exactly how do you tell your story?

building your online presence

There are an awful lot of choices out there for getting your message out. What works for one business won’t be right at all for another. So here are a few thoughts you might take to bed with you tonight. See what bubbles to the surface in the morning.

website

There are many ways to build a website. You can do it yourself with some of the drag and drop programs (Wix, Weebly, Webs), you can hire someone to use a standard template (many industries have standard templates…that’s why so many real estate websites look alike), you can hire someone like me to build something that is unique to you. Whichever method you choose, this is probably the most important piece of your online presence. This is where you will send clients to learn who you are and what you do. Think of your website as your office in the ether….you want potential clients to know where your office is, right? And when they get there it needs to look like you.

think of your website as your office in the ether Click To Tweet

Once your website is up, your website will need maintenance. The best way to show up in search engines is to keep content fresh and relevant. Also, traffic builds traffic, so using social media and newsletters to drive traffic will also raise your rank. And to some degree ‘keywords’ matter, so it will be important to use language that your potential clients might use as well as do some back end work to make sure your site is read well by the search engines. But the old days of relying on ‘keywords’ and ‘meta-tags’ stuffed into your pages is past. This is a rapidly changing area as search engines become more and more sophisticated.

When your visitors visit, make sure that you give them an opportunity to sign up for your email list. Email lists are golden! This is how you will stay in touch with your visitors and stay top of mind. If you are in their inbox they will remember your name at that all important moment when they need you.

social media

Are you especially comfortable with Facebook or Instagram? Is SnapChat your thing? Social media is important, but choose outlets that you can relate to. I have no idea how SnapChat works (and my teenagers would be mortified if I started sending selfies out to the world anyway), so that is not something that I use. If you are new to social media, choose one platform and get comfortable there before you add more. And remember there are companies like Buffer that make populating your social media sites so much easier.

Is your business heavily reliant on imagery? If so, use social media that puts images at the forefront (Pinterest, Instagram). Do you have a hilarious sense of humor? Use it in your posts. Do videos tell your story best? All of the social media platforms now take videos so you aren’t limited to YouTube. Even if your business isn’t an image-centric one, find a way to use images. They garner a lot more attention than text alone.

When you set up your social media pages, you’ll need a banner that aligns with your website. Keep your imagery as consistent as possible so that it becomes synonymous with you. And most importantly, use your social media platforms to link back to your website.

newsletter

Newsletters are another way to send traffic to your website. They are also a great way to share your story. But most important, your newsletter is you stepping into your potential client’s office. It is your opportunity to say hello and offer your service.

your newsletter is you stepping into your potential client's office Click To Tweet

Your newsletter can be a simple graphic offering a special deal, it can be photos of your latest project or projects that are in process, it can be stories of a job that you did with a testimonial from a client. If you like to write, newsletters may be your favorite part of this whole online world. If not, you can either hire someone to write for you or keep your newsletters’ focus on imagery or videos.

Depending on the size of your email list, you may be able to get away with a free version of MailChimp (my favorite email marketing service) to get started. There are other companies out there as well and they are all worth a look. This is your most efficient way to reach out to your past, present and future customers. And this is why you’ve been collecting all of those emails.

you can do this

These are all things that you can do yourself. But yes, they do take time and require an interest in wriggling through all of those computer programs that may not be familiar to you. But if I can do it, so can you. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to do all of this yourself, you can call me. As much as I like designing interiors, I also love the world wide web.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

it’s about the process

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I was on vacation last week and spent a lot of time watching ghost crabs. They work very hard digging holes just above the shoreline. If you sit quietly you’ll see that some of them are very neat about their digging….pushing up big claws full of sand and tossing it clear of the hole they are digging. Some of them are not so efficient and drop the sand just outside the hole until it begins to tumble back in. Apparently this is the difference between youth and elder, and even between male and female. In every case, eventually a wave washes in, the hole is covered, and the whole process begins again. Seems like futility is built into the process.

On the topic of process vs. product, many a quote has been written. The brainiest among us usually lean toward process being more important than product. Journey being more important than destination. Ralph Waldo Emerson is attributed with the saying “Life is a journey, not a destination”. I have a favorite twist…”It’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the seatmate.”

Regardless of your take on journeys, destinations and partners, there is a lot of process involved. Surfers paddle for hours to ride waves for a few seconds. Designers spend 5% of our time on big design concepts and 95% of our time on execution. Dinner takes hours to prepare, and my children are excusing themselves within 10 minutes of arriving at the table.

So what’s my point? If it’s not about measuring the value of process over product, journey over destination, or even who is along for the ride, what is it about? It’s about being present for and enjoying the process. No matter what you do for fun or for a living, there is process involved. And parts of the process may seem futile or unnecessary or downright painful. But if 95% of everything is process, then we best find a way to enjoy it. Even the parts we don’t really like. If you have children you might remember when they were young and you spent your days wiping noses, quieting tantrums, changing diapers. Now that they’re teens (okay, speaking personally) it’s a whole new set of issues that fill my journey from morning till night. And I know that one day I will look back on this time with the same sweet melancholy that I do on the toddler years.

My point being, enjoy it while it’s happening.

Find patience when the process seems futile and the sand keeps falling back into the hole. Find comfort in the act of chopping onions even though no one will notice that there are onions in the chili. Find joy in the strength gained by paddling out. Find clarity in the conversations with clients who need help understanding.

It's really all about being in the process, being on the journey, not just napping until you arrive. Click To Tweet

Can I help you on your journey to a better website, a smoother permit process, a fabulous restaurant design?

Keep in touch,
Leslie

 

design a new year

cocktail party

If you’re a freelancer like me, every day is a new start. We are continually beginning again. There is no pipeline feeding us work and inspiration. As a result we are constantly engaged in engaging ourselves, looking for pathways that both inspire as a designer and help to pay the mortgage. Are you looking for something to put the designerly spark back in your step? Maybe a new revenue stream or source of inspiration? You’re a designer….design a new year! Here are three ideas that work:

go to cocktail parties

Seriously. I am not a big fan of the networking events where you stick your hand out and offer a business card. But give me a social occasion and I’m golden. While you’re together mention what you do for a living. Talk about projects you’ve worked on, people you’ve worked with. Designers don’t just work design, we live design. And it’s an exciting world, especially for those who don’t inhabit it.

  • Attend neighborhood socials
  • Go to your kids’ school events, dinners, fundraisers
  • Accept invitations to a friend’s house for dinner, especially if there will be people attending that you haven’t met
  • Throw a party and invite the neighbors

I’ve been re-designing my house since we moved in 17 years ago. And the neighbors have been watching the transformation. They’ve all been over for a party or coffee and have seen what I’ve been up to first hand. So when the realtor next door needed help with drawings and a permit before selling her client’s home, my neighbor called me to see if this was in my wheelhouse. A few months later I’ve now helped not only the realtor next door but others as well. Retro permits are now a whole new revenue stream for me.

learn a new skill

You are undoubtedly great at what you do. And you’ll be great at what you don’t yet do. Learning a new skill will create potential opportunities, and it will ignite pathways in your brain. That excitement is what feeds designers. And if you are a multipotentialite like me, learning new skills is probably how you breathe.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. ~Socrates

So choose something that you don’t know how to do. Look for skills that inspire you, not that will necessarily lead to a specific revenue stream. Find something that engages you and makes you smile. Maybe it’s a new musical instrument or a new technical skill. Be serious about it…take a class, sign up for a series of webinars, buy a book of lessons. Don’t just do it when you have a free moment. Set aside an hour or two every week and put it on your calendar. Make it real.

Last year I worked on web design skills: CSS, HTML, PHP. I wanted to re-build my own website, and being a designer I wanted it done my way. In my case this led to several clients who needed help developing their online presence either via a website, newsletter or both. This year I’m working on Photoshop and SketchUp, two programs that I know and use, but not proficiently. They both feed a creativity that inspires me. Who knows where they will lead?

teach

You know a lot. Because you already know these things, they may seem mundane and uninteresting. They aren’t either. The things you know are interesting to the right audience, in the right environment. And teaching is not only a great way to learn and grow your own knowledge, it is also an opportunity to make an impression. In a room full of people, the name of the person leading the conversation is more likely to be remembered than the other 100 names.

Sit down with pen and paper and make a list of things that you know. Next to that list make a list of who might benefit from each of your pools of knowledge. Then start making contact.

  • Give a talk at a local school

This is excellent practice and carries very little risk. It can be a career day at the local middle school or your college alma mater.

  • Be the expert on a panel or at a business organization’s monthly meeting

Talk to people in another field about your business and what you can do for their business.

  • Be the speaker at your design organization’s event

Talk about the niche you work in, share your methods and your process, create a conversation with your audience. Use the opportunity to share what you know and gain some new knowledge.

  • Share a skill or specific knowledge in a video

Then post it on your website, your facebook page, LinkedIn, your twitter account. Link it at the bottom of your email. Create short bites that potential customers and clients can watch in less than 5 minutes.

Let me know what works for you. Do you have other ideas about how freelancers can keep the spark alive? If so, let me hear them! I hope you’re off to a great 2016…design it your way.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

stop focusing on the pain

picjumbo.com_Antique-Residence (2000x1333)

don’t assume

My client said something remarkable to me yesterday. We were standing at the counter of her building department waiting our turn to speak with the head of building to determine if he would grant her a retro permit. (Retro permits have become a regular part of my business lately, but that’s another story.) She looked at me and said that she was happy to be where she was, doing what she was doing. Who says those words when they are standing where we were standing? Most people would rather be anywhere else!

This lovely woman is at the back end of a difficult divorce, she’s selling the home she raised her son in, she’s dealing with some serious health issues, and she was out in the world taking care of business. Just like regular folk. She felt normal rather than sad or sick or hopeless. Pulling permits was outside of her wheel house, so she had hired me to do the drawings and lead the charge through a process that is unfamiliar to her. So, in her mind, she was able to get out and ‘be normal’ because of me. For her this was a great success.

it’s not about eliminating the pain

If you read most marketing rags, you will come across ‘pain points’ over and over. You will be told to look for pain points in your clients, or potential clients. Figure out your clients’ pain points, offer them a solution to alleviate the pain, and you will gain yourself a client for life. Looking for pain to serve your bottom line seems awfully opportunistic at the least, and draconian at its worst. And a bit off the mark if you ask me.

Rilke said ‘let everything happen to you: beauty and terror’.

You need more than a pain point to serve your clients well. To serve your clients you need a deeper understanding of their needs, an empathic view of the resolution they are looking for. Don’t assume clients necessarily want us to eliminate the pain, or solve the pain, or make it disappear. Sometimes they need us to teach them to deal with the pain, guide them through the pain, or accompany them on their journey.

To serve your clients you need ...an empathic view of the resolution they are looking for.… Click To Tweet

see the need

As we go about the business of making a living, we are also in business to provide something to our community, our world, that is useful. Something that makes lives more easeful perhaps, rather than painless. It wasn’t pain that my client hired me to resolve for her. She hired me to guide her, to help her to achieve success over a hurdle that she didn’t know how to conquer on her own. And in so doing, she felt empowered. Her empowerment has gained me a devoted client, not my ability to pull a permit.

fill the need

In addressing any client, we need to look beyond the pain and understand where they want to be on the other side. Then we can step in and be of service. That is where our story needs to begin.

...we need to look beyond the pain and understand where they want to be on the other side.… Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,
Leslie

design isn’t pretty…sometimes it’s angry

pablo

Every so often I become the angry designer. Especially when I hear things like ‘I know what I want it to look like….I can design it myself’. Or ‘it doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to be good’. One local restaurateur, whose restaurants I no longer frequent, had the incredible lack of class to tell me that all west coast designers are unimaginative and their restaurant designs all look the same. And he and I have never worked together, so I know first hand that he hasn’t experienced ‘all west coast designers’. Beside which what we do is only minimally about what it looks like. Can you hear me growling?

Steve Jobs said it best.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

You don’t need me, or someone like me, to make your restaurant pretty or your website flashy. You don’t need us to use the ‘in’ colors or the latest coolest fonts. You don’t need us to tell you how to be hip and trendy and current.

Design Solves Problems

You need a designer to help you create business solutions so that your business can fly. You need us to have the knowledge to put all of the pieces of your business puzzle together and tell your business story, allowing you to do what you do best: run your amazing business!

Designers know that if you are designing a restaurant you need to consider equipment, acoustics, lighting, style of service, furnishings, ventilation, codes, budget and so much more. We bring expertise in all of these areas and we have relationships with the people who will do much of this work….we don’t just show up at the end and make it pretty!

And designers know that if you are designing a website you need to consider hosts and domains and content management systems and landing pages, CTAs and KPIs and CSS. This knowledge is what we bring. And if we’re talking about a designer who also creates content (like yours truly), we also bring an innate ability to listen and synthesize and build the story of your business. We don’t just make your site flashy!

You don't need me to make it pretty. You need me to make it work. #partinotes Click To Tweet

You Can Do It Yourself

But if you do, understand what you are taking on. Your business needs to work well and look good. So when you are done, and you need to hire a designer to fix what isn’t working, please have the courtesy to treat us with respect. We studied for years before we took our first jobs, and the knowledge that we have amassed to help you build your business was hard won. So next time you are in conversation with a designer, please don’t mention pretty. We are so much more than that.

on authenticity

authentic

Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.

~Brene Brown


are you keepin’ it real?

If the story you’re telling about your business isn’t truly authentic, then it won’t ring true for your potential clients (I know, the bell is a little obvious but it’s a very cool bell). You’ve got to find and tell your honest to goodness business story. In your space, on your website, on your facebook page, with your business cards….wherever your business lives and speaks. If what you have out there is not authentic and is not consistent, be real about that and start the process to fix it. Yes, it will be personal. And it will resonate. Then watch your business grow. Authenticity is your greatest selling point.

Authenticity is your greatest selling point. #partinotes Click To Tweet

Have an authentically awesome weekend!

Keep in touch,
Leslie

 

you are good at things

 

Do what you are good at

My daughter gave me a book by this name. It’s one of those gifts that is kind of a joke, but not really. You are good at things. And those are the things you need to do often and do out loud. Don’t do the other things. For instance, if you are great at grilling steaks, don’t open a sushi restaurant. If you love working with people, don’t become a researcher. If you like to sell real estate, don’t get a job at the amusement park.

Do what you are good at your way

It’s more subtle than these obvious examples though. Most of us choose a job that fulfills us in some way. It’s also important to think about how we do those jobs. What are you particularly good at? Are you a great listener, a persuasive talker, a fearless risk taker? These traits are the things that will help you shape the way you do your job successfully.

What is your way?

When I experienced a recent, (momentary dramatic pause) and tragic, web crash a few weeks ago, I took it as a sign that it was time to start from scratch. My website never really looked or felt like me. It talked about what I do, but not about how I do it. So I bought a new framework and spent a lot of time mulling. I wanted my website to be spiffy, of course, but I also wanted to communicate something about me to you. I wanted to communicate something that would matter to you, because you matter to me. There was a great deal of mulling.

Your clients know

Then I remembered something that Tara Gentile said in a recent online course she taught: ask your clients. So I did. I asked a recent client for a testimonial…..you know, a couple of sentences. She gave me 5 paragraphs! And those 5 paragraphs told me what I needed to know. I shaped my message, my entire website, around her experience of working with me. If you aren’t sure how you are making connections with your clients, ask them. Then build that message into your bigger message. What your clients get from you is exactly what you are selling, whether you are aware of it or not.

Figure out how you are good at what you do and build your business around this knowledge. That is the way to serve your clients.

Join my mailing list to get more tips on how to tell your own unique business story. And I’ll spice it up with some cocktail banter about architecture, design and food.

 

 

proposals are not jobs….chicken counting

 

computer

Someone contacted me last week regarding a project that is a perfect fit for me. So I visited the job site, met the General Manager, spent hours learning about the project and walking the site, and quite honestly made a new friend. By the end of the day we were talking freely and I think getting on famously. He won’t be the final decision maker about which designer is hired for the project, but I’m certain his opinion will be counted. So do you think it’s time to start counting chickens? Maybe not.

After the meeting I went back to my desk and uploaded photographs, organized notes, and began my proposal. I have a standard format that I use, substituting information as necessary to customize it. I finished take 1 then sat back to read email and lo and behold there was an article about writing proposals and why we don’t win projects with our proposals. Thank you Jeff Archibald! Here are a few of Jeff’s thoughts, some of which might have cost me this project had I sent out my first draft (don’t worry….I didn’t send it).

  • The client isn’t a good match: do you have the skills and experience to provide what the client wants?
    • check
  • You didn’t set expectations: during your face to face did you tell the client how you work? What information would be in your proposal? What steps you would follow and why you are a good fit? Did you let the client get to know you as you were getting to know them?
    • check
  • No chemistry or bad chemistry: one of my favorite sayings is ‘never work with someone you wouldn’t share a meal with’. You need to build rapport from the first meeting.
    • check
  • Talk about the budget: it’s part of the project, and one of the most important components to your potential client. If they don’t have one, help them make one.
    • check
  • Don’t forget value: what will you bring to the project? Don’t just tell them what you cost…tell them how that cost translates to value. Will your design bring more customers? Higher prices therefore a better margin?
    • dang….missed this in the first draft
  • Differentiate yourself from your competition: what can you provide that your competitors won’t/can’t/didn’t think of? Why you and not them?
    • missed this one too
  • See the proposal from the client’s perspective: what will they get? How does this benefit them specifically? Be clear about their gain.
    • uh oh…missed that one too
  • Don’t disappear after the proposal goes out: check in once, twice, maybe more. Offer to talk through sticky items or anything unclear.
    • yes, as soon as I finish the re-write and send it out

The biggest change I made in the first draft was to add a cover letter that was personable and responded to those items that are missing in the nuts and bolts of the proposal. My proposals are long and wordy and full of minutae that describe the project. What they lack is me. So I added a heaping bowl of me, since in actuality it is me that will be doing the work and me that needs to get along with them and me that they are entrusting with their project. Seems like a no-brainer now that it’s done, right?

Keep in touch and I’ll let you know what happens,
Leslie