, but it definitely keeps me sane and I no longer dread opening up my inbox.

To set up your own flag system in Gmail, visit your General Settings and drag which flags you want to use to the "In use" section. Here’s how I set up my flags. Blue is top priority (because the worst feeling is finding a message months old that could have made your business money!); purple is secondary and tells me the response has some sort of time component or time limit on it; and orange is still important, reminding me to respond, but doesn't necessarily have a time component to it. This system helps me prioritize my time and when I do make time to respond to emails I know exactly what to tackle first. 

I also have my inbox customized into sections to keep things sorted. Here's what that looks like: 

 
 

Messages obviously start out in the "unread" section and once I've seen them they get three treatments: (1) Archive immediately; (2) Flag for response; (3) Read with no need to respond. 

Flagged emails get moved to the "Starred" section which is grouped and visible, keeping it top of mind that I need to respond.

All of this doesn't guarantee I respond to every message (though I try!) but it does keep my brain from exploding, something that's super helpful. 
 

+ Delete abandoned drafts.

Similar to the abandoned pages, you don’t want messages you started but never sent clogging up your sidebar or lingering out there. Even if you consider them “out of sight, out of mind,” I guarantee you’ll feel better knowing you don’t have any of those outstanding. It’ll feel good to start the year off with no task left undone!

You can see above I have 23 lingering drafts which I intend to go through, making sure there aren't any messages I meant to send that never got out, and then trashing the rest. 


6. Trim Down Your Content Subscriptions

While we're on the subject of email, this seems like a great time to mention one of the most gratifying de-cluttering practices: paring down your email and blog feed subscriptions!
 

+ Unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer find valuable.

There's nothing worse than waking up to an inbox that's already clogged up in the morning, not from eager customers or collaborators or your BFF, Oprah, asking you to be a guest on Super Soul Sunday.

Nope, instead it's just pointless sales emails from that one place you downloaded something from that ONE TIME and you continue to archive their messages week after week instead of simply just unsubscribing. No more, my friend!

Instead, use a service like Unroll.me, which connects to your email and allows you to easily bulk unsubscribe to those you no longer wish to receive and "roll up" the rest into one handy newsletter email instead of a bajillion individual ones. 

 
 

My Unroll.me "rollup" where I can see my retail subscriptions at a glance.

*Note: I use this tool for retail subscriptions only. Weekly newsletters from my favorite peeps like BrainPickings.org, Jamie from Spruce Rd., Paul Jarvis, and that handsome fella, Jason Zook, I keep happily in my inbox so I know I won't miss them. 

I would also encourage you to take this time to evaluate which newsletters you open week after week but that actually might be negatively impacting your business.

I went through a phase earlier this year where I wanted to keep an eye on what everyone else was doing with their creative businesses. Without realizing it, all this led me to do was question my own decisions, compare myself to others, and spin my wheels with self-doubt. The best decision I made was to unsubscribe from almost every one of them -- not because I didn't enjoy what they were doing or because I didn't support them -- just because I needed less noise in order to hear my intuition more clearly when it came to running my business. I encourage you to take a hard look at your newsletter subscriptions and do the same! 

Speaking of playing the comparison game, that also goes for blog feed subscriptions like Feedly and Bloglovin...
 

+ Clean up your blog subscriptions. 

I actually don't use Feedly or Bloglovin' anymore for the exact reasons I outlined above. They put me into consumption mode vs. creation mode and I've learned that's not always conducive to my ability to stay true to my voice.

Still, I don't think there's anything wrong with following blogs that you love (Hellerrrr, that's hopefully why you're here!), I just believe in doing it more intentionally. So maybe instead of those 50 biz blogs you follow, you could pare it down to your top 5 instead and that will allow you to start off the year without drowning in a sea of other people's content. 

Feeling overwhelmed with where to start? Don't forget there's a handy dandy checklist you can download at the end of this post to tackle each item one by one!


7. Streamline Your Mailing Lists

Now that you've cleaned up your inbox, you want to make sure you're not dirtying up anyone else's!

Hopefully you already know how important having an email list is to the growth of your online business (if not, start here!), but if you're a little bit further along in the life of your business, you may be at the point where you're juggling multiple lists or list segments. 
 

+ Consider segmenting your lists based on behavior/topic interests.

People who signed up for this live workshop or that pre-launch list or downloaded that product, etc. It's enough to make a person go CRAZY at times. Still, I believe that the engagement of your community relies on how relevant and valuable the information you send them is, so it might be a good time to evaluate who's on your list, how they go there, and find out what information they're interested in. Admittedly, this is something I'm still very much working on learning more about. If you have any great resources, please link to them in the comments! 
 

+ Purge your list of dormant subscribers.

When I see blog posts touting the importance of email lists, more often than not it's about how to grow the size of your email list. And while I realize that's important (you want to bring new people into your community, of course), what's not being talked about enough is how to ensure that your list stays lean and full of high-quality subscribers. After all, if you have over a certain number of subscribers, you're likely paying a service like Mailchimp or ConvertKit and that means that the person who stays on your list but doesn't open your emails week after week is actually costing your business money. 

That's why now might be a good time to delete "dormant" subscribers. I recently removed about 400 people from my own list and boosted my average open rate by nearly 5%, which tells me that the people I'm paying for are those actively engaged people that open my emails week after week.

To purge dormant subscribers in Mailchimp, I simply created a segment of subscribers who signed up in 2014 (so, almost over a year old) and haven't opened the past 20 newsletters. That likely pertains to people who found Made Vibrant early on but have moved on and no longer are engaged. (From your Dashboard, select Lists > choose your list > Manage subscribers > Segments > Create New Segment.)

 
 

I sent that segment this email asking them to click on a link (which would indicate to me that they're still interested). Anyone who did not click (or did not open after one week) I deleted from my list. That way I can ensure that everyone who's signed up for Self-Made Society truly wants to be getting my emails. 


8. Evaluate Your Monthly Subscription Costs

Just as it's easy to forget you're paying for dormant email subscribers, sometimes it's easy to forget about all those smaller monthly subscriptions you've paid for to run your business. 

I've just recently put on my big girl pants and hired a bookkeeper to help keep an eye on the business finances, but if it's just you trying to keep costs down for your online business, taking a look at these recurring payments is a must! 
 

+ Cancel subscriptions you no longer need or change your pricing tier accordingly.

Maybe you don't need that analytics software you tried out for $9.99/month and can finally cancel. OR maybe you've realized that you love using Squarespace and now you can pay for the next year in advance (instead of monthly) to take advantage of the cost savings. Either way, set aside time to make some of these financial decisions so you know you're operating your business with as little monthly expenditures as possible. 


9. Delete Unused Apps

I won't lie to you, the home screen of my iPhone is typically a HOT MESS. I download new apps to try them out but then forget to delete the ones that don't make the cut. Once they're all jumbled up, I just get used to the habit of searching for things and I forget to organize them! 

+ Arrange your home screen and remove unwanted apps.

There are a million different ways to organize your home screen and I think everyone's different (similar to email preferences), but the point is just that you take time to intentionally organize your apps, and remove those that no longer serve you.

I also took the opportunity to finally go into my notification settings and remove badge notifications from all my apps so I no longer get those pesky red numbers staring me in the face. Here's an article on Mashable with some clever ways to organize your apps on your phone if you're looking for some suggestions.

Here's the before and after of my own tidy up! Now I can actually see my wallpaper and I don't have a heart attack when I open up my phone. Hooray for that!

 
 

This also goes for any apps on your computer that you no longer use! Hopefully you've already taken care of that with your file clean up earlier in this post! 


10. Consolidate Your Notes & Saved Articles

You never know when inspiration will strike! That's why I've got pages of haphazard notes started on my phone, random text documents saved on my desktop and rogue articles I stumbled across months ago hiding in the catacombs of my Pocket. If any of those "brilliant" ideas have a hope of turning into something, now's as good a time as any to sort through them.

+ Organize your saved content/visual bookmarking.

There are a dizzying number of visual bookmarking tools like Evernote, Pocket, and Stache, just to name a few. The key I think is to pick one you enjoy and to stick with it.

I love Pocket personally and I use the Chrome extension a ton, but I'm TERRIBLE with utilizing tags to keep things organized. I mean, just look, you've got Amy Schumer and a Photoshop tutorial in the same breath:

 
 

To fully utilize this awesome tool, I'll be doing a refresh on my tags so I can keep things well organized, and so that when I'm working on a project and need to look for that article or video I saw forever ago, that I'll know where to look!

+Clear out your Notes & Voice Memos.

It could be a random idea for a blog post or a particular turn of phrase that pops into my head but I'm always writing down "Notes" in my phone. Usually I'm terrified that the idea is going to leave me so I don't waste time searching for the right place to put it, I just start a new note. The result is a list of things that looks like this ->

What does it all mean?! 

I figure it can't hurt to go through and see if there's anything worth salvaging here. The rest has got to go! 


11. Curate Your Social Feeds

+ Trim down who you're following to get better content.

Similar to what we talked about in the email subscription section, I think it's important to regularly assess not just who you're following but how they make you feel.

Are the people in your feeds Negative Nancy's or are they positive people that share inspiring content? Are you following too many people that share a similar craft and does it lead you to compare yourself to them? Or are you simply following too many people and you can't get value from those connections because your feeds are so noisy. 

Whatever the case may be, try going through each platform you use and think about how your experience might be improved by further curating down the people you follow. 


12. Update Your Project Management System

I have to admit, for the first year and a half of owning my business, my idea of "project management" was pretty much a hacked together system of Google Docs and calendar alerts. 

It wasn't until I brought on the amazing, incredible, gift-of-a-human-being, Laura, as my creative assistant back in September that I realized we might need an actual software solution to manage our projects and collaborate on the twelve thousand things going on at once here at Made Vibrant. 

After a few months of experimenting with different apps/systems, Laura introduced me to Asana which has been an absolute game-changer for me when it comes to feeling organized. 

We now have every piece of Made Vibrant separated into "Projects" within Asana and each project has tasks/subtasks that we can communicate on and work together on accordingly: 

 
 


+ Archive old projects and prioritize 2016 projects. 

Whether you use Asana, seen above, or you use something like Trello or Basecamp, it's a good idea to go through and retire projects that are complete. Also, you can look to the future and start prioritizing projects for the upcoming year. I always find it really helpful to start a spreadsheet with anticipated projects, general time periods of when I plan to work on them and revenue projections. It helps me feel organized and prepared as I enter the new business year. 

 
 

Things always shift and move around but I find it immensely helpful to have this "year-at-a-glance" to refer back to. Jason and I share this sheet so we can see any opportunities to collaborate and our general household cashflow for the year. 

Once that's taken care of, you should hopefully be feeling refreshed and digitally organized! I truly believe that with how much time we spend around technology -- especially as online business owners -- these things have a tangible impact on our anxiety levels and overall happiness. When you know your digital life is intentionally organized, you can focus on creating or traveling or doing whatever makes you feel like the brightest version of yourself. 

Well, that's it, guys. Did I miss anything?

Are there any other ways that you plan to de-clutter your life and business digitally? If so, please let me know and leave a comment below! 

 
 

Digital Declutter Workshop

If you want to also use the tips in this article to do some routine maintenance, watch the workshop where I go over each of these steps in depth and more!


Running Your Business With Values-Based Accounting

I want to start this week by painting a picture for you of last year’s Thanksgiving holiday...

It was the Friday following our big Turkey Day celebration, and hanging on to the remnants of my peaceful, turkey-induced state, I rolled out of bed with that easy-going feeling of rest still lingering. 

I thought, I’ll take my time getting up, Jason and I will have breakfast, and then I can dive into catching up on a few work emails just to stay on top of things.

That’s when I made the mistake of checking Instagram. 

“CYBER MONDAY SALE!!!” the first few posts said. Scroll, scroll. “20% OFF EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER WANTED IN THE WORLD!!!” Scroll, scroll. “BIGGEST DEAL OF THE YEAR. THE CENTURY. THE MILLENNIUM!” 

The messages pulled me out of my restful state into an immediate panic, like someone had dumped an ice cold bucket of water over my head. 

“Forget about savoring the holidays, would ya! There’s money just waiting to be made out there!!”

Then came the guilt. 

Should I have planned a Cyber Monday deal for my shop? Should I have done pop up prints to capitalize on the holiday-shopping crowd? Should I have set up some blowout deal so that I could coerce a nice sales boost before the end of the year? 

Should? Should? SHOULD.

I stopped myself. 

And I remembered: 

Being a smart, successful business owner does NOT mean you must squeeze every dollar of profit out of your business.

It means that you get to choose what opportunities are worth pursuing — to YOU. 

Setting up some sort of Cyber Monday deal would probably bring me a boost in revenue, yes. But what would it cost? Instead of spending the past four days cozied up on the couch, eating turkey leftovers, telling old family stories, laughing at funny faces my tiny nephew makes, I might have been answering questions on email for customers, posting on social media, redeeming orders, managing payments, etc. And that’s just not a cost I'm willing to pay.

**Please hear me when I say this: the message here is NOT that Cyber Monday is bad. Or that taking opportunities to make money is bad.** 

The message here is simply a reminder that you get to CHOOSE. And that we do NOT have to feel guilty for not taking advantage of every opportunity to make a penny. 

“Leaving money on the table” so to speak is something that I do on a regular basis intentionally because I believe in what I call “values-based accounting” — the idea that assessing the livelihood of your business relies not just on its financial earnings but on its ability to bring you more of what you value. 

Look at it this way: What is profit? 

Put very simply, profit is the difference between what’s earned and what’s spent, right? 

So what if we expand that definition beyond dollars. 

“What’s spent” could be money, but it could also be time, energy, emotions, will-power… not to mention it could also mean hidden costs or trade-offs — the things we forfeit in order to work on something. 

“What’s earned” could be money, but it could also be more of what you value: time with your family, flexibility, travel, fun, new connections, personal growth… whatever those values are to you individually.

So when I look back over the course of the year and I consider all the opportunities I’ve taken, the things I’ve created, the things I’ve turned down, I’m taking a look at my profit not just in terms of how much money I made compared to how much I spent; I’m considering my profit in terms of how much freedom, flexibility, and growth I gained compared to how much stress I incurred. 

That’s values-based accounting to me, and it’s why I intentionally don’t do a sales webinar every week or come out with a new product every minute or why some years you won't see me with a Cyber Monday deal.

Sometimes you may leave money on the table, but in doing so your life can remain rich.

This topic is inspired by my friends AJ and Melissa, who own a company called Misfit Incorporated. They do all sorts of things from building digital experiences for big brands, to publishing, to producing Shakespeare, to hosting an artisan conference in Fargo, ND each year, to funding philanthropic endeavors all around the world. 

A few years ago, AJ told me about something they do in-house called “Impact Accounting.” He was referring to the fact that the conference they run each year, MisfitCon, despite having sponsors to offset the costs, ultimately is a break-even (if not a loss) project for their bottom line. In other words, financially speaking, there is no profit to be had. 

BUT -- and this is a huge “but” in their eyes -- the net impact that the event has on their world through the lens of Misfit’s mission is STAGGERING. People’s lives are changed. Life-long connections are formed. Startups are born. Hearts are molded and forever marked. 

Any business owner if looking at Misfit’s accounting books blindly would say: “This event is a waste of money.” That’s because they wouldn’t be able to see the non-financial impact. That’s why literally when it comes to keeping track of their records, they actually evaluate each project they undertake not just for the revenue it brings in, but for the positive mark it leaves on the world. How many lives does it change? Does it further the Misfit mission? Does it align with the Misfit beliefs? 

This is what I want you business owners (or aspiring business owners) to think about this week. 

What does maximizing profit in your business look like beyond the scope of money? 

What do you want to earn? Quality time with your family. Global impact. One week off a month to travel. Working from home. 

And what are OR aren’t you willing to spend to get there? 

For me, I’m not willing to spend my precious time away from my family during the holidays to earn a few extra hundred or even thousand dollars to my yearly revenue. 

That might be the case for you or it might not. The point is, you get to choose.

Either way, consider values-based accounting when it comes to making the decisions for your business, and remember, money can bring you flexibility but it won’t bring you the kind of happiness that living your values day in and day out can bring. Trust me. 

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful week as we kick off the last month of 2015 this week!

 
 

How To Grow Your Team While Staying True To Your Business Vision

Well, I have to admit, quite a lot has changed in the past two weeks around here!

If you read last week’s newsletter, than you know… Made Vibrant is now a team effort!

Two weeks ago, I hired my first ever assistant, the wonderful and talented Laura. I definitely plan to introduce you properly to Laura in the future, but for now I want to share with you a bit about what the process of hiring was like for me, and how I managed to overcome the big fear I had that the magic and mission of what I’ve built might become diluted with the addition of a new person.

To kick things off, how did I know it was time to consider hiring?

Over the past two years, growing Made Vibrant has been such an enjoyable experience. I’ve had the freedom and flexibility to experiment with different revenue models, and I’ve had the luxury of teaching myself everything on my own time without having to worry about anyone else. For a while it felt like maybe I might always want things to remain this way. Maximum simplicity, minimum responsibility to anyone else but myself.

That is until about two months ago. That’s when I looked up and realized running the day to day of the business was starting to make me feel a bit like one of those circus performers spinning plates on broomsticks.

Slowly I’ve been adding each new spinning plate -- an Instagram challenge here, another new product there, a blog strategy, a creative practice, a Slack community. The list goes on.

And all of those things have been wonderful. They’ve brought me joy, they’ve brought my business profit and they’ve brought you guys value.

But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tad exhausting, what with all the constant running around and trying to keep all the plates from falling.

I was starting to feel a lot more reactive and a lot less creative.

That’s when I started considering the notion that an assistant might be the right way to go.

Then, two Thursdays ago I was sitting at my computer literally just staring blankly at my calendar, almost on the verge of tears because the minutia of all the spinning plates I had in the air felt virtually paralyzing. I had no energy to even tackle my to-do list because the weight of the whole thing had me in a choke hold.

That’s when I asked myself these two simple questions: 1) Is my business making enough money that I can afford to pay someone part-time and 2) am I willing to let go of some aspects of my business in order to make room for more of what I value in my life (creativity, curiosity, ease).

The answer to both questions was yes.

So what do you do once you're ready to hire?

The first thing I did was ask my close business peers about their experience with virtual assistants/hiring just so I could get a baseline understanding of what I was getting myself into.

I’ll be honest though, while getting outside feedback helped warm me up to the idea that this could be a great and helpful thing, it also actually made the process feel a bit more overwhelming than it needed to be because I realized there is no uniform way that people go about hiring assistants. 

As I’ve shared time and time again, every business is different and every business owner is different, so it’s no surprise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

But the more people I talked to, the more I realized I just needed to figure out what worked for me:

  • What kind of work did I want an assistant to do?
  • What kind of person did I want to be working with?
  • How much was I willing to pay them?
  • How did I want to communicate with them and manage our projects together?

Once I realized it was my business and I could run it however I wanted to, the process felt less overwhelming because I realized I was free to just be myself.

One other thing I did find helpful in the “research” phase was downloading Indigo Colton’s short ebook, Your Ultimate VA Crash Course ($14.) It was an awesome and affordable way for me to not only get a basic understanding of what I should be considering as I hire someone, but there are some good worksheets that forced me to sit down and write out exactly what work I would want someone to be taking on. Definitely recommend starting there if you’re curious!

Now, before we move on to the process of actually finding my assistant, let’s wade together through some of the big fears that came up for me once I decided to dive in.  
 

MY FEARS

1. Fear of the unknown.

Ahhh yes. That all-terrifying, unpredictable, sneaky little booger called The Unknown. As with all things that I’ve never done before, my assembly of what-ifs received their call to arms and started showing up in record numbers once I decided to finally hire someone.

What if we’re not a good fit and I have to fire someone? What if I decide to shut down my business and move to Fiji? What if he/she steals all of my secrets and starts their own business and then convinces all my customers to leave me for his/her cooler, newer, better, more awesome business? (ps. I have no secrets so that one is especially suspect.)

As in all cases of the great fear of the unknown, I simply had to remind myself to, hello, breathe, but then also to accept that I don’t know what the future holds and that’s okay. I’m a big girl and I can trust myself to know that I’ll figure out whatever gets hurled at me.

Yes, all of those big scary things are what-ifs, but there’s also a great number of what-ifs that could mean wonderful things too:

What if this hire allows me to sleep easier at night while also impacting more people? What if I can go on vacation and actually be on vacation? What if there’s a glorious, more creative future for Made Vibrant that I can’t even imagine because it’s just me by my lonesome. What if?

Basically, my tip for silencing the fear of the unknown is simply to say, “Hey fear, yeah I know we’re flying blind here but I’m a pretty seasoned pilot by this point so just trust me, I got this. Now sit back and enjoy the flight.”
 

2. Fear of the collaborative process (as an introvert).

This is probably going to seem like a weird one, but I was literally afraid of being required to talk to another human on a regular basis.

Now, before you internalize how bizarre that sounds, just know that I am in fact an introvert. I enjoy the deep thought that comes with being alone, in my own head, and while I can definitely enjoy connecting with people under the right circumstances, sometimes interacting at all can leave me feeling a bit… drained.

So, I think a part of me was a bit apprehensive about the whole communication part of the process. Would it drain me to be in constant contact with someone? Would it leave me feeling overwhelmed?

Again, though, once I realized that it was my business and I could mold the relationship to reflect my introverted self, the fear subsided. (Also, I’ve found in recent weeks that if you’re just honest with people in telling them what you need and how you work best, they’re usually pretty cool with being accommodating.)
 

3. Fear of losing the magic.

Okay, so here’s the biggest fear of all. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had to acknowledge:

I was afraid that getting bigger might mean losing some of the magic.

How arrogant is that?! The truth is, I’m not the magic. Maybe I’m an instrument of it, maybe I help the magic get out into the world, but it’s not me or even the business itself; the magic is in what the business stands for. It’s in the honesty of telling one’s story, the beauty of listening when inspiration calls, the connection that comes from supporting other soulful creatives worlds away from you.

And that means that someone else out there can be an instrument of all that too.

If the right person shares my same values and can get behind the mission of Made Vibrant, then if anything, the magic of the business becomes stronger.

Which brings me to...
 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Based on the fact that my biggest fear was diluting the core of Made Vibrant, I know that the single most important thing that I was looking for in the assistant applications was a deep understanding and whole-hearted commitment to the mission of my business.

I mean it when I say: everything else was secondary to this priority.

Because even if someone was the most organized, most detail-oriented, most effective assistant ever, if what I’m doing doesn’t resonate with them in their bones, then I don’t think I would fully trust them to interact with the Made Vibrant community and pour that passion into whatever task they’re doing.

As an aside, my favorite and most unexpected part about hiring someone who believes in your mission? They can actually help ground you in your WHY.

After simply interviewing Laura and chatting about Made Vibrant, she reminded me of the fact that among the various personal and professional development sites across the web, to her Made Vibrant stood out as a resource rooted in authenticity and relatability. When she said that, it actually served as a powerful reminder that I need to be doubling down on those things. It effectively helped me find my way back to the heart of why I started my own business.

Which is to say:

If you hire the right person, they have the ability to strengthen your core purpose, not to dilute it.

If you hire the right person, they have the ability to strengthen your core purpose, not to dilute it.


THE PROCESS

Here are the simple steps I went through to find the right assistant for me.

1. Post the position listing on my blog and social media.

I went to my audience FIRST. If I’m going to find someone that is aligned my core mission, there is no group better qualified than my own audience. That’s why I started from the inside. I listed out the basic requirements of the position, what I was looking for and how to apply. (Note: I included instructions to submit an email as an application rather than to simply fill out the form because I wanted to immediately be able to tell if people could follow instructions. You want to look for ways to further qualify your candidates so the actual process of submitting an application is one way to do that.) [Here’s the original post] Things you definitely want to include:

  • Basic responsibilities included in the position
  • Any necessary technology experience/skills required (for me that was Photoshop)
  • A  general idea of the time commitment and request for pay rate
     

2. Go through applications and pull those that immediately stand out.  

I made it a point to read and give my full attention to every email that came through. If the email followed instructions, the candidate had the skills/experience that I required and if the email was well-written with strong communication, I immediately whittled the stack down to those candidates. From, there I went back through again and made note of those that felt particularly invested in Made Vibrant’s mission. I opened the door on this a bit when I asked applicants to include why they felt they were right for the position, but those that stood out to me were the ones that took that opportunity to communicate why their values were deeply aligned with those of the business.
 

3. Follow-up with additional questions.

Lastly, I knew that I wanted to narrow the field down to just a handful of applicants for live interviews. I simply didn’t have time to interview more than two or three candidates, so to get my list down to those few, I sent the top applicants some last final questions to dive a bit deeper. Some were skills-based, some were scenario-based to get a sense of how they’d respond to different situations, and others were simply to get an idea of how the relationship could grow in the future. Here are the exact questions I asked:

  • How comfortable are you working with Google Calendar (adding appointments, updating appointments, managing timelines, etc.) and with Google Docs?
  • How comfortable are you using Dropbox to manage/keep track of files?
  • Do you have any experience working in MailChimp?
  • How many hours a week are you able/willing to work on Made Vibrant? (Starting out we’d be agreeing to probably 20 hours a month, but if it works out and our relationship grows, I’d like to have a sense of how much time you could work on the business.)
  • Do have any scheduling restrictions throughout the week? Times when you’re not able to work?
  • How do you typically respond when you don’t know how to do a task you’ve been given?
  • Do you prefer explicit instructions for things or do you prefer to get a task/goal and to figure it out on your own?
  • If you had to pick one quality that makes you uniquely qualified for this position, what would it be?

The answers to these types of specific questions actually made it fairly easy to identify three top candidates. Once they responded, we set up a time for a Skype interview the following day.
 

4. Set up Skype interviews with your final top candidates.

This step for me was more about finding the best personality fit. I knew going into it that I didn’t need to find a best friend, someone JUST like me, but I did want someone that I would enjoy communicating with on a regular basis and I wanted to make that personal connection before agreeing to set up the professional relationship.

This is when the choice became really clear for me. I think even in a virtual interview, you can get a sense of how you click with someone, where the conversation goes, how enthusiastic they are about working with you, etc.

My conversation with Laura flowed naturally and I got off the call feeling not only like she was the right fit, but I actually felt re-energized about my own business. I knew that was the kind of energy that was worth risking all the scary unknowns for!
 

5. Draw up a contract and get to work!

Once I contacted Laura to tell her she got the gig, we got to work right away! I sent over a contract with payment terms, “termination” terms (ie. what happens if either of you want to end the relationship, and the basis agreement that she’d be acting as a contractor rather than an employee.) **Note: I’m not a lawyer so if you are going to draw up a contract, I recommend at least consulting with a lawyer.

Then we set up a kick-off call to bring her up to speed on what’s going on with Made Vibrant and train her on some tasks. As we move along, we’ve been updating and evolving the tools/processes that we use to manage our workflow, but for now we’re using a combination of Slack, Google Docs, and Wunderlist to manage tasks and it’s been working really well.

----

I’ll be formally introducing you to Laura soon so you can get to know her better. Until then, just know that she’s AWESOME and that her heart is already rooted in the mission behind Made Vibrant. If you see an email from her, I hope you’ll welcome her to the team and treat her as an extension of the Made Vibrant family!

Lesson here: Growing a team can be unsettling if you’ve never done it before, but so far it has been MORE than worth it to feel like I have someone on my team rooting me on and who is investing in seeing the Made Vibrant vision come to life.

I can’t wait to see where things go from here and to report back on what I learn!

Let me know if you have any questions about hiring in the comments!
 

I’d love to share my experience since I know there aren’t that many great resources out there that peel back the curtain on growing a team!

 
 

Why Is It So Hard For Us To Ask For Help When We Need It?

I have all kinds of excitement to share with you today!

We’ve got a new product in the shop; my boyfriend, Jason, launches his biggest project to date tomorrow(!!) which will include a special offer for Self-Made Society members; and in completely unrelated but still awesome news, the great Liz Gilbert releases her latest book Big Magic tomorrow (which you should definitely go grab right now!)

Phew! Holy cow, fall is coming in HOT! (But, like, literally hot… we’ve had some scorchers here in California. I’m ready for it to cool down!)

Perhaps the biggest news from the past week though is that Made Vibrant is no longer just a one-woman shop! 

Last week I welcomed the ah-mazing Laura to the Made Vibrant team (what? There’s a team now? This is crazy!). She’ll be acting as my creative assistant to help manage the day-to-day operations of the business and continue to keep the fun products/programming we have planned running smoothly. (Thank you to everyone in the community that reached out about the position! I was blown away by the caliber of responses.) 

I’m planning to post a more formal introduction of Laura on the blog soon so you all can get to know her better but If you see any email responses or social media commenting from her, just know that she’s a soulful creative through and through and please welcome her with open arms! 

This past week has been an amazing process for me as I’m learning how to let go of some of the tasks/projects that have been solely mine for…well… ever. Since the beginning of Made Vibrant! It’s this crazy combination of freedom and apprehension. But DEFINITELY more freedom than anything else. 

In fact, after just two days of having Laura on board, I found myself wondering in my head over and over “Why didn’t I do this SOONER?!” 

Which brings me to today’s topic at hand: asking for help. 

And I’m not just referring to hiring someone for your business. I mean asking for help in all the various facets in our life. 

Help with raising your kids. Help with learning a new skill. Help with navigating the inevitable emotional twists and turns of our journeys. 

Asking for help is something I’ve struggled with in the past A LOT. 

I’ve been fiercely independent since I was a kid, and I’ve always hated that feeling of being incapable or ill-equipped. Whether it was a simple school project or even a task I didn’t know how to do when I got into the working world, I would do everything in my power to avoid reaching out for help at all costs.

When it came time to start my business, I wanted to prove (to myself or to others, who knows which mattered more) that I was smart enough or savvy enough or strong enough to figure out this whole entrepreneurship thing myself. I was so careful not to ask fellow peers how they did something for fear that I would look a) like a complete NEWB and b) like I just wanted to stand on their shoulders instead of logging the hours myself.

If I’m being honest, I think a part of me felt like if I reached my goals by way of asking others for help, that somehow my success would be diminished. That it would feel less mine.

Now I've realized that couldn't be further from the truth.

I’ve found that by and large other people want to be included in your journey. They wantto help you accomplish your goals. And if you reach a personal goal by way of some talented co-conspirators, well then hey a victory party is way more fun when you’re not dancing alone! 

Yes, we all want to feel strong. We all want to feel capable.

But there is nothing weak about using the collective knowledge and skills of the people around you.

Not a single one of us has every positive attribute on the planet. We all have this careful mix of strengths and weaknesses, of virtues and flaws, and when we team up, we have the ability to become a stronger, more well-rounded force to be reckoned with.  

I mean, what’s the point of being on a planet with 7 billion other people if you can’t phone a friend every once in a while? 

I guess my point today is this:

"Don't let your pride get in the way of your progress." 

Don’t let your pride get in the way of your progress.

Reach out and utilize the people around you. 

Your challenge this week is to identify one area of your life that you're struggling to navigate alone and to ask one person for help. 

I can't believe I tried to juggle all the various aspects of my business by myself for as long as I did. Not only do I feel a huge sense of relief that I now have an extra pair of hands in Laura, but surprisingly I've also found that I have someone to reflect my values back to me and keep me (and the business) anchored to my mission.

Thanks to all of you that have helped me in the past, with your encouragement, your ideas and your support. I hope I can continue to be a helpful force in your life as well!

Wishing you all a happy and helpful week! 

 
 

Are You The Virtual Assistant I've Been Dreaming Of?

Update: I'm currently interviewing a handful of candidates and will be moving forward with one of them soon. Thanks to everyone who applied!

I'm hoping your answer is a whopping YES!

So... over the past few weeks it has become ABUNDANTLY clear to me that I simply can't do it all myself anymore. (A hard thing to admit for any independent creative!)

Up until this point I've kept Made Vibrant intentionally small because I like the flexibility of being able to experiment with different ideas, growth tactics, etc.

However, now that I'm about a year and a half into the business, with steadier income and finally feeling like I have a strong vision for what I want Made Vibrant to look like in the future, I'm now ready to bring someone on to help me execute on that vision! 

Could that be you? I hope so!  

 
 

I'm looking for someone that can complement my passion for big picture thinking and creative whimsy with their passion for organization, planning, and good ol' fashioned execution.

Or, as my friends @orgcreatives like to call it, the tasky stuff.

  • If you looooove that feeling of crossing off items on your to-do list...
  • If you're a fan of forward progress and project completion...
  • And if you enjoy working with creative people who have a strong vision...

Then keep reading because this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Here's why I need you (and why I'm hoping you're excited about working with Made Vibrant):

Business is personal to me. 

There is no work/life balance for me -- it's all one big, blurry, beautiful life. That's why I don't want to waste one second of it. Made Vibrant isn't just my means of making money; it's the way I share my gifts with the world. It's how I contribute. Make a difference. 

And I want to help you feel the same way. If Made Vibrant can become just another way that you share your gifts with the world, a way for you to feel meaningful and valuable, then that's twice as awesome. I guess what I'm saying is: I want this collaboration to be conducive to your Purpose as much as it is to mine.

I'm also not content with following the status quo of the traditional online business world. Sure, I adopt best practices when they feel aligned with my mission, but I like to try new things, deviate from the pack when I can, and think outside the box. I especially want to do more of this in the future. I want to dream up ways to rethink how creative business is done. If you enjoy that kind of creative thinking and would like to be a part of that exploration, I hope you'll consider joining the team.

Here's a refresher on the Made Vibrant core values so you can decide if these align with who you are:

Now, on to the nitty gritty...

___

Quick Disclaimer: I’m all about helping people live their brightest lives, and you better believe I especially want that for the people I work with! I want to utilize your unique gifts and your talents, and I want you to enjoy what you’re doing. That’s why I encourage you to look at the details below and please be honest with yourself about whether this type of work excites you!

If big picture creative thinking is your super power and all those minute details get under your skin, this gig will probably not be the right fit for you. If spreadsheets and completed task lists make you want to have a dance party? This is all you, baby!

___

The Skinny

  • Looking for a contract-based part-time virtual assistant. Job will likely start with 10-20 hours of work per month but could grow depending on your skills and the relationship we develop
  • Position begins immediately. I’m ready to dive in head first if you are! As soon as I find the right fit I have a list of projects ready for your lovely touch!
  • Schedule is flexible. Totally up to you how and when you work on projects, as long as our agreed upon deadlines are met. Communication will likely include weekly time/task updates and the occasional Skype party/coffee chat (I mean… “meeting.”)

Potential tasks may include (depending on your unique strengths & skills):

  • Blog updates -- post scheduling & image editing
  • Customer service -- emailing and gift certificate creation
  • Proofreading -- posts, resources, sales copy, etc.
  • Email management -- interview requests & scheduling, form submissions
  • Promotion/giveaway management
  • Slack and social media content planning

Your Gifts & Skills

This position is right for you if:

  • You are an effective communicator! I believe in over-communication (especially in today's digital, text-heavy age) so I need someone who can be clear in what they need from me, as well as tactful and helpful when it comes to emailing with customers or potential collaborators.
  • You have no problem taking initiative and making things happen! I'm totally willing to answer questions and work with you to explain anything that doesn’t make sense (especially in the beginning!) but it’s important to remember that I’m hiring you to reclaim hours in my day! I want to work with someone who can take ideas and run with them, not someone who needs explicit instructions for every task.
  • You have experience working in both Photoshop and Squarespace. This position will require you to edit photoshop templates and schedule blog posts, so it’s preferable if you have experience using both of those tools!
  • You have a sense of humor and a collaborative spirit. Listen, if we’re gonna be working together, it’s important we get along! I want someone who can appreciate the occasional hilarious gif or cryptic emoji string. I want someone who recognizes that working together effectively requires a desire to reach a common goal (and to have fun while doing it.)

This position is not right for you if:

  • You’re not interested in a long-term commitment. (Yep, I'm "that girl." The long-term relationship girl. 💍)I’m not looking for a temporary intern or for someone to "pick my brain" for a few months. Ideally if we work well together, this will be a long and prosperous working relationship.
  • You don’t like being told what to do. Okay, that was a hard one for me to write, but it’s true! I have no intention of barking out orders or meaningless tasks or going all power trippy on you, so no fear on that front, but I do honestly need someone that is willing to receive direction (and constructive feedback, when necessary). If you don't like being managed, this won't be right for you.

Okay, if at this point you’re screaming to yourself, That’s me, you’re talking about me! then...

How To Apply

Send an email to caroline@madevibrant.com with the email subject “Virtual Assistant Of Your Dreams!” and include answers to the following questions.

  1. Why you think this could be just the gig for you! Include any strengths, personal details or values that speak to why you're interested in working together.
  2. A little bit about your work background and any other current work commitments you have (a part-time job, other VA clients, etc.)
  3. Please describe your experience/skill level with the following programs/platforms:
    • Photoshop (required)
    • Squarespace (preferred)
    • Any other programs/technical skills worth mentioning (InDesign, Illustrator, CSS knowledge, etc.)
  4. Your fee structure (hourly, flat fee, a fee per project, etc.) and the rate you'd be seeking (keeping in mind about 10-20 hours for the first month.)
  5. Your most pertinent social media/website links (so I can get to know the virtual you a bit more!)

After submitting, I’ll contact you within a week of your submission if you’ve been selected for a Skype interview. If you don’t hear from me, I’m sorry but it just wasn’t the right fit this time around and I'll reach out to you if anything changes! 

Truly hoping to find someone excited, driven and fun to be around. I hope it's you! 

 
 

Is Your Website Working For You?

MadeVibrant.com just got a face lift! 

Today is one of my favorite kind of days… it’s LAUNCH DAY! Hooray! As you can see, my new website refresh is officially live and ready for feedback!

You may remember that last week’s email was all about focus.

After spending the first 8 months or so of my business in a period of exploration, trying to figure out my “sweet spot” was in terms of service offerings, about two months ago I finally felt myself emerging with some sense of clarity on the direction of Made Vibrant moving forward.

However, with that new focus in mind, it became painfully obvious how ill-suited my own website structure was for communicating my new message effectively.

Over the course of about six weeks I reimagined and restructured my website so that it would work with me, not against me, in attracting new clients for my business.

Today, I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts that went into that process with the hope that it might prove valuable to those of you out there that are at a similar spot in your creative journey.  

First off... let's talk about:


THE NEW FOCUS

Since the launch of Made Vibrant in January, I’ve done my best to juggle branding, web and blog design, hand-lettering, illustration, marketing consulting, digital products, and print design. (WHOA, I'm exhausted just writing all that.)

In the beginning, I admit I enjoyed the variety, but after a while it became frustrating to constantly be taking on projects with different timelines, price points, expectations and processes. It was hard to feel any sense of momentum or mastery in any one thing. 

That’s when I sat down and thought long and hard about which of those things brings me the most value (both in terms of financial freedom and daily joy) and which of them brings others the most value.

When I framed it to myself in that way, it became clear to me that brand development and identity design for creatives is my passion. 

I feel that my strength as a designer is my desire to get to know my clients in a real and authentic way - their motivations, their passions, their personalities - and then to design a brand around what makes them unique. There’s nothing I love more than when a client takes a look at the mood board or new logo I’ve created for them and says -“Holy crap, that’s me. You nailed it.”

That’s why on the home page of the new site, you will see big and bold the following sentence:

“I help soulful creatives build vibrant, authentic brands.”

There's a purpose behind that big, bold statement. The #1 thing that your website should do is communicate plainly and simply what you do so that potential clients/customers immediately know what you have to offer.


WHY I DECIDED TO INTEGRATE MY SITES

Another huge factor in this site refresh was the structure of my sites. When I launched MadeVibrant, I pretty much had four different sites: 

1. MadeVibrant.com (hub site with links to the three sub sites)

  • 2. Blog.MadeVibrant.com (home for new blog posts)
  • 3. Studio.MadeVibrant.com (home for design services)
  • 4. Shop.MadeVibrant.com (home for what I thought would be a resource/paper shop. Not so much. Just ended up as a glorified email capture.)

The segmenting made sense at the time to me because I truly didn’t know which of those three arms would become my passion, nor could I find a unified theme that integrated functionality for each piece. However, here’s why the three-pronged approach became a bad strategy:

Blogging doesn’t pay my bills.

I love it, of course, but at the end of the day it should act as a marketing tool for the paying part of my business - the design studio. I thought that by putting a couple of links on the blog to the studio site, that it would drive traffic and clients to the studio site, right? WRONG. 

Since January, I’ve had almost 37,000 visitors to my blog. Do you know how many visitors I’ve had to my studio site, the PAYING part of my business? Just 3,000. Quite the disconnect, huh?

So here's the lesson there:

Keeping that in mind, moving forward I knew that it was of paramount importance that my design services and my blog live under the same roof. That way, if people came to my site through the blog, it would be seamless for them to check out the rest of my site. (I also made my navigation sticky for the very same reason.)


WHY I CHOSE SQUARESPACE

This is a whole can of worms for a different day perhaps, but for those unfamiliar with Squarespace, it’s another website content management system, similar to Wordpress. I’ve been in love with Squarespace since I chatted with one of their team members at ALT SLC back in 2012 and she converted me. Unlike Wordpress, there are no updates, no plugins to worry about breaking, their themes are highly responsive and flexible, and most importantly their user interface is simple and powerful. 

I’ll likely be diving into this into detail on the blog in the future, but many of their templates include the ability to house a portfolio, a number of pages & a blog, which was the integration I was looking for. When I went hunting for a beautiful solution that served my needs, I realized it was the perfect time to make the switch. 

There are still some kinks to work out - especially with transferring my domains and such, but I expect to be cleaning some of those things up in the coming days. 

Now, all of that said, some of you might be wondering...


WHAT WILL CHANGE FOR THE NEWSLETTER?

Not very much at all! My working mission for this newsletter is exactly what you see on the new site: “Grow as a person. Grow as a business.” I believe the two complement one another. So some weeks (like this one) the topic will be more business-related and geared toward the creative entrepreneur, but other weeks I’ll be discussing broader topics like whatever challenges I’m facing in my own life. 

THE FUTURE

Right now I’m (thankfully!) completely booked through the end of September, a fact that is already proof that focusing on one thing can positively impact your business. Despite the packed schedule, I’m still committed to creating great resources for soulful creatives like Connecting With Your Core. My goal is to release yet another Self-Made Guide before the end of October. I'm excited for what's to come and I hope you all will continue to follow along as I try to grow Made Vibrant. 

I appreciate each one of you. Thanks for the continued encouragement. Please poke around and check out the new site, and feel free to email me with any typos/broken links, etc. I would really appreciate it!