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GET CREATIVES is coming to Propeller on July 13!

Hey, New Orleans business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs! I’ve been working on this thing with my talented friends Julia Sevin and Frank Aymami, and we want to share it with you.

Get Creatives is a pithy 45-minute presentation that packs in a ton of information you need to know if you’re the one who markets your business. Register now on Eventbrite, or read on for a few more reasons to join us on July 13 at 6pm!

Communication design: What it is, and why it matters

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You’ll learn how your investment in communication design (including copywriting, graphic design, and photography) actually increases your profits and positions your brand for bigger and better things.

You’ll get actionable tips on where to find “creatives”; how much to pay them; what to ask for; and what to look out for.

And you’ll learn how to scrimp smartly so you can save your marketing dollars without sacrificing the end quality of your product.

Register ahead of time >>>

Did you know…

  • 55% of your website visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on a given page
  • Your contract with an independent creative should always specify a kill fee
  • You might not own the rights to the photographs you commissioned

There’s a lot more where that came from.

We’re going through the entire process of working with a “creative”–everything from how and where to find quality writers, designers, and photographers, to contracts and taxes, to the best way to send feedback and get the results you want.

Join us July 13 at 6pm at Propeller Incubator to find out more!

Book Review: Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin Better Than Before. Am I right or am I right/

Here’s a confession: I have discovered my soft spot for self-improvement books. I don’t say “self-help,” because that genre has long been maligned (and justly so, for titles like these), and now it just sounds stupid.

But “self-improvement” books—books based on research, on science, on facts—those I can get behind. So, when Birchbox Book Club sent me a free copy of Better Than Before, I set about reading it.

Better Than Before is an obnoxiously profound read.
I wanted to like it. And I did.

Step 1: Recognize you are just completely, totally flawed.

Rubin writes in a casual, conversational style, which is great when you’re subconsciously comparing yourself to her and losing.

I held off judgment until page 20 or so, when Rubin describes the “Four Tendencies” of people. There are Upholders, who meet both internal and external expectations, but may get exhausted and fail to find time to recharge. There are Obligers, who have no trouble meeting external expectations, but won’t meet a goal if no one’s relying on them for success. There are Questioners, who will only meet an expectation if it seems worthwhile, valid, and reasonable to them. And then there are Rebels, who don’t give a fuck about “expectations”.

I’m not one to dichotomize myself, but it was pretty gratifying to immediately identify with the Obliger tendency. Most people see me as an Upholder, but they have no idea how many of my own projects and commitments are languishing at the back of my mind, slowly starving to death. I know I should do [Certain Thing], but unless someone is counting on me to do it, there’s a good chance I won’t.

For example, my exercise schedule tends to go something like this.

Friend: “Hey, want to run around the park on Wednesday?”

Me: “Yeah, let’s do it!”

Friend: “I can’t go today 🙁 “

Me: *sits at home binge-eating pita chips and re-watching Battlestar Galactica*

The book offers more tendencies and how to identify your own—from things like when you wake up and go to sleep (Owls vs. Larks), to whether you’re able to control your food cravings (Moderators) or you’re better off avoiding temptation completely (Abstainers).

Each idea is framed by Rubin’s own experiences forming new habits, breaking old ones, and inflicting her Type A personality on friends and family members.

Step 2: Be okay with that.

The point is not simply to classify yourself, though. The point is to get a close-up view of the type of person you are–so you can approach forming better daily habits in a way that works for you and will be more likely to stick.

Rubin peppers the book with research citations and other examples that, while less scientific, are at least inspiring. This is another book that makes you think, “Well, why not?” or “What if…?”

She then offers several “pillars” for building stronger habits. These strategies are often rooted in common sense, and more often than not, the need to be honest with yourself replaces the need for iron willpower.

Step 3: Are you enlightened yet?

It’s funny, because I’m not sure if Rubin and I would be friends in real life. She says she doesn’t like music and prefers plain food, and other things that sound, well, pretty boring. But she knows these things about herself, and she is fine with them. She has enough self-knowledge to empower habits that matter to her (like enforced daily “Quitting Time”), and ditch the ones that don’t (like meditation). Seriously, though? Everyone can benefit from meditation.

Her main commandment is “Be Gretchen”. That earned her my grudging admiration (you’re welcome, Gretchen. Surely you were sitting at home, waiting for that).

In some way, it’s almost like permission to “Be Lianna”. It’s a heady feeling for someone already deep in the process of trying to be her best self (still talking about me here). This book is Mindfulness Lite, for people who want to gain more self-knowledge—which makes it especially funny to me that Rubin didn’t see any benefit to meditation.

But far be it from me to call the kettle black. I can’t promise that I’ll stick with my newly re-energized dedication to 10 minutes of daily meditation, or with the  bright yellow blocks of time on my calendar dedicated to twice-weekly yoga. Or that I’ll stop eating sugar. (Hell, I ate half a bag of Hershey kisses while I finished this post.)

But the one  lesson of Better Than Before that stuck in my mind (and was promptly supplemented by this TED Talk) is that once you’ve decided to do something, you’ve decided. You need waste no more time on agony.

I hadn’t thought of my life like that before. It seems like a game-changer. We’ll see what happens.

 

Sharpen Your Focus: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Freelance Life

Remember this post? It was all about ways to treat yourself for less than $10 on Valentine’s Day, with or without a valentine.

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

It’s not Valentine’s Day today, but I’m always looking for small (read: free) ways to appreciate what I have, and improve my quality of life. Aren’t you?

Today is Friday, though, so I’m thinking it’s an extra-appropriate time to go into the weekend mindfully and kindly–considering how you can get the most from your your body, your home, and your freelance life.

(Spoiler: You can be kind to yourself every day. But somehow, kindness doesn’t seem as accessible on a Monday morning.)

Give these ideas a try this weekend, and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget that sometimes, taking five deep breaths is the best gift you can give yourself.

1. Lay out your clothes every night

Let me tell you how often I don’t do this. But when I do, my day starts much more quickly and smoothly.

Especially when you work from home, it can be easy to sit down in your pajamas with a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day/level of alcoholism to which you adhere). Before you know it, it’s 11AM, and you feel, well, kind of gross.

Beat that feeling to the punch, and stop stumbling around in the morning, trying to find clean pants through all that crusty eye makeup.

PRICE: Free.

2. Walk around the block every morning

This is the natural next step after getting dressed in your laid-out clothes every morning. I read somewhere that somebody famous did it. You want to be famous, don’t you?

PRICE: Free.

3. Drink a glass of water before you eat

Are you hungry? Are you sure? How bout you drink some water first?

God, I love food. I try to remember to hydrate before I dig in, though. It’s a great tool to keep from overeating.

PRICE: Free, unless you live in California or sub-Saharan Africa, in which case: Damn, sorry.

4. Change your pillowcases

Studies show you’ll sleep better when the fabric next to your head doesn’t smell like morning breath and face dirt.

Okay, no one’s done a study on that, but you’ll have fewer breakouts if you change your pillowcases at least once a week. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that the smell of laundry detergent helps you fall asleep.

PRICE: Depends on how often you do your laundry. Basically, free.

5. Write down what you’re grateful for

Do this either at night before you go to sleep, or take a few minutes before you start work every day. By noticing the little things, you’ll start to build a naturally grateful outlook–which benefits you, your work, and everyone you know.

PRICE: Priceless.

 

Anything to add? Leave it in the comments!

Winkyface Writing: Everything You Wish Your Parents Knew About Email

Welcome to a new series of writing-related etiquette posts: Winkyface Writing.

What is winkyface? It’s a tone of voice you can use when you want to be polite, but you need to get shit done.

This series will help you combine being polite + getting shit done, with quick-to-implement writing tips for work, play, and whatever you do when you’re not working or playing (please don’t tell me).

Email? Oh, my.
Email is magical. And terrifying.

Part 1
Everything You Wish Your Parents Knew About Email

You can always tell when someone is uncomfortable writing an email. The first paragraph starts with something ridiculous, like “Salutations!” or “Dear Madam,” and the rest devolves from there.

It’s a shame, because email was designed to be so easy, and these fools make it so hard. Never fear: here are some easy tips for better email etiquette.

If your parents, well-meaning but misguided neighbors, or other Olds you care about are writing emails, make sure they read this post. Even if you have to print it out in large type and tape it to their walkers.

Nota bene: These tips aren’t just for the geriatric set. Email etiquette is for everyone. Especially you. Yes, you over there, with the shirt on.

STOP WITH THE ALL-CAPS.

Your Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Re:Fwd: does not become more urgent with the addition of capital letters. If you would not shout in someone’s face, do not scream into their inbox.

Use BCC, because it’s polite.

That extra address field below “To” says “CC,” and it means “Carbon Copy”. As you know, every email address you enter into this field will receive a copy of your email.

Instead of CCing everyone you know on a mass email, or–God forbid–entering every email address into the “To” field, use BCC, or “Blind Carbon Copy”.

BCC hides all of your recipients’ email addresses from each other. By using it, you will avoid sharing your contacts’ email addresses with the world, potentially exposing them to spammers and definitely making them think you’re an idiot.

Schedule emails with Boomerang.

Now you don’t have to risk sending a 4 am email to all of those people whose email addresses you’ve mistakenly placed in the “To” field. Schedule it for 7:30 am instead!

Always enter a relevant subject line.

“No subject” serves no one.

If there is a thread, maintain the thread.

Don’t spam people’s inboxes with multiple emails about the same thing. It’s called a thread for a reason–like a spool of regular ol’ sewing thread, it is continuous, and helps make up a whole something (whether that’s a piece of clothing or a discussion).

Use paragraph breaks.

If you’re not going to abide by the Five Sentences rule, at least break up your endless emails into paragraphs. Max out at three lines per paragraph.

Your emails will be easier for people to skim, and thus easier for them to read, period, if you break up big blocks of text. See what I did there?

Don’t include a giant image in your signature.

It just keeps getting reattached to the email, and then it looks like you’ve sent a lot of really important attachments when in fact, it’s just your dumb company logo.

For more fun email etiquette, check out Charm School.

The 5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an “Idea File”

5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an Idea File

Y’all, we’re all geniuses. We have a lot of great ideas, and if we lose them, THE WORLD LOSES THEM. So we write them down and save them for later–but where do we write them?

In an Idea File, of course. Check out the simplest 5 tools for keeping track of your brainwaves–from smartphone solutions to good ol’ pen and paper.

Just remember: However you choose to catalogue your creative impulses, don’t editorialize, judge, or dismiss them. Just write them down, and look at them later to find the ones that shine.

Gmail task list

This is where I, trained as a ninja in the art of digital task management, excel. Like many of you, I use my main To-Do list to check off items when I complete them (and give myself a boost of glorious can-do motivation).

But I also keep a separate list, creatively titled “Ideas”. It’s a good dumping ground for the times when I’m stuck in my email and don’t want to open anything else. And when I use an idea from the list, I can check it off and get that same boost.

Also, if you’re not using Gmail, what are you even doing with your life?

Evernote

I’ll admit: I was slow to come to Evernote. But now that I use it to keep track of my workouts (hello, Stone Age), I’ve come to appreciate its magical capacity to sync across platforms.

Also, I lost my phone during Mardi Gras, and it took losing all of the ideas in the phone’s Notes app to get me to use Evernote. The world will never know about circle bacon.

Fishbowl with scraps of paper

Sorry, no link. This is the most old-school method ever, and I hear it works really well–from the four people who still use it.

Just kidding. If you’re ever hard-up for inspiration, fishing a scrap of paper out of a bowl (or jar) can be the touch of whimsy you need to see an old idea in a new light.

Index card organizer

I like to think of this method as the more tangible, less fire-and-hurricane-safe version of Evernote. You can organize your ideas by alphabetical order, type, or degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. Then, you can use your cards to create an outline for your sixth-grade history paper!

Pinterest, Polyvore and other virtual bulletin boards

Artists, stylists, and other people who think and work more visually should give Pinterest and Polyvore a try. Though Pinterest does have a lot of crap (you only need so many recipes for “green juice,” after all), it’s easy to make private, curated boards that convey a mood or theme without words.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear what other people do. How do you keep track of your ideas?

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

In honor of the massive February 14 gift-buying bonanza, here are 10 things you can do–whether or not you have a Valentine–to treat yourself.

Honestly, you can try the things on this list whenever you want, Cupid be damned. These are quick, cheap, quality-of-life improvements. You deserve them.

Quick note: With the exception of a couple of low-maintenance suggestions, there’s nothing on this list that you actually have to do. So if you’re looking for stuff like, “Try a new fitness class/hairstyle/hobby!”…well, find another list. We’re lazy around here.

1. Make your bed.

Made bed
Though if you really want to treat yourself, get a bigger bed.

Nothing makes you feel more put-together than a made bed. Do it, and go to work. The workday stress will wipe your memory–and when you get home to a nicely made bed, you can pretend you have a maid!

PRICE: Free

2. Dish gloves.

Dish gloves
Playtex Handsaver Gloves. What are you doing to that poor towel?

For most of us, doing the dishes is a serious drag. A cheap pair of dish gloves makes the whole stupid, terrible, repetitive process easier on your hands and nails. Channel Grandma and slap on a bright yellow pair. Dish gloves also help prolong the joy of the next item.

PRICE: $1.33 from Amazon

3. Nail polish.

Essie Butler Please
Essie’s “Butler Please”. I’m obsessed.

I recently learned to polish my nails (without making it look like I’m a toddler who broke into a salon, that is). It’s such a nice surprise when I catch a glimpse of a bright color on my nails. Why not treat yourself to a fancy new shade?

PRICE: $5.65 from Amazon

4. Wash your feet.

Bare feet
You won’t be able to stop suggestively running your toes over your leg.

Every night before bed. No, you don’t need to spend an hour on ritual ablutions. But you walk around all day, and then you shove your cold, dirty feet into your (hopefully made) bed. Spend five minutes washing your feet with warm water and scented soap. It makes a difference.

PRICE: Free, y’all!

5. Flowers.

Flowers
If you’re really broke, pick ’em from somebody’s front yard.

I can hear you already. “Flowers are expensive!” “Flowers are wasteful!” “Flowers are a tangible manifestation of the botanical bourgeoisie!”

Calm down. A couple of cut flowers brightens up a room like nobody’s business. Often, floral shops will throw out flowers that have been around for a few days, or lower their prices. Nab a small bouquet and enjoy it while it lasts.

PRICE: Try smiling at the florist.

6. Pills  A daily tiny treat.

Pill box
Ezy Dose Weekly Pill Reminder in size Humongous. Now imagine it full of jellybeans. Hurray!

I cannot have chocolate in the house, because I have no self-control. BUT, using one of these old-people-style pillboxes, I can at least try to restrain myself to one small chocolate a day. Think of it as a slightly creepy advent calendar.

PRICE: $5.98 from Amazon

7. Read this.

Charm School
Full disclosure: I wrote it; you’ll like it.

PRICE: $2.99 from the Maven Store.

8. Nice pens.

Micron pens
Micron pens. So sexy and precise.

When was the last time you wrote something and thought, “Holy shit, I want to make out with this pen”? Most people would say that’s never happened. I feel sorry for most people. Grab yourself a Micron or six, and start your lovefest.

PRICE: $9.50 from Amazon

9. Buy a pop song.

Headphones
A song is cheap. Good headphones, not so much.

There’s a reason they’re so catchy (hint: they’re manufactured to be catchy). Spend a buck on the latest noise to take over Top 40. You might find yourself nodding along.

PRICE: $0.99 on iTunes

10. Take 10 deep breaths.

Trees
You are here.

The positive benefits of breathing deeply can’t be overstated–and yet, it’s something we all forget to do. Before you go to bed tonight, take 10 long, slow breaths. Time your exhales and inhales evenly, and remember: You got this. You’re awesome.

PRICE: So incredibly free.

Happy Valentine’s Day! <3 The Maven

Take Back Your Weekend

How to Maximize Downtime Whenever You Get It

Dear copywriting,

You’re a slavedriver, and I love you. But wait–this isn’t that letter.

This letter is about you, my friend, and the last time you enjoyed a stress-free, work-free weekend. Raise your hand if you don’t remember when that was, and then put your hand down because everyone in the coffee shop is staring at you.

Freelancers know the myth of the “weekend” all too well. Clients want work delivered, and they want it now–whether it’s after 5 pm on a weekday or 10 am on a Sunday morning.

Even if you’re not a freelancer, chances are you’ve seen countless weekends disappear, spent in a haze of errand-running, chores, and catch-up work. You wake up Monday morning already depleted, because you never had a chance to relax.

Weekend Definition
Thanks, Google.

Weekends are supposed to be filled with picnics. Bed-lounging. Reading things printed on actual paper.

Mine usually look just like my weekdays–but I have no problem with this, because I’ve set up a three-pronged system for carefully managing my downtime.

…Want to read more? This whole post will be delivered to your inbox tomorrow. Just click here to sign up for the never-spammy, always-awesome English Maven newsletter!

(It also sometimes features cute pictures of my cat, because he’s more popular than I am.)