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In pursuit of mastery in the coming year.

In Pursuit of Mastery

Every year for the last several years, I’ve prayed about and chosen a different word as my “theme” for the year. This year, 2018, the theme is Mastery.

One of the reasons for choosing mastery is that this has been something I’ve been working on in some areas in my life.

I’m great at starting things, and not so great at seeing things through.

Most of us have this problem, I think.

In pursuit of mastery in the coming year. New year's resolutions and goals.
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So last year, my theme was on focus — to keep from getting distracted as I started to set up the rebranding of this website and move towards completing some goals I had.

This year, I’m continuing to focus on those goals and continuing to move forward and avoid distraction, while striving towards mastery in a few areas of my life.

I want mastery in my ability to connect and inspire through writing.

I’ve been a writer from the time I could hold a pencil. I’ve taken classes. I’ve studied writing. I’ve practiced writing.

This year, I want to keep moving ahead towards mastery of writing.

I’m pressing towards this goal not to be the best or win a prize, but for my readers.

The more effective I am at writing, the better I’ll be able to help, educate, and inspire you. That’s a goal worth pursuing.

Towards the end of 2017, I finally published my new ebook, Evernote: The Secret to using the Evernote App to Maximize Productivity, Complete Projects, and Organize Your Life. It’s only 99 cents on Kindle.  I also finally finished editing and changing my old book, Shopping and Cooking Frugally. Because I removed the recipes and improved the other content, my editor suggested a change in the title too. So now it’s Grocery Savings Survival Guide: Your 12 Strategic Steps to Easily Saving Big Money at the Grocery Store While Feeding Your Family Well. 

In pursuit of mastery and seeing things through.

I want mastery of my skills as an artist and designer

For nearly as long as I’ve been a writer, I’ve also been an artist.

As a student, teachers pushed me away from the arts because I was “too smart”. Instead, educators pushed me towards other subjects. Eventually, I found my way back to art and design because it’s a passion.

I’ve designed logos, brochures, websites, book layouts, and more. I want to improve. I want to master the skills in these areas. I want to be able to draw in certain styles I’ve always loved but haven’t mastered.

I want to pursue mastery of art and design in 2018.

In pursuit of mastery and seeing things through

I want mastery in reaching out and marketing

For years, in my mind, words like Marketing were dirty words.

I’ve gotten to the point where I have realized creating content and making beautiful designs are only half of Thoughts and Designs. I need to do better sharing what I create and reaching out.

I’ve been taking courses in marketing and business management. I’ve been studying how to be a better freelancer instead of just stumbling along.

Bear with me as I continue this pursuit. 

My goal is to not be overly salesy. I don’t like that. I want to be helpful. I want to be encouraging. I want to inspire. I want to teach. I don’t want to sound like an infomercial.

What goals for mastery do you have in the coming year?

I’m comfortable with writing and art. I’m very uncomfortable with marketing and sales. I want to be as helpful, encouraging, inspiring and informative to as many as I can, so I’m working to learn and master the art of reaching out, while trying to avoid being icky and annoying. 😉

Your turn. What goals and vision do you have for the coming year?

Goals and visions for the coming year?

If you want to find out more about Mastery, check out my Pinterest board dedicated to posts on mastery from around the web. 

How to do Keyword Research: a step by step guide to finding great keywords for your online side hustle

How to Do Keyword Research for Your Online Side Hustle

If you have started an online side hustle, or have been considering starting a side hustle, you’ve probably heard about keyword research. But how do you do keyword research? What does keyword research entail? Here’s my step by step method on how to do keyword research that works for me and my side hustles.

How to do Keyword Research: Start with Your Focus

How to do Keyword Research: a step by step guide to finding great keywords for your online side hustle

At the start of any keyword research project, you’ll need to decide on your focus. What are you trying to accomplish with your online side hustle and website? Who are you talking to? Who is your target audience?

By having focus, when you do keyword research, you will be able to pick out more targeted keywords for your goals and audience. There’s no point in optimizing your content and ranking well for a keyword that doesn’t fit your ultimate website goals and doesn’t attract your target audience.

Been there, done that. I’ve had to revamp my online side hustle through keyword research to be more focused to what the purpose of my side hustle is, and who my target audience is. Focus makes all the difference.

How to do Keyword Research: Brainstorm Keywords & Gather Ideas

Next up, we’re going to gather up some ideas for keyword research. This step can be time-consuming when you do keyword research, so take your time. This bit of work will pay off in the long run.

How do you do keyword research brainstorming? I have a few websites that I like to use:

  • Pinterest (yes, Pinterest)
  • Amazon.com
  • Google

Here’s how I use these websites to start gathering ideas for my keyword research.

Go to Pinterest, for example, and start typing in a general word from your niche. Pinterest (as well as Amazon and Google) will try to autocomplete your words for you with things people are searching for.

So, if you start typing in “coffee”, for example, you will see a list of things like “coffee quotes”, “Coffee mugs”, “French press coffee” etc. Pinterest, will sometimes have little boxes at the top of the search results page with suggested searches to narrow down what you looked for too, which is helpful.

These are all things people are looking for.

Now that doesn’t make them great keywords. There is more to how to do keyword research than just finding words and phrases. This is a good starting point though.

As you look at those suggestions from autocomplete, which ones fit the purpose of your online side hustle and your target audience?

If you are selling coffee supplies, “French press coffee” may be a good idea, but coffee quotes and coffee mugs don’t really fit. This is why focus and target audience are important first steps in how to do keyword research. You have to filter out which keywords fit with what you’re trying to accomplish.

How to do Keyword Research: Generate More Keyword Ideas from Your First List

Next up, you’ll need some more help finding great keywords and phrases, based on the autocomplete suggestions you found on Pinterest, Google, and Amazon. Thankfully, there are a few good services that help with this, all free.

The two services I like to use are Ubersuggest and (pardon the unfortunate name) Keyword Sh*tter. (I wouldn’t share that if it wasn’t helpful, though I try to avoid profanity on this site).

By typing in some of the ideas you’ve already found helpful from autocomplete, these two services can generate far more ideas that are more targeted. In other words, instead of just “French Press Coffee”, they may suggest ideas people are looking for like “Where to buy a french press” and “What is the best french press”, as well as others you may not think of.

Here’s the way I look at it. 

You and I know the niche we’re focused on inside and out. We know the lingo and the “right” terms. Our target audience may not know all of the right words that a professional might use. They just know they are looking for something that will accomplish something. So one of the suggested keywords is “Where to buy a coffee plunger” (coffee snobs everywhere recoil in horror!).

It may offend our coffee snob sensibilities if you’re active in the gourmet coffee niche and selling high end, quality french presses to hear it called a coffee plunger, but if there are 100 searches a month on average for this phrase, and no competition, you can’t lose with it.  Few in the coffee niche are going to call it that but if customers are looking for a French press to buy using this phrase, then use it. Even if you have to hide that page from within regular site navigation. 😉

In particular, if you are selling a product, any long tail keyword (that is, a keyword that is a specific, targeted phrase) like “Where to buy a….” will bring you visitors who are ready to buy or trying to make a buying decision. So, this would be a better phrase to rank for “Where to buy a coffee plunger” instead of ranking well for the more generic “French Press” or “coffee”, which could mean pretty much anything from coffee recipes, coffee jokes, graphics, and so forth. Someone searching “where to buy” is ready to buy.

How to do Keyword Research: Find Which Keywords are most promising

How to do Keyword Research: a step by step guide to finding great keywords for your online side hustle

Finally, in doing keyword research, you need to figure out which of these keywords (and again, that can and should include phrases and not just words, though the name is a little confusing) are the most promising for your website and niche.

This step can also help you, as you consider a business idea, see which niches are likely going to be profitable or a waste of your time.  If something has few searches and way too much competition, it’s an oversaturated field. You’d face an uphill battle.

At this point, I used to always use Google’s Keyword Planner, which is a free service with Google Adwords. I have since switched to a paid service called LongTail Pro which is easier to use and much faster to do my research.

What I do is type in the keywords I like best into this service. From there, I can see how many average monthly searches these keywords get. I also can see what the competition looks like.

Google’s keyword planner ranks competition based on how many people are paying for ads with those keywords in them. So this can be a bit misleading when using the keyword planner to determine keywords and competition.

Services like LongTail Pro take into consideration websites that have pages that rank well for that exact keyword, in addition to the number of people who have ads with that keyword. They also use color coding to show me whether or not the competition is too high for a keyword.

The whole idea behind longtail pro is to give you long tail keywords (that is, very targeted keyword phrases that really narrow down the topic), instead of just generic words. I’ve discovered since using long tail keywords on my different online side hustles, my traffic from organic searches has gone way up, and people stay on the page longer than they used to. This means they found what they were looking for. This is what we want!

How LongTail Pro will Save you time and make you money

How to do Keyword Research: Applying What You Learned

Once you’ve done all of this keyword research, what do you do with it?

The basic rule is to have each of your website’s posts or pages optimized for one keyword. the more specific the keyword (ie, longtail keywords) the better, even if the number of searches is lower. If there is low competition and it’s very specific within your purpose, create content with it.

I use my list of longtail keywords as topics for individual posts or pages I’m creating, to help my target audience with problems they are facing that relate to products and services I offer.

You may have heard of sales funnels. Using longtail keywords can be a great way to get targeted visitors into the start of your sales funnel too.

When it comes to books and ebooks I’ve written and sell on sites like Amazon, I use long tail keywords to title the books and write the description of the books. I also use keyword research to determine if the topic is even worth my time to write the book.

I have several different, smaller websites that serve highly targeted niches. Most of these micro niches are based on keyword research I have done, and include only posts titled with actual long tail keywords. As a result, they all get great, targeted traffic and are quite profitable monetized with affiliate marketing or Google AdSense.

You can learn more about how to do this in this excellent course on Udemy on microniche affiliate marketing.

Why Keyword Research is Important even for Solopreneurs

Why Keyword Research is Important

Starting off with online side hustles in 2004, I didn’t understand most things about running or marketing a business online. I learned most of this stuff on my own. The most important thing I learned is understanding why keyword research is important. I’m going to share some insights I’ve had on the topic with you!

Why Keyword Research is Important: Market Research

Why Keyword Research is Important even for Solopreneurs

The numero uno reason why keyword research is important is market research. With some simple keyword research, you can get a good sense as to whether your business idea is likely to succeed or fail online.

How does Keyword Research do this? Well, good keyword research will help you see if a market is too competitive — like if there are too many people already doing it. Competitiveness doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, but if you are trying to do a true side hustle (ie, in your spare time), something too competitive means more work for you to stand out. I prefer ideas I don’t have to work as hard at.

Keyword Research can also help you see how many people are actually interested in this particular topic or idea you’re having. Keyword research will help you see what your potential customers are searching for.

Let me give you an example. Last summer, dear daughter and I were thinking of starting a t-shirt business with some designs she did. I already sell designs including t-shirts on Zazzle, but she was going to do silk screens and the whole enchilada herself. So a little market research showed that few people are searching for niche t-shirts and yet the market is oversaturated with competitors. So, search engine marketing was already going to be problematic. We shelved the idea for another time.

Why Keyword Research is Important: Using the Right Words and Phrases

Many times, if you’re like me, you probably come up with your own way of saying things with regards to your side hustle. The problem comes up when your target audience is using different words and phrases to look for exactly what you’re offering.

I’ve been doing some changes on my website, one post at a time, after learning more about keyword research and reevaluating every post I’ve written. One reason is to try to figure out how to get more targeted visitors to find the most important content I have. No one was finding it.

I figured out, finally, it was because I was using technical words they didn’t know. They needed the information I had, but they didn’t know the right words to look for it. I had to rephrase the titles and some of the content to make it easier for the people that needed the content to find the content. Suddenly those exact posts have been getting an increase in traffic from organic searches. How exciting!

Why Keyword Research is Important: Finding Topics in Your Niche to Write About

Why Keyword Research is Important even for Solopreneurs

When you create content online, it’s a challenge to figure out what people actually need. What information is my target audience looking for?

Keyword research, especially long tail keyword research, can help with that.

When I use the word Long tail keywords, by the way, that means very targeted, specific keywords (usually a phrase). These long tails usually don’t have as many searches per month as more vague keywords. But, because they are so specific, they are better for you if they are low in competition.

If someone is looking for the keyword, “keyword research”, that is pretty vague and can mean pretty much any aspect of keyword research. On average, 22,000 people per month search for that, and it has medium level competition.

However, if someone is searching “Why Keyword Research is Important”, that is more specific. You will know that there is specific information about keywords someone is looking for. you can target your content for those visitors. Now, only 70 people on average searched for that monthly. Don’t dismiss it though. The competition is non-existent. That means, through this post, I’m probably going to clean up. I’ll get most of the traffic if I can rank for it.

So when I plan my posts for my websites, I do keyword research. I try to find those long tail keywords that maybe have less searches than others, but are more specific and very low competition. Then I make those long tail keywords, at least in part, my post titles, and the topics of my posts. I have an Excel file for each niche website I have for this information.

Is all this work on Keyword Research worth it?

You may be first of all thinking, “That’s a lot of work, Kimberly!”

Yeah, it is.

But you know what? If you are just writing whatever you want to, don’t complain if you don’t get visitors to those posts. It’s okay to write for you, but you can’t write just for you and expect traffic or success that way. Lesson learned the hard way.

Since taking the time to go back and do keyword research, especially on my smaller niche websites, I’ve had a HUGE increase in traffic that sticks around. And this is less work than constantly hawking my wares on social media. 

I have found a tool that cuts the time it takes to do keyword research way down. I highly recommend it. It’s the last tool I use each time I research keywords. It’s called LongTail Pro, and you can get a free trial to see how you like it.

How LongTail Pro will Save you time and make you money

All of this can be done just using the Google Keyword Planning Tool, but it just takes way longer. This is much more user friendly.

Vote as if your ballot determines nothing except the content of your character

Design: What Your Vote Really Shows

I’m excited about a new design I’ve created. This graphic features the words, “Vote as if your ballot determines nothing except the shape of your own character.” A great reminder for us all.

Voting may be our civic duty, but it’s not always easy. Figuring out how to best vote can be a challenge. I like to keep this simple principle in mind. Each vote I cast is a reflection of my character. It’s a sobering thought.

I originally designed this for a friend, who then encouraged me to use it in my Zazzle store.

I have this particular design in a variety of colors based on your political persuasion, but I’m fond of Yellow.

More Designs by Kimberly Eddy

This design is available in other colors in the Thoughts and Designs Zazzle store, and it’s also available on t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, pins, magnets, and tote bags.

I have a growing number of designs I have available on Zazzle. These designs are available on a variety of products including t-shirts, magnets, labels, tote bags, and so forth. You can see all of my designs available on Zazzle over here. 

If you want to learn more about selling your own designs on Zazzle, I wrote more articles here. You can learn more about Zazzle and how it works. You can also learn more about how to make some extra money with Zazzle.

Bumper Sticker Design: Keep Calm and Read to a Child

Bumper Sticker Design: Keep Calm and Read to a Child

Do you read to the kids in your life?

Many of our happiest memories as a family include reading times. As a result, we all have positive memories associated with books.

I am a huge believer in promoting literacy and reading to children. One of my passions is getting kids excited about reading. After all, reading is foundational to all other learning.

I’m proud to say that I raised five readers. Each of my adult kids loves to read. Plus, they’re frequent customers at local used bookstores and libraries.

I consider that a success.

Reading to my children created great memories for our whole family. We loved to gather around and read great books. I believe it’s important to read to your kids. Crucial even.

Read to a Child Bumper Sticker Design

I designed this bumper sticker for a campaign a friend was involved in.

Later the private school that had this campaign some ten years ago allowed me to sell this design in my Zazzle store, so everyone can promote childhood literacy and reading aloud to kids.

This design is available on Bumper stickers and other items at Zazzle.

Custom Designs Available

Finally, if you need any custom designs done, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m here to help.

Read to a Child Bumper Sticker

Read to a Child Bumper Sticker

by ThoughtsandDesigns

More Designs by Kimberly Eddy Available on Zazzle

Additionally, I have other designs available in my Zazzle store too. Zazzle is a print on demand marketplace. It allows designers like me to sell my designs on a variety of products, including t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and more.

You can see my other designs that I sell at Zazzle on this part of my website. With each design, I include what inspired me to create each design. You can find these designs on t-shirts, mugs, stickers, magnets, and so forth.

If you want to make some extra money selling your own designs on Zazzle, I can help. I wrote some posts about getting started selling on Zazzle. 

Avoiding Scams as a new website owner

Avoiding Scams as a New Website Owner

Scam artists irritate me. Nothing worse than someone trying to take advantage of another is there? It makes me sad to think that people fall for these scams and are hurt by them.

6 Tips for avoiding scams as a new website owner

Today I got an official looking letter in the mail. It looked like a bill.

I was immediately reminded of a web design client of mine from back when I was starting out. He called me one day, frantic and angry. I later found out that he also got a letter from one of these scams.

A domain name scam. Here are 6 tips for avoiding scams that target website owners

Sometimes Junk Mail Looks Official

“Why do I have to pay $80? I thought you said all I had to pay for that name thing was $12. Why is it now $80? I don’t have $80. You should have told me!”

His questions and tone confused me. $80? What is he talking about?

It turns out he got some official looking bill in the mail, like this one I just got in the mail myself.

Here’s the thing. When you put yourself out there as a writer, website owner, or even as an organizer of some event, you will get scams targeting you. You can count on it.

Sometimes it even happens without being a business owner. Scams targeted a friend, pretending to be Microsoft. Now she’s completely locked out of her computer because she fell for it.

Don’t Fall For Scams: 6 Tips

How do you avoid scams? Here are a few tips:

When you have a website or otherwise put yourself out there, scams are going to happen. Here's how to avoid scams.

1. Know Who You Deal With

I know that my domain name is through Namecheap.com. Therefore, when a company like iDNS is trying to pretend like I need to pay them a bunch of money for my otherwise cheap domain, I know to ignore it.

By knowing what companies you deal with for different aspects of your business, such as your domain name, your web hosting, and so forth, you can avoid falling for these kinds of scams.

I recommend keeping a list in a safe place. On it, write

  • the name of each company you use
  • what service you use from them
  • how much you pay them and how often
  • when your payment is due
  • your login information

Anytime you are faced with issues like this, refer to your list. If there’s any doubt, contact your actual company to verify your domain is safely registered.

My Domain Names are all Registered securely with Namecheap, and I highly recommend them!
Buying a domain is easy

2. Know How Legit Companies Operate

Listen, friends. Microsoft will never call you to tell you there is a problem with your computer. Scam artists will. Don’t give them access to your computer.

Legitimate companies don’t cold call you to tell you they can get you to the front page of Google. Anyone who deals in SEO knows this is a promise you can’t guarantee for anyone.

Legitimate charities don’t email total strangers out of the clear blue sky begging for donations either. If you do anything at all on your blog or website that demonstrates you’re a person of faith, you may get targeted with this one. I have. No one wants to be hard-hearted, but there are many folks out there that take advantage. If you cannot verify what’s going on, personally, don’t.  You don’t know what that money is going to.

Legit companies aren’t going to pay you money for sharing things on Facebook. Instead, posts that encourage you to like, share, or otherwise react to trigger a certain action are usually doing this to find new targets.

3. Check the URL When Clicking on Any Link

The URL is the website address. If Paypal is actually sending you an email that something is wrong with your account, the link should go to https://www.paypal.com. If it goes to something like http://www.paypalcom.in or something else, you’re not at the actual Paypal, even if it looks the same. It’s ridiculously easy to fake a website.

By filling out the login information, you’d be giving the scammers your login information. Not good.

My second point also applies here. Know how legit companies operate. When a company like your Bank or Paypal email you, they usually address you. They don’t say, “Dear Valued Customer”. If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not an email is actually from them, go to the website directly, without clicking on the link in an email.

Be sure to always report these scams to the company they were impersonating.

4. Know What You’re Paying For

I think many people fall for scams when they don’t understand what they are paying for, and what the scammer is offering. I’ve had many web design clients who have been contacted by companies offering SEO and Marketing Services, as well as Domain services like this one.

If you don’t really understand what SEO is, and someone is trying to convince you that they are the only way to get to the first page of Google, it sounds tempting.

This may not be a scam, per se, but I think their marketing techniques are disingenuous.

If you don’t understand something enough to know what you’re hiring them to do, don’t do it. If you can’t verify a so-called charities claims, don’t.

5. Take Your Time

When someone is scamming you, they are rarely patient. Part of the hard sell sales technique involves rushing you towards a decision without thinking it through.

I know I post often about procrastination and avoiding procrastination. If there is one area where you should procrastinate, it’s here. If someone is calling you or writing to you to get you to do something you don’t fully understand, ask if you can think about it and look into it further before calling back. Usually, their response will be telling. Most scammers do not like this at all.

6. When In Doubt, Ask

When in doubt, ask someone who does understand these things. As a web designer, I have fielded this question from my clients many times. I don’t mind. If I ever seem exasperated, know that it’s because I hate people trying to take advantage of others.

Barring that, look it up. Google will tell you (for free!) all you could ever want to know about SEO. Given that they are the ones who write the rules on SEO, they are a great source. Their web developer tools (also free) are full of helpful things.

Not the elephant nor the donkey but the Lamb of God

Design: Not the Elephant or Donkey, but the Lamb

The question is simple enough. Who do you put your trust in?

Sometimes, as a Christian, I need the reminder that my loyalties are not to a political party or group, but rather to the Lamb of God Himself. This is truer now than ever before.

Lamb of God Bumper Sticker Design

This is actually the thought I had in mind when I created this design.

I used simple icon-type shapes to represent the two major US political parties and the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

The bumper sticker was a hot seller during the 2016 election. No big surprise there.

Just the other day, I was walking in a mall parking lot and saw my bumper sticker on someone’s car. It did my heart good.

How cool is that?

The Lamb of God, not Political Parties

What are you hoping in?

Instead of putting your hope in the Elephant (Republicans) or the Donkey (Democrats), our hope is in the Lamb of God, Jesus.

Not the Elephant or the Donkey, but the Lamb Bumper Sticker

Not the Elephant or the Donkey, but the Lamb Bumper Sticker

by ThoughtsandDesigns

More Zazzle Designs too

I have other designs available on Zazzle too. I share my Zazzle Designs on my website here, where you can see them all in one place. I also write a bit about what inspired the designs.

Interested in selling your own designs on Zazzle? I wrote some posts on making extra money on Zazzle. I explain how it works, and how to get started.

What is Usability and Why Does it Matter?

When I start working with a client in designing a website for them, my job goes beyond just designing a website. A large part of my job as a web designer is also educator.  I educate my clients on usability.  I reign in some of their ideas to keep the site as user-friendly as possible.

What is usability? you might ask.

The bare-bones answer would be a description of just how user-friendly a website is for a first time visitor. This doesn’t just apply to websites. The term “usability” can also apply to software, apps, and other designed items. Anything someone might have to interact with needs to be user-friendly.

Think of Your Visitors in Design

The reason why usability should matter to you is usability matters to your visitors. You want visitors to stay on your site and interact with it.  You don’t want visitors to leave in frustration. Website owners don’t want visitors to go somewhere else for what they are looking for.

Usability means designing and writing your website with your visitors in mind.

What is Usability and Why does it matter?

I addressed this a little bit when discussing taxonomy issues: creating categories and tags. The whole point of categories and tags is not for you to be clever with words. Your taxonomy should guide your visitors to the content they are looking for without having to think too hard about it.

Studies have shown visitors are quick to leave websites they find difficult to read.  Visitors may leave before they find what they came for.  Usability makes it easier for them to find information quickly.

Don’t Try to be too Clever

When I created my first design website way back when (using Macromedia Flash no less), I was super proud of myself.

My design degree was from the Reagan era, so web design wasn’t covered. I took it upon myself to continue my education and broaden my horizons. I liked Flash because it was creative. Like me.

Usability is just how userfriendly your website is for a first time visitor

My first site involved complex user-activated animation programmed with ActionScript. To see any content at all, you had to first wave your cursor over the logo.

(facepalm)

What was I thinking?!?

I’ve moved towards usability and user-friendly design since then. I’ve also moved further away from “ars gratis artis” (art for art’s sake). In doing so, I realize just how fool-hearty such a design was.

I was so proud of myself, you guys. SO PROUD.  I emailed all my friends (we didn’t have Facebook in 2005 just yet). Most of the said, “I don’t get it. I see a line and a logo.” “Hey, I think something’s wrong. There aren’t any words.” “Kim, are you going to actually write stuff on this site or is it just a logo?”

Me, with my art degree and all, was super frustrated that people couldn’t figure it out.

I personally loved sites like this. I loved hovering my mouse over things and watching other things appear. To me, with the way my brain works, I loved websites that were like a puzzle I needed to unlock. Why were people unable to figure it out?

I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was the problem, not my visitors.

It was my dear husband who explained it to me. He said that if he came to a site and he didn’t know what to do next, he’d leave. Period.

For better or for worse, this is how internet users think. Many have no patience for “clever” when using the internet if the design isn’t also clear.

Not All Visitors Update Their Browsers (I know, I couldn’t believe it either)

I designed later editions of my website with my user in mind, or so I thought. A local website visitor told me she enjoyed my articles on my motherhood website, but that she was frustrated with “that big picture at the top”. I had no idea what she meant.

Usability is just how user-friendly a website is for a first time visitor.

Opening her old computer for me, she showed me what she meant. Her computer rendered my website entirely unreadable. I can’t believe she persisted in reading articles on there! The “big picture at the top” was actually the background image. She hadn’t run any updates on her computer in ten years. Her ancient web browser couldn’t read CSS (the language of styling websites since the mid-2000’s). None of the “design” parts of my website were displaying.

My site, on her old computer, looked different compared to my newer computer with a large screen. Lesson learned.

Longtail Pro Keyword Research Tool for better SEO

Since that time, I’ve tried to consider what my site might look like on an old computer. I design options for my websites for anyone who hasn’t updated Internet Explorer in 20 years.

Usability Testing Made Easy

There are whole companies out there that specialize in usability testing. This is great if you have the budget for it, and you want to pursue it. But, there are easier methods for the solopreneur.

Quite simply, make use of your least techy friend. You should hover over them, WITHOUT TELLING THEM WHAT TO DO, and watch them interact with your site. Then, ask for honest feedback.

Bonus points if you can get your mom or grandma to do it. If grandma can navigate your website without getting lost, usability is high.

Fiverr
How to write an ad disclosure for your website

Writing an Ad Disclosure for your Blog or Website

For several years now, the FTC here in the United States has required that bloggers and website owners (basically all content creators) disclose to their audiences when they are being paid for an endorsement on their site or via social media. Thus, we need to have an ad disclosure on our websites if we allow advertisements. You can read my Ad Disclosure here.

How to write an ad disclosure for your blog or website.

I know some have freaked out over this as if it’s a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be.

Longtail Pro Keyword Research Tool for better SEO

My view is that being open and honest with readers is a good thing. I have always mentioned that I was given a free sample of something for a review. It simply felt like the honest thing to do.

Do I Need an Ad Disclosure?

If you have any kinds of affiliate links on your website, you need to disclose to your readers that you will be paid if they purchase what you are recommending.  The FTC has said they will start going after content creators, regardless of the size of their audiences or their affiliate payouts.

You can read in more detail about their requirements from their own website — the best place to get the nitty-gritty details!

Just state the facts when writing your ad disclosure.

My view is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. You are not harmed by having some sort of ad disclosure and being transparent with how you earn money with your blog. If anything, most people appreciate the transparency.

How to Write an Ad Disclosure

So, how do you write an ad disclosure?

I use two methods on my own site. I wrote a generic ad disclosure on my website. In it, I cover all the different ways I monetized this site with ads from Google. I also write about using various affiliate marketing programs.

Then I have a more specific notice which I use at the bottom of any post that contains affiliate marketing links in it, or a review that included me receiving a free copy of the materials.

When this issue first came up, I wondered if I needed to create a disclosure with legal type language. You know the kind that reads like a long, boring terms and conditions declaration. The answer to that is no. I personally think it’s best to use friendly language in your own voice. Simply explain how you use affiliate links on your site.

Don’t make writing your ad and affiliate disclosure complicated. Instead, just state the facts. Write about how you are using affiliate marketing and ads to earn a living from your website.

Want to Learn More about Writing for the Web?

I’ve found many courses on Udemy useful, including this one:

Digital Marketing Copywriting Bootcamp – Web Writing 101Don’t miss out. The future of copywriting is digital. Get the basics of writing for digital marketing here.

Music to Write To: My Summer 2017 Writing Playlist on Spotify

The right music really gets me moving and feeling productive.

When I’m writing or creating other content, I try to not listen to any music with words, or else it makes it harder for me to concentrate on writing.

My darling offspring introduced me to Spotify last year sometimes, and I have fallen in love. Despite being cheap when it comes to extras in life, I’ve also become a proud premium subscriber. I use Spotify mostly when working from home. I’ve also come to listen to Spotify when working at my seasonal job (hand painting Christmas ornaments. Whaat? I know. Best job ever). We even listened to music on Spotify when traveling locally this past fall with my girls.

2017 Summer Writing Music Playlist on Spotify

I recently discovered (being an old fart), that you can create your own playlists on Spotify. I’m not sure why I didn’t know that before. Getting old maybe?

I’ve had a few friends request the link to my writing playlist that I use to help me work without distracting me. I figured I might as well make it public and share with the rest of ya.   You can find out more about staying focused and avoiding distractions here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

My 2017 Writing Music Playlist

So here it is. The Thoughts and Designs 2017 Writing Music Playlist.

This playlist starts off with Milos Karadaglic’s instrumental album, “Blackbird” which contains gentle, classical style covers of Beatles’ songs.

Next up, I have songs from Oliver Davis’ album Flight, which is also instrumental/classical style music. My daughter, Isobel, got me turned onto Oliver Davis. I love the energy in his music. It gets me moving without distracting me.

Followed by a little Mozart then a little Bach. You can’t go wrong with Mozart, can you?

I want to know: What kind of music do you listen to when you’re writing or working on other content? Do you have a playlist you made? Share it with me in the comments!

Happy writing, friends.

How to Maximize your productivity this Summer while having fun and enjoying your kids

Maximize Your WAHM Productivity this Summer While Enjoying Your Kids & Having Fun!

Summer is upon us, friends! I know most of you dread it because it wrecks havoc on your productivity.

The main problems with summer and being a WAHM, from what I can tell, is a combination of a few things:

  1. The Kids don’t have a regular schedule and are home all day long.
  2. By the time you sit down to do some work, you get interrupted five minutes in, just as the brain starts to engage.
  3. The Beach is calling.

Let me let you in on a little secret I’ve discovered that will help with all of those things.

Go to the beach regularly.

Say what?

Okay, let’s get into more details on how this helps.

How to Maximize your productivity this Summer while having fun and enjoying your kids

Don’t Let the Battery Get Too Low

Last year sometime, I bought my very first new-to-me used high-end smartphone (A smartphone that didn’t come from the grocery store! Yea, me!).

I love it. It’s an HTC M9. The only thing I don’t like about this phone is that, as the battery starts to get low, everything starts malfunctioning, and weird stuff happens. So, if I’m trying to do some work on the phone, various apps start crashing, restarting, and just acting weird. They also act funny if I use a power bank after I’ve reached a certain level of “low battery”.

What does this have to do with productivity, wired kids, and the beach?

Everything, my friends.

Could it be that your kids are acting wired and interrupting you because their love tank is running on empty? They want to spend time with you, and there you are, but you’re not available?

I have found that the times when I get interrupted the most and get the least amount of actual work done are those times when I’m trying to work all the time,

  • Well, my phone doesn’t work properly if I try to make it work all the time.
  • My body doesn’t work properly if I try to make it work all the time.
  • My soul and my mind don’t work properly either.

Plan for Spontaneity

I wrote early about having a little grace in your efforts to get more done. True, true.

Let me expound on one of the points I made in that post, about planning for fun.

If you don’t plan for fun stuff, it’s not going to organically happen on the level you probably want it to.

I grew up going to our cabin up north, with a lake in sight, but we didn’t go there as often as I wanted because there was work to be done. There were whole weeks and weekends where there was no beach time…just lawn care, cleaning, dishes, and so forth. There will always be those things, even now.

What there won’t always be is a kid that loves you and wants to spend time with you.

Work needs to be done, of course. Life is not one big party or one big trip to the beach, or whatever.

Your Productivity Prescription: Fresh Air & Fun

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If you plan a regular dose of fun stuff for the summer, the results speak for themselves. You may find that you actually get more done, and enjoy the summer more.

It doesn’t have to be the beach, either.

It can be the Zoo. When my kids were little, we bought an annual family pass for the Zoo. As cheap as I am, that was money well spent. It can be the park. It can be playing in a little pool outside. Water balloon fights. Blowing dandelions.

Whatever. Get outside and do something fun every day to maximize your productivity during the working hours.

Art Nouveau Style Herb and Spice Jar Labels

Art Nouveau Style Herb and Spice Jar Labels

I’ve posted before about some of my herb and spice jar label styles that I’ve created. I have some that you can print off for free on my website, and I have others that can be purchased pre-printed from Zazzle. This saves you some printer ink and the hassle of printing your spice jar labels yourself.

I often grow my own herbs and spices. Herb gardening is one of my hobbies.

What I don’t grow, I buy in bulk from a local bulk food store. To keep my herbs and spices fresher, I remove them from the bags and lightweight containers they’re sold in, and I put my herbs and spices into washed out salsa jars and gravy jars. (I write quite a bit about shopping in bulk in my ebook Grocery Savings Survival Guide).

Recycling is the best, isn’t it?

Sometimes I spray paint the outsides of the lids silver to make them look even better. I’ve also done this with the large pickle jars I keep my pantry items in too.

Of course, I don’t want just a bunch of salsa jars that I have to figure out every time I cook. After a while, it all looks the same.

Well, that’s where these herb and spice jar labels come into play.

I create labels for my jars and put them on each jar. they are both decorative and practical.

Problem solved.

Jugendstil Art Nouveau Style Spice Jar Labels

As for this design, in particular, it was inspired by the Jugendstil design motifs of turn of the century Vienna. I used to live in Vienna and the Jugendstil design vibe makes me feel right at home.

In America and parts of the rest of the world, the word for Jugendstil was actually Art Nouveau.

These attractive square herb and spice jar labels feature a retro art nouveau style decorative frame and the words “dried herbs and spices”. The larger area can be left blank or filled with custom words.

I also have other labels in the same style for other uses in the Kitchen or as Bookplates. You can find them at the Thoughts and Designs Zazzle store, or on this website.

How to make extra cash using pinterest

How to Make Some Extra Cash Using Pinterest

Are you looking for a way to make some extra cash to add to your household income? This is going to blow your mind.

A few months ago, my friend Christina Root (of Youthful Homemaker) created an e-course for how to make some extra money using Pinterest.

How to make some extra cash using Pinterest

I was intrigued for a few reasons:

  1. Most of my traffic came from Pinterest, from two pins in particular. I wanted to figure out how to increase this. Maybe I could make some extra cash too?
  2. I couldn’t figure out how to use Pinterest as anything other than a pretty version of my Amazon Wish List
  3. Pinterest has always been, for me, a bigger time suck than Facebook. It would be could if I could be making some extra cash while wasting time. 🙂
  4. I had been following her journey out of debt and excited to see the progress she was making….on Pinterest!? Tell me more!

I signed up for the “Pin Your Way to Success” course and was blown away by how much I learned.

You can read more about how Christiana went from broke to living off of her income with Pinterest over here in a blog post she wrote.

Who Would Benefit from “Pin Your Way to Success”? 

How to make extra cash using pinterest

So who is this course for?

  • If you have been wondering how to optimize your Pinterest profile and pins to help with your blog, website, or business.
  • If you don’t have a website or blog, but want to earn some extra money using Pinterest (and other social media) for affiliate marketing
  • If you are hoping to earn a side income without a large investment of time or money
  • It doesn’t matter how many Pinterest Followers you have.  I started with 194 followers. I jumped only to 209 followers, but I still have increased in other areas, as I’ll explain below.

The information was pretty basic about how to best set up your Pinterest profile, or how to optimize an existing one. I learned about features I didn’t even know existed!

My Results after One Month

In the month after I enacted what Christina taught me, the results have been impressive.

Actually, disclaimer, I didn’t even do half of what she suggested, as I didn’t get to it, or it didn’t fit with my own goals and mission (eg, some of the affiliate programs were not a good fit for me). I just took what I learned about using Pinterest in reference to Affiliate programs, and applied it to my Zazzle products and my blog posts.

So, if you have a pre-existing business you want to promote better on Pinterest, the information in this course can also be applied to that. Primarily Christina talks about using Pinterest with the affiliate program she uses to earn a handsome sum each month.

I jumped by only 15 followers (still under 500 followers). However,

  • my average monthly views are 26,000 (up 141%).
  • my average daily impressions of pins from my own website have gone up 167%
  • my Zazzle income increased 500%
  • my Ad revenue on my blog increased around 140%

The coolest part? I spent about half as much time working on my business as before, but not only got more done in terms of content creation but had a larger reach and I was able to make some extra cash. Why? The lessons learned in “Pin Your Way to Success”.

Learning to be More Intentional and Strategic with Pinterest

It goes back to working smarter, not harder.

Learning how to be more strategic with what I’m sharing  – not manipulative or “salesy”, but keeping my shares “on topic” for my brand, useful to my target audience, and, where appropriate, sharing my own resources and the affiliate links to products I find useful.

I already wrote earlier about using apps to streamline and automate my social media shares in my efforts to work smarter and not harder. Some of this I learned through “Pin Your Way to Success”. Some of it I already knew but hadn’t yet enacted. Learning what I did in Christina’s course really brought all of these little ideas together for me.

More importantly, I learned how to get my Pinterest profile to be more focused for my audience (you guys!), sharing pins that would be helpful to my audience instead of just whatever flights of fancy I was having, and the end result, after just a month, is delightful.

I’m hoping it’s both more helpful to all of you while it’s helping me to meet some goals. Pretty exciting.

Are Ya Ready to Make Some Extra Cash too?

So, get ready to learn more about how to get started using Pinterest more strategically too! Find out more about “Pin Your Way to Success” here.

 

How to figure out your target audience

How to Figure Out Who Your Audience is, and What They Need

I’m convinced that the secret to home business (or any business) success is to first and foremost, figure out who your audience is, and what they need.

Why is this?

Once you know who your target audience is, you can

  • better tailor your content to that audience
  • develop products and services that meet the needs of your audience
  • customize your marketing messages to your audience where they’re at

This goes hand in hand with figuring out what your niche is and what the purpose of your business is.

Normally, people think that by marketing to “everyone” they have a greater chance of success when actually the opposite is true.

So how do you figure out who your audience is?

How to figure out your target audience

1 – Know your Mission and Yourself

To figure out who your audience is, you need to first know why your blog, website, or business exists. What is it’s mission? What is it there to do?

(Don’t say, “to make me money.” That may be why you even considered starting this, but that isn’t the mission of your business venture…it’s ideally the result of fulfilling the mission).

In your mind, as you fulfill your mission, who are you serving? Who is helped by what you’re offering?

This is the start of your target audience.

2 – Figure Out Their Motivations and Needs

In thinking of the people you’re serving, start to consider what motivates them.

  • What do they need most?
  • What challenges in life are they facing that your organization can help solve?
  • What knowledge do you have that they need?
  • What skills do you have that can help them?

The answers to these questions can help you develop not only better content for your audience, but also future services and products. This may also help you figure out why some products just aren’t performing well, or which content and products to consider ditching.

3 – Do These Things Fit Together?

The hardest part, at least for me, is figuring out whether or not these things — my mission, my products, my content, my target audience, their needs, their motivations — all fit together.

And if they don’t, what needs to change?

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For example, you can’t market high-end fashion advice and products (including affiliate products) if your mission is encouraging contentment and your target audience are moms trying to learn how to be more frugal. One of these things does not fit. If you’re going to market high-end fashion, your target audience needs to change. And if you’re writing about contentment, while promoting high-end fashion advice and products to an audience that loves high-end stuff, they are going to stop reading. People who love luxuries don’t want to hear sermons on minimalism and contentment.

Recently, one of the pages I’ve “liked” and follow on Facebook shared some pretty good content that was not in line with their brand or mission. I didn’t mind so much as I found the two posts they shared interesting, though I did find it curious that they did this.

The other commenters under the post were far less forgiving, demanding to know why they were posting “irrelevant” stuff. Ouch.

Once you determine your audience and your mission/content niche, try to stick as much to the topic as is possible.

have a little grace finding balance in your quest for productivity

Have a Little Grace ~ Finding Balance in your Quest for Productivity

Guess what I’ve learned over the course of 47 years on this earth?

There’s no such thing as a perfect schedule or someone who is able to stay on task perfectly throughout each day.

When it comes to stretching ourselves to be more productive it’s important not to undo any strides we make by beating ourselves up for our failures in productivity and maximum time management organization.

In other words, Have a little grace.

Here are a few things that help me keep my quest for productivity in harmony with a happy relationship-driven life.

Have a Little Grace: Finding Balance in your quest for productivity

Work Within Your Natural Body Clock

Not everyone is geared towards early rising and instant productivity before the rooster crows.

I’m not. 

I am the furthest thing you’ll ever find from a morning person.

You know what? This is okay. I have made peace with it. I’m good at admitting I don’t like waking up and if I do wake early, I generally don’t get more done than I would be waking up later (and rested).

Part of having grace in your quest for productivity is figuring out what works best for you, not some time management guru.

Figure out Priorities

Another thing I’ve figured out is that we, quite simply, can’t do it all.

If I were to accomplish everything that goes through my head to do, I’d never sleep, and I probably wouldn’t get it all done anyway.

Sometimes, taking a step back and figuring out what is really important at the moment, versus what is not quite as high on the list of priorities will help you shake off some of the guilt from not “getting it all done”.

Not everything is important. Not everything should be important to you. Work on what is most important right now.

I set up my Evernote notetaking app’s notebooks according to my priorities so that notes about things that aren’t important at the moment don’t distract me. I also have used a personal mission statement and long term goals to help me keep my focus on what is really important to me.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

As I wrote recently, another way to be kind to yourself and not waste time on important but tedious tasks is to automate them. In particular, I wrote recently that I automate some of my social media sharing tasks to keep driving traffic to my website even when I’m away from my computer or busy with other things.

Apps like Tailwind (for scheduling my Pinterest pins once a month for up to 400 pins) and Social Jukebox (for setting up randomized, continuous interval sharing on Social Media sites like Twitter) both have cut my time sitting in the chair down to a minimum while increasing my traffic and my royalties on my Zazzle store.

In fact, if you’d like to try a free trial of Tailwind, you will also get a free month of Plus by using my link here. You can also get a free trial for Social Jukebox to see how that works for you. I guarantee you, if you’re trying to drive more traffic but don’t want to spend all your time on social media, this will be a huge blessing to you. Try it. Let me know what you think.

Plan for Fun

It’s important to plan fun diversions from time to time, especially if you have young children. Get out, get away from the computer or desk, and get some fresh air.

Last Summer, my girls and I did something I have been meaning to do for years but never got around to. For years, since they were little, I have meant to take them on a road trip around the shoreline of the Thumb of Michigan — Highway M-25. If you’re not a local, you may not know this. Michigan has some breathtaking shorelines. I lived within an hour from them but never got there.

Realizing my youngest was going to graduate this coming year, and time is shorter than ever, I realized that we needed to Just Do It. Pick a day and go.

We woke up early, phones and power banks charged. Google Maps loaded up with places to find along the way. Gas cards loaded with money.

It’s been nearly a year, and I still get a little energized off of the memory of our daycation.

I had a thousand and one things to do before the busy season at my part-time, seasonal job, but having a day of non-productivity was great for my overall productivity.

Work Smarter, not Harder. How to easily keep traffic coming to your website

How to Easily Keep Website Traffic Coming Your Way

There are only so many hours in a day. No work from home mom wants to spend the bulk of those hours chasing website traffic.

For most of us, the problem isn’t laziness or not working harder.

Work Smarter Not Harder

Work Smarter, not Harder. How to easily keep traffic coming to your website

Hard work wasn’t as much of an issue in my life until two of my kids were in a car accident and a few other unavoidable temporary situations left me running around more than I’d prefer. It’s hard to keep consistency with your side hustle when you have no consistency in your schedule from week to week. After all, consistency seems to be one major key to more website traffic.

In the last few months, I’ve discovered some of neat ways to keep website traffic coming my way, even while I’m busy with the other demands of life. I needed to figure out a way to work in one large batch but share my content across different social media platforms incrementally.

The old way, for me, was to try to hold to a tight schedule of sharing things on social media at regular intervals. Yeah, that only works as long as you personally can find the mojo to do it.

My Website Traffic Secret Weapons

So what is this easier way to get social media traffic to your blog?

I have four secret weapons for social media website traffic that I want to talk to you about.

Tailwind

The first is Tailwind, which allows me to schedule several weeks worth of Pinterest pins to various boards. The bulk of my website’s traffic comes from Pinterest, so one of my goals this year was to figure out a way to maximize Pinterest for business without having to spend hours on Pinterest.

If you’re like me, you probably get distracted on Pinterest easily. That’s not a bad thing. Loads of good information on there!

The problem is when you’re trying to stay on task and — oh look at this recipe!

Thankfully Tailwind helps avoid that, at least while you’re scheduling pins.

I started off with a free Tailwind trial, followed by one month free thanks to a referral from a friend. Well, it only took a few weeks before I saw a huge jump in my website traffic and I felt like I had not done nearly as much marketing.

If you want to learn more about Tailwind and how it works, a friend of mine teaches people how to use Tailwind. I found her lessons helpful to get you started with Tailwind. This may help clear up the confusion. I know I needed a little coaching myself. 🙂

Hurray for results with less work, right?

Work Smarter, not Harder. How to easily keep traffic coming to your website

Social Jukebox

My second most useful social media account was actually Twitter. I didn’t use Twitter much, but I did periodically share when I had created something on Zazzle or had a really special blog post. Sometimes I would go on Twitter and just keep up with what was going on in the world, but I wasn’t exactly a power user.

Still, according to Google Analytics, most of my traffic that converted into sales came from Twitter. It seemed like I needed to figure out how to use Twitter better.

As with Pinterest, because Twitter also sent quite a bit of traffic my way, I wanted to maximize that without spending all day on Twitter.

Enter Social Jukebox.  

How does it work? Social Jukebox works very simply.

Start by setting up a “jukebox” of sorts with tweets (or other posts if you’re using different social media in Social Jukebox).  Think of your Jukebox as a kind of playlist full of tweets and posts that “play” on rotation, at intervals you set.

Unlike Tailwind, which posts once, then needs to be reloaded with scheduled posts for Pinterest, Social Jukebox will play over and over again until the end of time.

So I could set up a "jukebox" of about 100 tweets in Social Jukebox, highlighting content, posting useful quotes from my content, sharing useful tools, and so forth, and once turned on, this Jukebox just plays over and over again, sending out five random tweets a day from my scheduled tweets in the Jukebox.

If you'd like to try it out, just click the link for a free trial. See if it helps bring you more traffic with less work.

Social Jukebox - Start Free Trial

Nelio Content WordPress Plugin

I recently started using the WordPress Plugin called Nelio Content, which allows me to schedule sharing my blog posts on my social media platforms. I love it!

The free version only publishes your content "today" or "on the publishing date". The paid version lets you schedule your content to be shared on the publishing date, the following day, the following week, the following month, and then on some other date of your choosing. Very handy.

I especially love the way my shares and content appear in a calendar, so I can see how "covered" I am as far as content is concerned. By publishing content regularly and sharing it, I've increased page views, and I have been able to help more people.

Buffer

Another social media sharing service that is a freemium service is Buffer. Buffer allows you to share scheduled posts to your different social media platforms. I have been a happy user for nearly a year. Buffer works with Nelio Content too!

 

The Flexibility of Working from Home

The Flexibility of Working from Home

Of all of the benefits of running a home-based business side hustle, I think the flexible schedule is what I love the best.

Sometimes when I talk to moms who are thinking of working from home or working some kind of side hustle for a little extra money, they get hung up on The Schedule.

Let me tell you something very freeing.

The Flexibility of Working from Home

Ya listening?

The Schedule is whatever you need it to be. 

I am not sure why, but many of my entrepreneurial minded sisters (and brothers), when writing posts and books about home business success, usually bring up the bane of my existence: waking up early to get a jump on the day.

Hey, if you’re feeling more alive at 7 am than at 7 pm, go for it.  Wake up early. Work at whatever hour you are most productive.

I’m not feeling too alive at 7 am. I’m usually either sleeping soundly or hitting the snooze at that hour.

When you work from home, completing the tasks that don’t require appointments or phone calls, you can do your work at any hour you feel most comfortable with.

Flexibility. It’s a beautiful thing.

You can also work in your jammies. I do sometimes.

Either that or jeans and a t-shirt. I have jeans on at the moment but it’s only because I’m awaiting repair people. It’s good to have pants on when repair people come to your door.

The Flexibility of Working from Home

 

 

 

How to cure procrastination and build better habits

How to Cure Procrastination and Build Better Habits

I have a serious problem sometimes. Maybe I should say “Had” a serious problem. Although to be honest, it still crops up from time to time.

Steven Pressfield in War of Art would call it “Resistance”. Maybe Gretchen Rubin would call it a bad habit.

It’s procrastination, my friends.  Mixed, to be honest, with self-loathing, insecurity, and feeling like I’m not “enough”.

I get asked about this quite a bit, and I’ve wrestled with overcoming it to the point where I feel like I can write about it some more.

The Biggest Helps in Fighting Procrastination.

I feel like I need to put first things first and give credit where credit is due. I had help in overcoming my bad procrastination and insecurity habits.

I have to give credit to a few books and those who recommended them.

My friend Sandi who went from dirt poor to living comfortably was always talking about Pressfield’s book The War of Art. I have to admit. It took me two years to get through this book, not because it was a drudgery (it’s actually a very easy read) but because it was so darn convicting. I was hit with this overwhelming sense of, “Oh my goodness is this guy reading my mind or what?” It’s been on the front page of my Kindle reading list since 2013. I re-read it from time to time when I need a swift kick in the seat of my pants.

Pressfield refers to procrastination, insecurities, and anything that holds us back as “resistance”. Since reading it, I’ve come to realize where resistance lurks, and how to overcome it.

Then my friend Teresa handed me a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before. Given that her previous book was called The Happiness Project, I sort of rolled my eyes and decided to only pretend like I read it. I mean, can you say, cheesy?

As it turns out, both Better than Before and The Happiness Project are great reads, the cheesy title of the latter aside.

Of the two, I prefer Better than Before as I’m more of a nuts and bolts sort of person.  She offers some great insights and helps in getting started forming better habits to help you in life, in a very realistic way.

If possible I strongly recommend getting either or both of these books. They’re worth it.

Understanding Procrastination

From the start, I didn’t fully understand procrastination.

How to cure procrastination and build better habits

I actually viewed procrastination for a long time as a sort of character flaw or moral failing on my end. I was forever trying to improve myself, do better, try harder, etc. Maybe this natural, innate drive that has been in me since childhood is what caused me to fall headlong into a legalistic counterfeit of Christianity for so long (as opposed to simply walking with Jesus and trusting in Him).

As it turns out, I started realizing, thanks to both of the books I mentioned above, that much of the struggle I have always had with procrastination (followed by beating myself up) came from not fully believing in my own abilities and talents.

I suppose people can go to the other extreme. I was raised by one parent who is a manipulative narcissist, so I always felt on some level like the two choices were between being a crazy narcissist who thought their septic tank smelled like roses, or not believing anything I did was of any merit or value. There is a middle ground, you know.

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I suppose it’s best summed up by Christian singer Keith Green…

Just give Him your best

Pray that it’s Blessed

Jesus Takes care of the Rest.

 Ignoring the Dissenting Voices

Do you want to know what will let the wind out of your sails sooner than you can get this boat out of the harbor?

Listening to critics.

For reasons unknown, I was always taught and lead to believe that the BEST way to learn and grow is to listen to those who criticize you instead of only listening to those who are on your team.

There is some truth to that. Just sitting around with a harem of sycophants and adorers isn’t going to help either if what you’re doing is terrible work.

What I’m talking about, however, is ignoring those dissenting voices that don’t matter. If you’re doing what you are meant to do, and are called to do, and you have an audience that needs your skills and message, press on and ignore them.

In other posts, with reference to writing for the web and starting up a side hustle, I’ve written about figuring out who your audience (or target market) is, and directing what you do to them.

Negative Comments and Reviews

That advice came out of me learning this lesson. It’s not just about marketing. It’s also about growing as a person and learning which critics matter and which to ignore.

Nearly ten years ago now, I wrote a book on frugal grocery shopping, and I had very good reviews on Amazon for the most part. 4 stars on average. Yeah, me!

However, it was those handfuls of negative reviews that got me down. It took Sandi giving me a copy of War of Art, and some other tough love to help me realize that those voices didn’t matter. If these grouchy people thought my money saving tips were too extreme or too crazy, then they obviously weren’t broke enough to need this book. They could go read one of the books about paying off $10,000 worth of debt in 10 weeks, and I could continue to write to people who didn’t even make $10,000 in 10 weeks.

Negative “Friends” and Relations

It wasn’t just reviewers though. There are those in our lives who somehow demean or discourage unintentionally,

  • Oh, that’s cute. You have a blog? What about a J-O-B?
  • If you were that good, you’d have a real publisher publishing your books
  • Stop listening to your friends telling you how good your little pictures are. They are only encouraging you so they can laugh behind your back.
  • You really think people are going to pay for your drawings? Maybe you should spend less time doodling and more time cleaning your house.

You know what? Even if you’re related to someone who doesn’t value you or the skills you have, it doesn’t mean you have to listen to stuff like that. I wish I had learned that less 40 years ago. Some people are just miserable and upset they didn’t have the courage to use their talents or follow their dreams.

Do the Next Thing

I really believe that getting your head right, especially if you grew up with negative voices in your brain or for whatever other reason have an inferiority complex, is crucial. It’s not something that can be covered in one blog post. Counselors and therapists can help, as can good books that encourage (see above).

The other thing that helps is to stop with the endless planning (which Pressfield again identifies as “resistance”) and just do the next thing. And then keep doing it. One foot in front of the other. Pressing on.

Experts agree that it takes 21 days to form a habit. 

While trying to form a habit, I try to ignore anything that will distract me from it:

  • Exciting offers
  • Opportunities to get involved in….
  • What Google Analytics, Pinterest Analytics, other Analytics, and my Klout Score says
  • How many people just unliked my Facebook page
  • Any reviews of my ebooks
  • My financial situation (as much as possible….you don’t want to bounce checks…)

And I just press on….

For additional information, this course over at Udemy is very helpful:

Procrastination – 7 Hacks to beat it!

Motherhood. Fueled by Love. Sustained by Coffee

Motherhood: Fueled by Love, Sustained by Coffee

Mothering our kiddos is a tough job, as any mom knows. Love may fuel us, but it’s the coffee that keeps us going most days when we’re too tired to think. Share the love and laughs of motherhood with one of the moms in your life with this coffee mug that reads: Motherhood. Fueled by Love, sustained by coffee. In black and white. This design is available on other products in the thoughts and designs store. Also check out my collection of gifts for mom for more designs like this one, for the mommies in your life.

Love may fuel us, but it’s the coffee that keeps us going most days when we’re too tired to think. That’s what this design I created for products in my Zazzle store is all about.

Share the love and laughs of motherhood with one of the moms in your life with this coffee mug that reads: Motherhood. Fueled by Love, sustained by coffee. In black and white. This design is available on other products in the thoughts and designs store.

Also check out my collection of gifts for mom for more designs like this one, for the mommies in your life.

Motherhood. Fueled by Love. Sustained by Coffee

Starry Sky Theme Personalized Graduation Products

Starry Sky Personalized Graduation Collection

Celebrate your graduate with these personalized graduation products for your graduation party.

These products, available in the Thoughts and Designs Zazzle Store, are designed with a starry sky theme, perfect for any graduate who is passionate about science, astronomy, or just loves nature. The cups can be personalized with the graduate’s name and class year. This design goes with a few other designs I have in the same Starry Sky theme, that includes graduation invitations, paper plates, and more.

Starry Sky Theme Personalized Graduation Products

Motherhood is an Extreme Sport

Motherhood is an Extreme Sport

I created this design, which you can find on products in my Thoughts & Designs Zazzle Store, based on something a friend used to say to me.

I felt so completely out of my element doing the mom thing, and she looked right at me and said,

It’s not for the faint of heart. Motherhood is an extreme sport.

You know what? It’s true!

Do you know a mom who is having some struggles in her motherhood life? One of these T-shirts may just put a smile on her face.

The “Motherhood is an Extreme Sport” design is also available on grocery bags (as seen below), tote bags, pins, and bumper stickers.

Gifts for mom: Motherhood is an extreme sport

5 Essential Tips to Using Type Effectively for Bloggers & WAHMs

As a designer, I have a passion for, and a love of Typography and Fonts. I have quite a font addiction, in fact. Using type is a passion of mine.

Over the years, learning more and more about the effective use of fonts in design, I’ve learned to temper this enthusiasm to selecting and using fonts in a wiser way, so that my font choices don’t distract from the message I’m writing.

Even if you are not a designer, in this modern age you probably are faced with font choices and some basic design tasks, especially as work from home moms or other small business owners.

5 Tips for Better Design when Using Type

If I had to bottom line using fonts effectively, these would be the most basic tips I’d offer you.  These are things I wish I learned in art and design school, frankly. I’ve also found books like “Typography Essentials” to be helpful to me in learning how to better use type in designs and content creation.

1. Make It Readable

The most important part of any font choices is to make what you’re typing with the fonts readable. This may sound obvious, but it really isn’t, judging from some of the examples you can find online.

There are many beautiful and unique fonts out there available to you. I love getting many of my fonts from www.google.com/fonts/. With that said, just because I think a font is pretty is no reason to use it in my current project.

Your readers or social media followers need to be able to read and absorb what you’ve written at a glance. In this day, no one likes to work too hard to read information anymore.

2. When Using Type, Let it Breathe

There are times in design when bunching up letters makes a great design option. For the most part, unless you really know what you’re doing, it’s better to let your design breathe. One thing I do remember from college with regards to typography is this: amateur designers fill up every bit of space. Professionals recognize leaving white space is more effective.

This principle of letting type breathe includes:

  1. Tracking — the space between letters
  2. Leading — the space between lines of type
  3. Margins and Padding — the space around objects and blocks of type

Leave some space around the different parts of your design for easier reading.

5 Essential Tips for Using Type Effectively for bloggers and WAHMs

3. Consistent Communication in the Font as well as the Words

Your font choice should also reflect the message you’re trying to send. You need your message and your business to be taken seriously by potential customers. If you have, for example, a legal services company and you use a font like Comic Sans, you’re shooting yourself in the foot with your font choice if you use that on any social media or your website. It simply doesn’t work with the message.

Much of this is subjective, and sometimes if we really love a font we have a difficult time seeing this for ourselves. If you’re unsure, ask someone else to look at what you’ve made, and consider if your typography is distracting from your message or enhancing it.

A more whimsical sort of business or blog has more flexibility to it, but this still doesn’t mean you should go hog wild with some crazy font choice. Use the “fun” fonts sparingly.

4. Make the Information Hierarchy (how you lay out the information) Obvious

The book “Letting Go of the Words” was a game changer for me, as far as online content creation goes. In fact, I think anyone who has a website needs to read that book and have it on their bookshelf. It’s that valuable.

One of the most important principles in Letting Go of the Words is the very important idea of information hierarchy. On each page of your website, or within any design you create, you need to make it obvious through design choices and font sizes which bits of information are most important, and which are least important, on down the line.

If everything in a design is all the same size and same style, you hit your audience with a wall of words that all looks the same. Studies have shown that they don’t know what to do next. Make what is important obvious at first glance.

Understanding that, sadly, in this day and age people tend to skim and hope something grabs their attention instead of carefully reading each piece of information that comes their way is crucial to us a work from home moms. In our side hustle, in order to stand out, what we share on social media and the content we create on blogs or websites needs to be crystal clear at first glance.

A visitor needs to grasp, at first glance, what this is about and whether or not it will be helpful to them. We achieve this through better typography and content hierarchy.

5. Avoid Eye Strain for Your Readers

Reading on a screen is different than reading paper. Reading content on a screen can make a reader’s eyes hurt quicker, also known as “eye strain”.

Our font choices can help lessen the effects of eye strain on our blog visitors.

Generally, when reading on a screen, sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Verdana, or Open Sans are easier on the eyes. A Serif is a tiny tail on the ends of different fonts, such as Times New Romans or Georgia.

Serif fonts and any decorative font may work okay in moderation in headlines, but for body text, it’s preferred that you use something that is sans serif.

When creating eye-catching images in social media, try to stick with something that is bolder and plainer than normal so as to not only grab attention but to communicate clearly with your viewers.

Also, be mindful of the colors you choose. Warmer colors (reds, oranges, yellows) may grab attention faster (thus work well in ads or on warning signs) but they tend to strain the eyes when used in body text. Stick with something more neutral for body text within paragraphs. Use good contrast in any design you do, so that words stand out rather than blend into the background (usually…again, there are design exceptions).

Also, when creating a website or blog theme, if you are able to, try to not lock in a certain font size. Most responsive web design now uses relative font sizing (em’s) which also allows browser settings to increase the font size if a reader sets it to do so. Many people with eye problems set up such settings to be able to read online more easily. When a designer or blogger sets up a site to keep the font size locked in, they are turning away potential readers.

Resources that Will Help You Learn More about Using Type

There’s a couple of courses you may want to look into over at Udemy to give you more detail, if you’r interested in really improving your designs (without becoming a designer or hiring a designer).

Easy Typography Tips to Beautify and Strengthen Your Work

I’ve found this course to be very helpful to newbies on the topic of using typography in basic design and layout. This course gives a very easy to understand overview of using type for different things, as well as adding color.

Easy Typography Tips to Beautify and Strengthen Your Work

Build confidence, save money, and create beautiful content for your work needs from simple explanations of typography.

Canva For Entrepreneurs: 11 projects!

This other course may also be helpful to you if you want to learn to use Canva (a freemium program for creating graphics) in your business. This is a great hands-on course for entrepreneurs to get you designing your own artwork.

Canva Graphics Design for Entrepreneurs – Design 11 Projects

Learn Canva from scratch. Create 11 graphic design projects with Canva specifically for entrepreneurs.

must read books for new bloggers and website owners

Must Read Books (and courses!) for New Bloggers & Website Owners

Susanne recently asked me,

Do you know of any good books to read about blogging or writing up my website for our business? We are getting ready to take our furniture business online. I feel ask though I have so much to say but I don’t know how to say it. Thanks.

There are two books in particular that I consider to be “must reads” for new bloggers or website owners, particularly in terms of getting started and writing. If you’re more of a “learn via video” sort of person, I also have some highly recommended courses at the bottom.

But first, the books.

These books are

Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Radich and Don’t Make me Think by Steve Krug

If you ask pretty much anyone, they will tell you the same thing: these books are essential resources for anyone writing for the web.

Why are These Books so Good?

I suppose the easiest way to describe why they are so good or why I find them so essential is to tell you how they changed how I do things.

I’m a reader first and foremost, and I have always loved to write. I have a knack for being a little too verbose.

It wasn’t until I read these two books a few years ago that I realized writing for the web (and creating a website that works) is completely different from writing for a magazine or writing a book.

Both of these books helped me to see how the average modern web surfer thinks and how they read content on the web.

Skimming Vs. Reading

I don’t skim. I love to read. Simply put, most people don’t.

Most people skim over content first and read it only if they feel like it will be helpful at first glance. For me, this changed how I wrote (shorter, more to the point), and how I laid out my pages and posts (more headlines, lists, etc.).

Both of these books (Ginny’s more for writing, Steve’s more for design) helped me to recognize areas that I could change to not only get more website visitors but also keep them hanging around. More importantly, I was a bigger help to those I was writing to help in the first place.

must read books for new bloggers and website owners

In Short: Get These Books

Obviously, I recommend both of these books to any potential web design client of mine. I think they should be essential reading for anyone thinking of starting a blog or website for any purpose. If you want to do more than just talking to yourself and three friends online, you need these books.

Now if you are only able to get one, I’d recommend Letting Go of the Words. She mostly covers the topic of writing for the web and organizing what you write so as to be most helpful to your readers. Her book is essential reading.

Courses to Improve Your Writing on the Web

After I first published this post a couple of years ago, I would hear that some people prefer video. Well, good news. Although these two books are not available as video at the moment, I have found a couple of helpful courses for new website owners on the topic of writing for the web.

Writing for the web is NOT writing for your High School English class. It’s completely different. These courses will help you along.

Content is King: How to Write Killer content for the Web


Description Master the Art of Writing Online Content for eBooks, Websites, Blogs and Marketing. Develop Content Ideas & Copywriting

How to Write Killer Web Content that Sells + Power Words eBook

Web content creation/copy writing, blogging, marketing and strategy, SEO keyword research, and more. Web content creation as the key to Digital Marketing

Design: Tune my Heart to Sing thy grace

Design: Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

Ever get the words to a sing stuck in your head?

Sometimes when that happens to me, if I can’t shake it loose, or don’t want to shake it loose, I use those words as design inspiration. I try to take them and create a design with them.

Case in point is this graphic I’ve used on Tshirts, mugs, buttons, and shopping bags…

The words, in case you don’t recognize them, come from the old hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

 

Knowing Your Own “Shoulds” for Better Productivity

Maybe this is a bit of wisdom that comes with age — the biggest danger I see for me and for others in getting things done and managing our time best is not so much in being lazy, but in doing the wrong stuff. For me, productivity is all about doing the right stuff and saying not to the wrong stuff.

Simple in theory, but not so simple in practice. 

danger to getting things done is not in being lazy, but in doing the wrong stuff. #timemanagement #productivity Click To Tweet

Or, worse yet, wallowing in guilt over all of the “shoulds” we’re told we should be doing but aren’t.

These kinds of things weary us in every area of life…whether we’re moms or working from home, or trying to start a business. Even in the ministry.

The Cure for Shoulds that Aren’t Important to Us

There is a cure for this. There is a way to get past all of the Shoulds that others put on us, that aren’t as important to us.

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The way to be more productive at what matters most to you is to

  • know your own shoulds and
  • set boundaries to protect them.

I would say “it’s that easy” but it’s not easy. If it were, this wouldn’t be such a problem for everyone. Right?

Knowing Your Own Shoulds for Greater Productivity and Time Management #WAHM #timemangment #homebusiness

Knowing Your Own Shoulds

First off, we have “knowing your own shoulds”.

I suppose the better way to phrase this would be to know your own values. Know what is important to you.

know your own values and know what is important to you. #missionstatement #goals #productivity Click To Tweet

Your Shoulds are figured out not by what everyone says you should do (though obviously, we can learn from others, so we shouldn’t discount that outright), but by what you value most in life. I feel that writing this down helps, as I wrote in another post. 

For me, as a Christian, there are some things that are non-negotiable. Then there are other things that I feel God has laid heavy on my heart as areas of service to Him and others. I figure these in when working out a mission statement. 

Even as a blogger, I have to be careful not to “should” on people in a way that makes them feel like they are lazy idiots for doing what works best for them.

As a blogger, I have 2b careful not to should on people but encourage to do what works 4 them. #productivity Click To Tweet

Setting Boundaries that Protect What is Important to You

The second part is even harder, I think, than the first part. It’s much easier to figure out what you value and what is important to you regarding scheduling, time management, money management, etc. It’s way harder to enforce it when you get peer pressure about this issue.

Saying no is hard for me. I grew up without the ability to say no to anyone, but a simmering bitterness over feeling used. Total People Pleaser. Every mistake and every regret I have I feel l can trace back to doing something I didn’t necessarily want to do or knew was wrong to do, but I didn’t want to upset someone.

Such is life, huh? We live and learn.

When I first started to say no and enforce some boundaries, I went overboard to where I was only doing what made Kim happy. This was also not good and frankly violated one of my key values as a person and as a Christian.

I had to find the balance between saying no to things that would drive me far off course from where I knew I should be going, and still being able to be spontaneous with the people and relationships in my life that needed attention.  Some of this came into clearer focus after two of my kids were in a near fatal car wreck.

Boundaries, Productivity, and Purpose

For me, boundaries regarding my mission statement are especially important in helping me filter out opportunities that come my way…things that sound good but which aren’t important at this point, or which would distract long term from where I feel God wants me to go.

So, how do you say no graciously but firmly?

Usually, I just say no, or “No thank you.” Frequently I say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m going to have to pass.”

Let me share a tip with you:

The more you try to explain yourself and the more details you give for your “no”, the more likely people are to try to talk you into doing what they want you to do vs. what you feel is important for you to do. So don’t give an explanation.

The more details you give for your no, people will try 2 talk u into doing what they want you to do Click To Tweet

Learning to Say No Graciously

I’ve had some folks ask why when I say no to something. I try to make light of the situation instead of grumbling and being harsh. It often goes like this:

Them: “Why not?”

Me: “Just no. Let’s leave it at that, okay?”

Them: “But why?”

Me: “It’s non-negotiable for me at this time. Just no.”

Them: “But…[fill in with sales pitch]”

Me: “Oh come on now. Why are you having a hard time respecting me enough to respect the word no?” (said with a smile on my face and a little bit of a tease in my voice)

At this point, some people “get it” and realize they are being a little too pushy and disrespectful. This is good. Others are not so bright, or are just plain bullies. If they push any harder I say,

Me: “One more comment on this topic after I’ve asked you to drop it and I’ll be walking away (or hanging up, or unfriending you, or ignoring you or whatever).”

Then actually stick to it. I had to turn and walk away from someone recently. They were aghast and thought I was being rude in doing so. However, I said no enough times that the rudeness was on them.

 

Enforcing Boundaries with Yourself

Sometimes it’s not someone else. It’s your own self that you battle in sticking to what’s important.

Here are some tips that have helped me with this. Use whatever ones work for you.

First of all, make sure you know what is and is not really important to you, and why it’s important.

For me, sometimes reminding myself of the “why” helps me stick to it better.

Make sure you know what is and is not really important to you, and why it's important. #boundaries #goals Click To Tweet

If the pull of instant gratification regarding something is too strong, and the reward for sticking to it is too far off into the future, it may help to break up the goal or “should” into smaller bites, and put some rewards into it along the way, to encourage yourself for sticking to what you know to be important to you. Try to keep your rewards in tune with the goal. I’ve found that helps.

Secondly, make sure you don’t have a list of “shoulds” a mile long that no one person can possibly accomplish.

If this is the case, and you have too many, it may be time to prioritize what is and isn’t important on that to-do list right now. Put some of them aside into a “someday” file”. I’ve written more on this regarding how I organize Evernote for productivity. By putting great ideas and important things into Evernote, even if it’s a “Someday” notebook, I can focus on what’s important right now, and know I’ll get to the other stuff eventually.

Don't have a list of shoulds a mile long that no one person can possibly accomplish. Click To Tweet

Thirdly, listen to your body.

Now I know that sometimes our bodies can say things that go against our goals and priorities. My body often wants Cinnamon rolls, and yet my priorities say I want to get to a healthy weight. In this case, listening to my body is a bad idea.

However, if I’m exhausted and coming down with something, it’s a good idea to hit the pause button and relax, get some sleep, and get healthy. If I’m coming down with a sinus infection, any work I’m going to complete is going to be junk. I still tend to try though. I need to heed this advice myself.

Fourthly, Remind yourself of your Whys regularly. 

When it comes to our lists of shoulds, sometimes we negotiate with ourselves when we don’t really feel like it at this exact moment. Usually, when I’m in that mode, I’m also not willing to look at my mission statement or to remind myself of why I made those goals in the first place.

Instead, I have to remind myself of what is important to me, and why, on a regular basis. Every morning, when I wake up, I look over my list. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that I have a copy in my Evernote app. I read it over. I have it practically memorized at this point. It doesn’t matter. I need the reminder.

Remind yourself of your Whys regularly. Click To Tweet

And, being a Christian, I also pray over that list every morning, asking for wisdom, self-control, and the ability to get ‘er done.

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What is vector artwork and how are vector graphics used?

What is Vector Artwork?

In posts, I’ve written on my logo design process and how I create graphics and illustrations, I’ve mentioned Vector Artwork or Vector Graphics a few times.  Part of the process of creating a logo or other illustrations is creating vector artwork from the drawings.

But what is Vector Artwork? How does Vector Artwork? And what makes Vector art valuable for things like Logo Design?

Let’s talk about that.

All Digital or Electronic Art can be divided into one of two groups.

Bitmaps (or Raster Images)

What is vector artwork and how are vector graphics used?

The most common group used by people who are not graphic artists is Bitmaps or Raster Images. These are made up up tiny pixels. When you zoom into anything that is formatted this way, you will see millions of tiny squares making up this picture.

For this reason, any kind of bitmap image cannot be enlarged too far above where it was originally created without losing some of the quality.

Common bitmap file formats include .jpg (Joint Photographic Group), .png (Portable Network Graphics), and .gif (graphical image format). They each have specific uses. JPG (or JPEG) is commonly used for photographs. GIF is used for simple animations or images with a transparent background. PNG is used for Alpha-channel transparency, which means the edges of the transparent image aren’t quite as harsh as with a gif.

My logo on this website was created in Adobe Illustrator but exported as png.

Vector Artwork

Vector artwork, in contrast, remains perfectly smooth and pristine while endlessly enlarged. Instead of being created using tiny pixels, Vector artwork is created using Vectors or lines that are connected together by anchor points.  When clicked on, these anchor points can produce “handles” that allow the artist to manipulate the shape of the graphic.

Most common file formats for Vector Artwork include SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), and AI (Adobe Illustrator). When a graphic artist creates a graphic in a Vector design program like Adobe Illustrator, the image can also be exported as a bitmap, to be more easily shared or used on the internet. So, for example, my logo was created in Adobe Illustrator, but on my website, it is a .png file format.

When a graphic artist creates a graphic in a Vector design program like Adobe Illustrator, the image can also be exported as a bitmap, to be more easily shared or used on the internet. So, for example, my logo was created in Adobe Illustrator, but on my website, it is a .png file format.

SVG is a format that can also be used in modern web browsers, and results in a smaller file size.

An Example

The image below shows a detail of two dots in a graphic. One is done as a vector, and the other as a bitmap or raster, to demonstrate the difference. This image is from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Vector vs raster

If you are in need of a logo, I love creating logos for entrepreneurs, side hustlers, and small businesses. Let’s talk. 

What is vector artwork and how are vector graphics used?

Two Choice: Cursing the Changes or rolling with them

Rolling with the Changes or Cursing them?

I was recently talking about the changing face of business and marketing due to the internet, with a friend who has grown so much in her home business ventures.

Her epiphany came via a group of kids at a homeschool enrichment class on marketing, of all things. After we reminisced about it after running into each other, I realized that these are lessons that apply to us all.

Learning from Your Students

My kids, like many homeschooling students, took enrichment classes via a co-op we were involved with in our area.

Several years ago, this particular friend was asked to teach a hands-on class on marketing. After all, she had a business degree and a master’s degree in marketing. Moms signed up their entrepreneurial-minded teens for the course, thankful that someone who was an expert was to be teaching them.

My kids were all teens at the time (they’ve all since graduated) and they came home to tell us that Mrs. So and So doesn’t know anything about marketing.

As it turned out, it wasn’t that she didn’t know anything about marketing, obviously. It was that she didn’t grasp how marketing had changed due to the internet and social media. She was trying work under the old rules. The kids, children of the new millennium, instinctively knew that wasn’t going to work with their generation.

Initially, she acknowledges that she complained greatly about the kids’ unwillingness to learn the “right way” of doing things, as she had been taught.  After they set up their sample marketplace to sell their product, it became pretty obvious that the kids knew far more than the teacher about what makes something get attention today. Eventually, she used this to make her own home business thrive.

Our Choice in Changing Times

The way I look at it, we have two choices in changing times.  We can either complain about changes while trying to fill new wine in old wineskins (as Jesus said), or we can learn and grow with the positive changes taking place.

Unless we’re talking about an issue of values (as I spoke of in other parts, regarding my mission statement and regarding goals), and my own core beliefs, flexibility in changing times is a good thing.  In fact, in many ways, this is also a good promotion for having a personal mission statement, for knowing what you believe (and why), and developing a plan, ahead of time, as to what is important to you.

I often reevaluate what I believe and why I believe it, asking myself, “Is this a hill Jesus would want me to defend and die on?” Things that are the clear cut truth, I will defend until my dying breath.

Things that are cultural, or “tradition”, or “The way we’ve always done it.”, not so much. Not every kind of compromise is wrong.

 

Marketing Fails: Angering your target audience is a bad first impression

Marketing Fails: Angering Your Target Audience is a Bad First Impression

When it comes to marketing, there are some fatal errors that people not only participate in but sometimes I’ve even heard them taught as if these are a good idea. When it comes to marketing tips, I’ve seen some of these promoted as “effective” even though the average consumer, when talking about them, find them annoying. Let’s talk about these Marketing Fails

Please, don’t be that person.

Marketing Fails: Unrequested Facebook Sales Groups are Annoying

Marketing Fails: Angering your target audience is a bad first impression

Not a week goes by where I don’t have to take the time to remove myself from a few Facebook groups some well-meaning person added me to.

This past week, I was part of Facebook groups selling leggings, essential oils, stickers for my nails, and some kind of diet thing. I would suddenly find my Facebook feed filled with junk I am not interested in, and notifications for things I never signed up for.

Even if I was ever to consider buying leggings, oils, those nail things, and pink drinks, I will not now. Ever. Period.

Why?

Y’all hacked me off from the first impression. My first impression of these products is not based on their benefit to me but based on them inconveniencing me by clogging my notifications and newsfeed on Facebook by adding me to a group without my permission. Whatever else you have to share…I’m not interested.

This cannot possibly help sales, can it?

Marketing Fails: Be Kind to Mobile Website Visitors — No Pop-Ups

While online this morning reading some posts, I clicked on a link that looked interesting. Suddenly, my phone screen filled up with a giant pop-up trying to get me to sign up for their newsletter opt-in.

It reminded me of a webinar where the person teaching about using newsletter opt-ins to grow your business was talking about the benefits of a pop-up opt-in because more people will sign up just to make it go away.

So, um….what now?

You decide to annoy your target market into shutting off your message.

Are you nuts? How is that a good strategy?

I actually wound up not reading that post this morning, because the stupid pop up wouldn’t go away. The irony here is that, if I valued what you had to say, I’d probably have been a return visitor. Now I’ll avoid your site like the plague.

Another website I used to enjoy visiting now has a pop-up ad that covers part of the content while you scroll down. The website’s owner told me that this was because my screen must be too small.

My computer screen must be too small? WHAT?

I am a graphic designer. As desktop monitors go, mine is a decent size, and up to date. The website owner also was trying to figure out (via a Facebook inquiry) why traffic dropped off of her blog.

Girlfriend….Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.

Marketing Fails: Did I Invite You Over?

Marketing Fails: Angering your target audience is a bad first impression

There was a time, maybe the 1950s and 1960s, where door-to-door sales was a thing.

Today that is not well received.

More than a decade ago, I had someone stop by my house just as the sun was setting to mention that my windows looked old and to tell me what kind of deal he could make to get us some “decent” windows. I was trying to get this person to leave and had made it clear I was not interested, but he kept pointing out how “bad” my windows were. Awesome.

I told them no, repeatedly, but he kept telling me how much better their company was than any other company. I slammed the door.

This was not the end, though. Apparently, we were now in the system. They again came by, because I had “Expressed interest” in talking to another salesperson. They stopped by or called at least once a week for nearly a year.

I kept calling their offices and getting nowhere until I finally talked to an owner. He said,

“Well, we want to get back to the friendliness of the 1950s ethic. Today how we do business is so impersonal, just sitting there waiting for customers to contact us. My philosophy is to train our people to look for a need and let the future customer know what we can do for them.”

Maybe we are more impersonal nowadays, but to me, I am not comfortable with people I don’t know showing up and expecting me to drop everything for them unless it’s an emergency.

I’m also pretty sure that showing up at my house and telling me that you, a total stranger, can tell my windows are crap is not going to make me want to do business with you.

In this case, as I think back to it, the sentiment was nice but poorly executed and done without respecting the customer base. Fail.

For better or for worse, in this day, no one likes being interrupted by advertising and follow up. Respect that to show respect to your readership and customer base. 

Groovy Custom family vacation trip tshirt template designs

Groovy Family Road Trip T-shirt Designs

Are you preparing to go on a groovy family vacation? Even if you don’t have your own retro VW caravan Bus to camp in, you can still show off your style with these matching custom family trip tees, with a stylized VW camper graphic on them.
Easily customize these t-shirts with your family’s name and the year of your trip. If you’d like to change the title of the vacation (perhaps a destination?), that can be done as well. Just click the “customize” button when ordering, and you’ll be ready to go in a jiffy.
These are being sold via the Thoughts & Designs Zazzle store in the Zazzle Marketplace.

Groovy Custom Family Trip Tshirt with VW CamperSadly, this design is no longer available at Zazzle because of the VW logo. I’m working on designing one without it.

Customized Family Vacation Tshirts with a retro style mixed tape cassette graphic

Road Trip Mixed Tape Family Tshirts

Looking for a clever, retro style t-shirt to order for your next family vacation? These custom t-shirts can have your unique name and the year of your vacation on them. The graphic is a retro style cassette tape from the 1980s that reads, “Road Trip Mix Tape”. These family trip tees come in a variety of styles and colors through the Thoughts and Designs Zazzle store.

If you’re new to Zazzle, you can find out more about this Print on Demand Marketplace that I use to create unique products with my designs by reading some of the posts I’ve written on the topic.

Custom 2 sided rustic wood look Graduation Invitation and Announcement Template

Rustic Style Graduation Announcements that can be Personalized!

Getting ready to graduate my fifth child from high school, you might say I’m old hat at the whole “graduation open house” thing.
Naturally, this grew towards me creating graduation announcements over at Zazzle that can be customized for your graduate. On the front, you have the information regarding the graduation party and your graduate. On the back, there is room for two photographs, plus the Graduate’s name. I like this sort of set up because our fridge is covered with graduation announcements that remind us to pray for those who have recently (or not so recently) graduated, as they launch into “the real world”.
This Announcement is available over at Zazzle (click below). Be sure to select “customize this design” so you can customize the template.

Back:

Dove graphic by Kimberly Eddy with the Words of the Peace Prayer of St Francis instruments of peace

Instruments of Peace: Dove Graphic with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

When I was growing up, one of the few “religious” things that I remember that touched me and influenced me deeply was the words to the Prayer of St. Francis. I don’t know what it is about this particular “prayer” or quote, but to me, I feel as though it expresses my own desire to live like Christ in the midst of the world that has anything but peace.

I had come back to this recently. The cats knocked off a bunch of sketchbooks off of my shelf full of sketchbooks, and in keeping with my ADHD homemaking skills, I sat down and thumbed through a few sketchbooks. I found a rough draft of this particular concept…trying to figure out how to fit the entire quote of the Prayer of St Francis within a silhouette of a dove shape, while also trying out other shapes such as a peace sign or a cloud.

The words are, to me, even more, powerful today than they were when I first heard them 40 years ago, or when I sketched out the concept about 15 years ago.

Right now, it seems as though everywhere we turn, there is turmoil, and grumbling, and fighting and chaos. There are accusations, and bullying, and name calling, and rudeness.

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace”

When I turn on facebook, half the time I wonder why I did it.

” Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith; “

Then I realize that just as Social Media can be used to argue pointlessly about things that we will never resolve through name calling and “destroying their arguments”, social media can also be used to edify, encourage, and even heal.

Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

The realization hits me fresh that in each one of us that claims the name of Christ is the power to be a light in the darkness and to be Jesus to the world that is divided and angry and hurting.  When we ask the Lord to help us see through His eyes, it’s amazing how different the world looks.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

I finally completed this using the sketches and of course Adobe Illustrator, and have them up in different formats in my Zazzle store.

 

Logo design by Kimberly Eddy for Esther Jones

Logo Design: Esther Jones

Esther (aka the Merry Hairmother) asked me to design her a logo with just her name and a graphic with a conductor’s baton, stars, and a swoosh. She wanted a logo that could be used for her different ventures (selling Lila Rose hair clips as well as teaching music). She had already picked out a font style, and she wanted her name to be off to the right-hand side of the graphic.

She also wanted her logo to work in different colors, which I also believe is preferable.

My graphic design professor used to say that if a Logo doesn’t work in black and white, then it simply doesn’t work.

For the swoosh, I took my inspiration from the Lila Rose hair clip I bought from Esther a while ago, mimicking the basic form.

Esther Jones custom logo design by Kimberly Eddy

 

Esther Jones custom logo design by Kimberly Eddy

Though she didn’t specify it, I also provided her with a copy of her logo as just a graphic, without her name. After all, in the day of social media profiles, it’s important to have a logo that fits well in a square space.

Esther Jones custom logo design by Kimberly Eddy

what is a niche and why does it matter?

What is a Niche?

If you’ve heard anything at all about business, blogging, or working from home, you’ve probably heard the word “Niche” before.  Usually, it’s used together with “marketing”, “business”, or even “blogging”.

So, what is a niche? 

It is a very narrow market or specialty within a larger field. 

That sure clears it up, doesn’t it?

A Niche is All About Focus

For example, if you sell dresses, that is not a niche but a field. However, if you sell maternity dresses, that’s more specific. If they are for women who love purple and bohemian style, that would be a very specific niche.

A niche is all about focus. The more focused you are on your business, the easier it will be to figure out your target audience and serve them. It will also be easier to focus your marketing efforts to a smaller, more specific group. To simply market to “everyone” is much more difficult.

Understanding your audience comes from tighter focus. With that, you will also know what they are looking for and how you can better serve them.

The more specific you can get the better.

Practical Aspects of Knowing Your Niche

Although you may think that marking more broadly is better, it’s not. When marketing a new business, the broader the potential customer base the harder it will be. You can’t be all things to all people.

When you have narrowed down your market for your potential business, you narrow down your audience. You have fewer people who you need to market to. This allows you to better use your marketing dollars and efforts.

When it comes to reaching a specific market, you can focus down to your ideal customer base.  Othe, wise you just fire your marketing message blindly into a crowd hoping you hit something. Shoot your message like a precise sniper instead of using a shotgun.

You have better success when you are focused.

Find your niche: You can't be all things to all people. Click To Tweet

Knowing Your Niche Helps You Understand Your Audience

Focusing your business provides you the added benefit of understanding your audience better. Having a focused niche and having a very specific target audience go hand in hand.

Think about our dress example from the beginning. If we’re marketing maternity dresses we know we’re selling to pregnant women or women of childbearing age. If we’re selling dresses with a bohemian flair to women who love purple, that also focuses our marketing. We’re not going to focus our marketing efforts on Facebook groups for women with more conservative tastes. Nor are we going to join a Pinterest group board that features the styles of ladies business attire.

We’re going to create web graphics with a more Bohemian vibe versus web graphics that are more conservative or minimalist. We’re certainly going to use the color purple in our branding in some way, too.

Understanding our audience and knowing our niche decides many of our marketing and branding choices for us.

What is a Niche? You can't be all things to all people

 

What's the difference between logo, identity and branding

The Difference Between a Logo, Identity, and Branding

When we talk about logo design, sometimes the words “logos”, “Identity”, and “brand” or “branding” are all used interchangeably. They all do deal with the same basic topic but there are differences between these three things.

What is a Logo?

A logo is a mark that identifies a brand at first glance.

We all know Nike at a glance. Or Apple. Or Starbucks. We even know what this mark represents without words associated with it.

Sometimes it’s a symbol, sometimes it’s words (LogoType), sometimes it’s a symbol with words.

What is an Identity?

Understanding the difference between logo, identity and branding

Identity usually refers to all the ways the logo is used to represent the company, plus considerations for using fonts, colors, and so forth in representing a brand.

Sometimes this is called a “branding guide” or “branding usage guide”.  This sets the standards for how the logo and other brand-specific items should be used.

Usually, when a good designer (and not just some logo factory website selling $20 “logos”) is creating a logo for a company or organization, they also take into account how it will be used, and develop a guide for the company or organization for how to best use the logo. Sometimes this also involves simplified versions of the logo for different applications. For example, creating a simplified version of logos to serve as the icon in the address bar of the website (the favicon).

A great example of logo and identity that work really well are the “Speak Life” memes that Toby Mac shares. They all are unique, but yet you know in an instant that these came from Mac.

What is Branding?

Branding is in reference to how other people think about and feel about your company or organization.  Sometimes you’ll hear business people talk about what is “hurting a brand” or “building a brand”. If you are doing something that makes the public think negatively of you, that is going to hurt your brand.

For example, I once had someone who hired me to create a brochure and a website for an ebook editing and publishing service they had started for fan fiction. The problem was that they wanted me to create this using the logo they had created — an animated graphic of books burning in a large pile.

Now, the animation of the fire was pretty cool, but the association was anything but.

Burning books is symbolic in our culture of censorship, not promoting the creation of fan fiction. I tried to explain this to my client but they just wouldn’t hear it. They loved their logo and refused to change. They also didn’t do well when they tried to solicit business at a fan convention of some sort.

In fact, many people who were there though, at first glance, that they were some kind of religious sect promoting censorship based on the graphic.

Yikes.

The Bottom Line on Logos, Identity, and Branding

When considering logos for your business, and thinking about your branding, you want to take into consideration what this is communicating with your target audience. You want logos to communicate accurately what you are all about.

You also want all of your communication, professionally, to accurately reflect what you and your business are all about.

If you are in need of logo design services, I offer some affordable design packages, and I’m happy to help. 

What is Zazzle?

What is Zazzle? In short, Zazzle is an online print-on-demand company whose mission is “to give people the power to make anything imaginable”.

Zazzle is an online marketplace where designers can sell their designs on a huge selection of products that automatically shop to customers from Zazzle. This is a great win-win for both customers and designers like myself.

What is Zazzle: Shopping on Zazzle

What is Zazzle: Finding customized products and earning a little extra cash with Zazzle

When you shop on Zazzle, you can usually customize each product to suit your needs. This customization can include:

Customizing Text in a Design

This includes adding a name or a year to the products. Or changing a word. Some of my most popular products are bookplates for personal libraries.  I have created a beautiful template that my customers can edit with their own names.

Adding a Photo

Many Zazzle Designers have options for customers to change out or add photos in designs, especially for Christmas cards or graduation announcements. The designer has created a great layout, so all you have to do is add your images and text to complete the design.

Changing the Style and Color

With my t-shirt designs, I’ve picked out the t-shirt style and color that I think works best. Usually, I prefer a basic t-shirt for most of my designs. But if you prefer a baby doll t-shirt in a different color, you can add that option too.  There are dozens of t-shirt styles to choose from and a dozen different t-shirt colors to pick from too — and that’s just one example of customizations on a product!

What is Zazzle: Making Money on Zazzle

When talking about what is Zazzle, it’s not just a place to shop. Zazzle is also a place to earn some extra money for Side Hustlers. There are two different ways you can make money on Zazzle.

The easiest way is to get a referral link and earn a small commission for referring customers to products and stores.

The second way, if you’re a designer, is to open a Zazzle store of your own, with your own designs.

I’ve written more about how to make money on Zazzle here.

My Zazzle Store

My own store on Zazzle, Thoughts & Designs, offers me the power to sell my designs without having to carry a huge load of inventory in my limited space.

The designs in the Thoughts and Designs Zazzle store include Tote Bags, T-shirts, Sweatshirts, Hoodies, buttons, stickers and labels, announcements, and more.

You can look at my designs on my website, or visit my Zazzle store directly to see what I have available.

Ideas Appreciated:

If you are looking for something in particular but not finding what you’re looking for, let me know. I appreciate ideas and insights into what my customers are looking for.

What is Zazzle: Finding customized products and earning a little extra cash with Zazzle

What is a Bookplate and Define Ex Libris Latin

What is a Bookplate?

One of my more popular products in my Thoughts and Designs Zazzle store is my collection of custom bookplates. The question does come up from time to time, however, “What is a bookplate?”

So, What is a Bookplate?

A bookplate is basically a custom book label or sticker that you stick inside of the front cover of any book in your personal home library.

Most of the time bookplates include the Latin phrase, Ex Libris. I’d define ex libris to mean “From the library of”. In other words, the meaning of ex libris is, “This book came from so and so’s collection”. Ex libris doesn’t mean an actual library.

Why Would I Need a Bookplate?

The reason why someone might need a bookplate is to simply let others know that this book is originally from your collection, just in case someone borrows your book and forgets.

This has happened to me before.  So embarrassing.

I borrowed a book from a friend of mine, and it somehow just became part of the landscape of my bookshelf. It belonged there, you know?

I’m not even sure how it came to be on my bookshelf, as I normally try to keep the property of others off of my shelves. I would assume that someone else in the house saw the book lying on the end table, and decided to put it “away” when cleaning up.

It’s amazing how often people clean up things that really don’t need to be cleaned up while stepping over things that probably should be cleaned up. But I digress.

When Can I Buy Custom Bookplates?

Well, obviously, I’d prefer if you shopped at my Zazzle store, here. I have several beautiful Ex Libris Designs and bookplate templates.  You just pick out the bookplate template you love and enter the name you’d like it customized with, and Zazzle will print those up on a sheet and send them to you. They come 20 “this book belongs to” labels to a sheet.  This saves you from having to buy blank stickers, line them up, and print them off yourself.

If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer who is low on cash, I also have several of my bookplate designs available for free download on my website. Be forewarned that some assembly is required with that option, of course.

Many bookstores sell bookplates too.  I’ve seen them at our local Barnes and Nobel Bookseller. Personally, I think my custom bookplate templates are prettier. I may be biased.

 

Connection: The Key to Print Marketing in a Digital World

Connection: The Key to Using Print Marketing in a Digital World

Some people claim that print marketing is dead.

I disagree.

Strongly.

Some of you may even be here due to my print marketing efforts.

Rethinking Print Marketing

Connection: The Key to Print Marketing in a Digital World

When I’m talking about Print Marketing, I do not mean buying expensive ads, renting billboards and signs, or other traditional ad campaigns.

What I am referring to is the simple concept of always having something on you that describes your business, how to find out more online, and any other pertinent information.

For me, this involves business cards. Because I design both for clients, and personal projects that I then sell on print on demand sites like Zazzle, I have different business cards based on the topic.

I do not just leave my business cards laying around. I use them sparingly. In fact, I only pull them out if someone shows interest.

Let me explain.

Making Connections Organically

Perhaps it is just where I live (rural Michigan), but I frequently make business contacts while out and about, either on a staycation or while running errands. It usually goes like this:

“Whoa, cool t-shirt.”
“Thanks. I designed it myself. I’m’ glad you like it”
“That’s great. I love it!”
“Thanks. Here, take my business card. There’s more where that came from.”
Three days later, Zazzle tells me I sold the shirt I was wearing
:)

Connection: The Key to Print Marketing in a Digital World

Make the connection first. Don’t walk around in “salesperson” mode. Be a normal person, out doing your thing, and use the connections you make organically to spread the word locally.

Having a supply of business cards on you (maybe in a nice holder) helps you to always be ready if you make a connection. Help them connect with you further.

I never expect a sale when I first meet someone. Instead, I try to be helpful and to make a connection I can foster.

What is Print-On-Demand and How does it work?

What is Print-On-Demand?

What is Print-on-demand? Print-On-Demand is a publishing and manufacturing process where an item can be printed one at a time, as the orders come in. This is different from traditional manufacturing, where a huge inventory of items are created and hopefully sold.

One of the biggest benefits of print-on-demand is being able to test out a product idea without waste.

Manufacturers and publishers take a big risk when they publish or manufacture a large run of any book or product.

Print-on-demand allows you to test out a product idea without waste. Click To Tweet

How Print on Demand Works for Me with Zazzle

What is Print-On-Demand and How does it work?

For example, say you have an idea for a t-shirt design.

With a Print-on-Demand company like Zazzle, which I use, you can set up a storefront for free, upload your design for free, and style your t-shirts.

You only incur the cost of manufacturing your t-shirts one at a time, as they sell.

With traditional t-shirt manufacturing, you would have to guess what sizes you would need, and what colors would be popular. Then, as a t-shirt designer, you would have to order a large run of 200 or more t-shirts in different sizes and hope they sell. You would also have to store them in a safe place where they would not get dirty or absorb smells.

Print on demand makes this process easier and cheaper for small designers and sellers.

Print on demand makes this process easier and cheaper for small designers and sellers. Click To Tweet

The Downside of Print on Demand

What is Print-On-Demand and How does it work?

The downside to print on demand technology is that it does cost more to print items one at a time than it would to do them in larger runs. However, when producing specialty and niche items, customers usually are more willing to pay a little extra for the item, than for something mass produced.

To find out more about the different ways you can make money on Zazzle with this other post I made here, or to look at my items on Zazzle, you can check out the additional posts I have on the topic of Zazzle here on Thoughts and Designs.

Shop & Create on Zazzle

My Latest Collection at Zazzle: Flamingos and Palm Trees Stationery Collection

An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered GK Chesterton

Embracing the Adventure of Inconveniences

Ah, more wisdom from our friend G.K. Chesterton.

I’ve been working on some lettering and graphic skills while simultaneously using quotes as inspiration as of late.

Don’t Mess with Momma’s Plans

This particular quote has long been an inspiration and a challenge to me.

Why?

Because, my friends, you can ask anyone at all, especially my kids, and they will tell you this simple truth: The surest way to see mom lose her ever-loving head is to throw some unplanned inconvenience across her path when she has a clear cut plan she’s forging ahead with.

Truly, y’all. Messing with my plans and goals makes me kinda postal.

Chesterton Blows My Mind

So when Mr. Chesterton, the turn of the 20th Century author, offers an alternate view of inconveniences, I’m both convicted and challenged to be a better person.

Chesterton says,

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

Mind. Blown.

An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. #Chesterton #quotes Click To Tweet

Buy the Design

This particular design is now available in my Zazzle store in a few different products, including Tote bags, pin-back buttons, and t-shirts.

God's comfort Bible Verse KJV Hand Lettered illustrated vintage style cameo silhouette of a woman

Illustrated Bible Verse: Psalm 94:19

I recently created this image of one of my favorite verses from a few years ago. The verse is from Psalm 94:19. It reads,

“In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul.”

An Encouraging Bible Quote in Foreclosure Purgatory

God had really used this verse in my life several years ago, while we were hanging out in what I like to refer to as “foreclosure purgatory” — still living in our house, but knowing we were in foreclosure, waiting for them to knock on our door and tell us when to get out. Legally you have to stay, as you’re responsible for any damage to the property, but you live in the knowledge that any day they may come to ask you to leave.

Thankfully, in our case, the situation worked out better than expected, and we now have a home debt free. Praise God for that.

In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul. Psalm 94:19 Click To Tweet

Oh, but the waiting! 

I’m not good at waiting. I’m not good at those “purgatory” times in life when life is in a holding pattern.

Times like that feel like you’re just waiting for something bad to happen and knowing what probably will happen.

God’s Comforts, Delighting My Soul

In it all, though, God….God was there.

In my “thoughts within me”…those innermost thoughts and fears…God kept reminding me that He had a plan. Using different Bible Verses I had memorized and other Christian quotes and religious quotes, God reminded me that it was all going to be okay.

Psalm 94:19 continues to encourage me that God has my back. Click To Tweet

It’s Bible verses and Christian quotes about faith like this one that still continues to encourage me and remind me not only of what God promised but What God has done in the past in my life too.

The Vintage Style Cameo Silhouette of a Woman Design

I was playing around with this verse again recently, to encourage a friend. In doing so, I was sketching different ways to lay it out when I saw a cameo silhouette of a woman in a thrift store that made me think of this verse. Obviously God didn’t say this Bible verse was specifically for women, but I think us ladies have the bigger struggle with thoughts running wild inside of our own heads, don’t we?

At first, I was using the cameo silhouette lady motif in a logo design I was working on for Bookkeeping service, but when they chose the secondary design, I knew I wanted to use that vintage style cameo silhouette of a woman. It was too cool not to.

I sketched out a silhouette of a woman and worked on creating the lettering inside of the cameo silhouette head before switching to Adobe Illustrator and converting it all to Vector Artwork.

God’s Comforts Psalm 94:19 Available on Zazzle

This illustrated Bible verse design from Psalms 94:19 is available on Zazzle in a variety of product designs.  I’m also able to modify it for custom use if you need me to. Just let me know.

You can find this “Psalm 94:19 ~ God’s Comforts” design in the collection for “Encouraging Bible Verse Quotes” here at Zazzle in the Thoughts and Designs Zazzle Store.

Vintage Style cameo silhouette illustration of Psalm 94:19 Click To Tweet

 

 

The Riddles of God are More Satisfying than the Solutions of Man GK Chesterton

The Riddles of God are More Satisfying than the Solutions of Man

Lately, I’ve spent quite a bit of time working on designs that involve quotes.

To be honest, I seem to do that more than anything else. For years, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about letters that fascinated me. Now I’ve come to view typography and lettering as just another facet of design. Letters are a form of art, aren’t they?

When I’m not working on designs from my home office, my other part time, seasonal job involves personalizing Christmas ornaments at a large Christmas store in the area. Lettering is art, I tell you.

#Lettering is art, I tell you. #typography #design #quotes Click To Tweet

Inspired by the Wit and Wisdom of Chesterton

So this design here is a quote by one of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote during the turn of the 20th century. You can read more about Mr. Chesterton here.

I was reading something he wrote, when I was struck by this brilliant quote,

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

Wrap your head around that one, will you.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. GK #Chesterton #quotes #designs Click To Tweet

Satisfaction in God’s Riddles

I suppose several years ago I would have scoffed at this phrase. But with age comes at least some wisdom, right?

What does this even mean?

Years ago (reflected in some earlier writings, some of which have been deleted because — wow, was I off base), I was very hung up on black and white…the letter of the law. Everything had to fit neatly into my box, which I wrongly felt was also God’s box. I did not, by any stretch of the imagination, like it when God messed up my preconceived notions of what should and should not occur based on my good works and my understanding of His Word.

Silly me.

I’ve come to really appreciate the fact that God leaves some riddles for us to wrestle with for our own spiritual health, and to draw us closer to Him.

God leaves some riddles for us to wrestle with to draw us closer to Him. Click To Tweet

One of my favorite verses teaches us that if we ask God for wisdom, He’ll give it freely to us. (James 1:5). Instead, we prefer to read books and blogs and articles that give us three succinct points to check off in order to get the desired outcome.

Younger me would have probably asked what you’re also probably wondering. How exactly is wrestling with God’s riddles more satisfying than having a clear-cut solution, three points, and a prayer? 

Let me tell ya. It’s all about our hearts, as with most things. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that I’m never going to have God figured out, or life figured out. I will never have parenting figured out, or marriage figured out, or holiness figured out.

But God, thankfully, not only has it all figured out, but He also is in control, and I need only to trust in Him as I wrestle, and He illuminated my next step.

Buy the Design

This particular design is now available in my Zazzle store in a few different products, including Tote bags, pin-back buttons, and t-shirts.

The Day Zazzle finally started to click for me

The Day Zazzle Finally Clicked for Me

I initially tried out Zazzle during a year of sampling different side hustles to see what may work for me and to write a review of these for my readers.
Zazzle frankly did diddly squat for me. I was disappointed, but not surprised.

I was feeling pretty low and frustrated in general so I sulked off like Eeyore and self-medicated with a tub of cheap ice cream purchased with food stamps and salty tears. Seriously. That’s how life was going at the time.

I had uploaded all kinds of designs that I thought were cool at the time. Initially, I just uploaded a design then let it randomly insert the design on products. Dumb idea. They looked terrible so I deleted most of those. I custom created the different designs for the products and put them out there.
I had a little action, but not much. I eventually just let it be. Life was too crazy, and I couldn’t deal with it at the time.

One day, while at work at my part time seasonal job in a Christmas store, I checked my email during lunch to find I had 20 something notifications from Zazzle about sales I had. They were all the same product – my canning jar and spice cabinet labels – and the product itself had apparently been shared a few times on social media.

Weird.

Those sales helped me to see what kinds of products people were after, and how I could create unique products with my own style that fit into what people wanted.

Since that time, I’ve been able to change around what I sell on Zazzle, optimize my store, and organize it better.
As of December 2016, I am now a pro seller in Zazzle (go me! Woot woot!) and I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of this thing. Zazzle has finally clicked for me.

This is your brain on poverty

This is Your Brain on Poverty

Everyone has their own thoughts on what causes poverty. Different pundits opine about what fixes financial woes for families in the 21st century.

This is your brain on poverty

Half the time, I sit here reading those things, shaking my head. While rolling my eyes, I wonder how they would survive what I’ve survived.  Would any of these idiots still be alive at the end of a month on a poverty-grade salary?

Of course, before this sort of thing hit my family, I was also one of those jerks shooting my mouth off.

Apologies to anyone on the receiving end of my faulty opinions.

One of the issues that I have rarely seen addressed related to poverty is what it does to your mind and emotions. Poverty has a dramatic affect on your mental and emotional health.

The “Right” Foundation

What role does stress play in keeping people in poverty?

I come at it from a somewhat different perspective as many people. I grew up in a comfortable middle-class family. We didn’t have much but had far more than what my family has had in the last 20 years.

My husband and I were doing quite well for ourselves in the first part of our marriage too. He was a skilled tradesman, and I worked at a large printing company before having kids. I was also perpetually working various side hustles with my design and writing skills.

Rubber Paychecks

In the early 2000s, that life of comfort ended. After we bought a house and had five kids, the bottom fell out of our finances. First, work cut his hours, then cut his pay. One day my husband showed up at work only to find it boarded up, and our last two paychecks bounced. Good times.

Overnight, I had to get even more frugal than I was before. There were no jobs available paying the same as what we had earned. We had no option but to settle for a pay cut. I had to figure out how to take care of a family of seven on 1/3rd of what we had been living on. During this time, as you may remember, expenses for basics shot up quickly.

After a long while, we finally slipped into foreclosure on our house.

During this season, I could focus my mind on saving money and being hyper-frugal on most days. I could think clearly enough to do what I needed to do to survive.  I could think of creative ways to provide the kids with some semblance of a happy childhood.

A Decade of Poverty Fries Brain Cells

Once we slid into foreclosure, I gotta say, my brain turned to mush. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

The mental and emotional stress of the situation broke me. It made my ability to think clearly and rationally about a way out of this mess was non-existent.

Since that time, now that our situation is slowly on the mend, I reflect on that time often.  I find myself wondering about the brain to mush issue.

I realize first of all that our climb up and out is not due to anything I have done.  The grace of God is what lifted us out.  I wonder if this mental stress is part of what keeps people in poverty.  Barring Divine intervention, of course.

I wonder…

How much does the stress that this places on people keep them down? Or lead to the inability to lift oneself out of the situation as everyone says we are “supposed to” do?

My time in poverty only lasted just over a decade.

We started from a position of what some call privilege.  Educated, skilled, with lots of drive. Yet, we could do no more than tread water to stay afloat. After a while, we went under before things got better.

If someone grows up in this situation, or if you live your whole life in this situation, what then? What does this do to that person’s ability to make the so-called better choices that lift you up?

Pragmatic goals

I’m a big believer in goals and pressing onwards and all that. I write frequently about goals.

I’m also a pragmatist.

You can’t always plan to get out of poverty because there are factors there outside of your control.

I know people think you can, and I hope they never have to learn the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. All we can do is work hard and work smart, and trust God for the results.

Sometimes even that is beyond our abilities. The stress of living in poverty takes its toll, making hard and smart work more difficult.

Living below the poverty line is stressful.

Anyone who climbs out on their own without someone leaning over the edge, grabbing them by the hands and guiding them out is a miracle, and much stronger than I.

The Year Long Side hustle Experiment

The Year-Long Side-Hustle Experiment

About six years ago, a friend and I set out to try out some popular “side hustle” ideas that cost nothing to start. This was after hearing the same question over and over from friends on social media and via email about whether or not you could really make money doing some of these common suggestions.

This came at a pretty good time for me, given that we had slipped backward again financially in our family, and were in foreclosure. Like my readers and friends, I too was interested in knowing if any of these would work for me.

How did this Side Hustle Experiment work?

The two of us proposed to try different side hustles that allegedly take a little time and to focus on one of these per month.

Amazon Ebooks

The first thing I did was that which I considered being easiest to start right away. I had been formatting some of my ebooks to Kindle format, so I uploaded them to Amazon to see how that all would work.

Initially, this worked quite well, affording me an easy $100+ per month until 2016 when Amazon changed how they paid authors. I’m sitting on my ebooks right now, trying to decide what to do with them now that I only get paid if someone finishes most of my book on their kindle.

Squidoo Lenses and Hubpages

Next, as an author, I focused my attention for the next three months on writing “Hubs” and “Lenses” on two popular writing platforms, which pay you based on page views.

Because I already had a blog with some readership, and I understood principles like SEO, I figured I could make this work easily. I set a goal for myself to write a fresh lens and a hub every day. So basically, two articles per day.

I was pleased with myself for getting the work done that I set out to do. I created two per day. I also tried to do some promotion on social media. In the end, I only earned about $30-50 per month. Now, given how low our income was at the time, this was a blessing, but it wasn’t really worth the level of work I put into it. Thankfully, I continued to earn some residual income from the Lenses and Hubs for several more years before It slowly dwindled.

Swagbucks and Surveys

Swagbucks isn’t really a home business or Side Hustle per se. Swagbucks lets you earn points (“Swagbucks”) when searching using their search engine, or while doing other tasks like watching videos on the site. In exchange for these Swagbucks, you can purchase gift cards to places such as Amazon. I found that in order to earn any significant amount, you had to do far more work than it was worth on Swagbucks, and you needed people who signed up under you.

For Surveys, the same was true. Most surveys I didn’t qualify for after entering my demographic information. Apparently, most corporations don’t care about the opinions of middle-aged women who live below poverty in rural America. Who knew?

Mystery Shopping and Rebates

Mystery Shopping is a fun gig. I was supposed to spend a month doing mystery shopping. The funny thing about this was that I only qualified for two mystery shops in our whole area, so that didn’t work out. I earned $150, which wasn’t too shabby, but I felt like I spent a significant amount of time trying to qualify.

More recently (apart from the year-long side hustle experiment) I have worked with small coffee shops as a mystery customer, taste testing and testing out the new baristas. Again, not really making much money but I do get to visit all kinds of coffee houses, so there’ that.

Rebates were also a double-edged sword. You have to buy stuff to get rebates, and usually, the stuff you have to buy is not expired coffee in the ding and dent store, as I normally did at the time.

Ahem.

Using apps such as Retail Me Not, Ibotta, and Ebates are super helpful if you are buying something more than the bare necessities. Well, Ibotta also works for some groceries too, which is nice. I earned around $20 per month using that app, and continue to earn around $20-40 a month with Ibotta. But unless you are a shopper, the others don’t help much except around Christmas. Ebates works well with many household necessities, and a wide variety of things I use, which is nice.

Promoting One High-End Affiliate Product

I thought that this particular side hustle idea had a significant amount of merit. The idea was to find one high-end product with an affiliate program with a generous percentage and promote the heck out of it. For me, this was a specific WordPress Theme that a client had bought and needed me to figure out and install.

I thought this would be the perfect thing for me. I could not only make money promoting this product (at $50 commission a pop), while also side promoting the service of configuring that for you.

I made $0.

Disappointing. I actually spent six months on this one, taking me far over the “year of side hustle experiments”. Even my hubby got involved. Nada.

Amazon Affiliate Program

Using my own blog, which I was in the process of rebranding to Thoughts and Designs, I tried to promote my favorite products that are sold on Amazon on a blog.

This did okay, but not great. I think it had the potential to do better, but my brain was mush by this point, and in hindsight, I have thought of some better ways I could make this work.

Eventually, while I was doing a big rebranding and changeover, Amazon dropped me as an affiliate because I hadn’t had any clicks for a while. I’m hoping they let me back into their little club again once the rebranding is over.

Print on Demand with Zazzle and CafePress

Both Zazzle and CafePress are print on demand companies that allow designers to sell products that they have designed in their marketplaces. These products include custom t-shirts, hoodies, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, tote bags, etc.

Zazzle has a larger selection, and nicer interface, and allows designers to have a store for free.

Initially, neither of these did squat for me. I actually was dropped from CaféPress for no action on my account.

Eventually, when I least expected it, in the middle of me working a part-time seasonal job away from home, my Zazzle took off several years after I had abandoned it (of course). Apparently, one of my products caught someone’s eye, got shared around, and is now my top seller. Very strange, but delightful. I’m now a “pro seller” on Zazzle. Go me.

I’ve written more about Zazzle in several other posts here, and you can check out some of my designs in Zazzle over here.

There were extenuating circumstances of my brain turning to mush and not functioning optimally. I have to imagine, now that I’m on the other side of it, that this played a role in my lack of success in many of these.

How Building Better Habits can Change Your Life

Building Better Habits in the New Year

If you’re like me, you’re all about building better habits in your life.  Our habits have the power to shape our futures and determine our success or failure in life.

All that is well and good, but how do you actually go about building better habits in your life?

Here are a few tips to help you in building better habits this year!

Understand that a Habit is Something You Do Frequently

How Building Better Habits can Change Your Life

To become a habit, you have to do it over and over again until it becomes second nature.

So, an activity or action won’t be a habit just because you decide to make it a habit.  That’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Some scientists say it takes at least 21 days of consistency to build a new habit. 21 days!

So, if you want something to become a habit,  force yourself to make it happen for at least every day for three weeks.

The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Right now, I have a new dog, and we’re doing obedience training with her.

I can’t just teach her something once and assume she’ll understand “come” and “stay” or “sit”. No.

I have to repeat it over and over again, several times a day, with rewards, to get that to stick. The same is true of humans of all ages.

Focus on Why You’re Building Better Habits

Keep in mind why you are doing what you’re doing. Think about why you want it to be a habit in your life.

Make better habits stick by remembering your why.

When the going gets tough you need to remind yourself why you’re doing this.

As with my dog training, rewards do help.

If you set up a series of rewards for your benchmarks, you’ll have a goal to look forward to.

Just make sure the better habit goal is in your control.

For example, “Exercise 15 minutes every day” is something in your control. “Lose 5 pounds this month” is not under your control.  Although exercising 15 minutes a day will help you get closer to that goal.

Find Some Accountability in Building Better Habits

If possible find someone who will hold you accountable to doing what you have set out to do. We often do better if we have someone in our lives encouraging us as we push on.

Sometimes we can find accountability online too. There are apps for all kinds of habits you’re trying to build. There are also Facebook groups and forums too.

I have found, as strange as my husband finds it, habit trackers help me with building better habits.

Just knowing I have to check off that box at the end of the day makes me have more resolve.

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Break It Down Into Baby Steps and Small Bites

How Building Better Habits can Change Your Life

I have a friend that likes to say, “You eat an elephant one bite at a time”.

Well, to get anything in your life done, you have to take small bites.

You can’t do it all at once.

Let me explain this idea using exercise as an example.  You cannot expect to go from sofa spud to running a half marathon within a month. You have to slowly build towards it. If you don’t exercise at all right now, you would need to work on starting to exercise.  Just because you think you “should” exercise an hour a day, doesn’t mean you can start at an hour per day. Perhaps you should first build the habit of any exercise at all daily.

Make sense?

And this applies to any aspect of building better habits. It’s not just about exercise.

Take small bites. It’s better to build a habit slowly than to achieve some sort of ideal sporadically.

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Tips for Writing an Effective About Page

How to Write an About Page for your Website

As most bloggers and website owners know, the About page is the most frequently visited page on any website, besides your home page. Learning how to write an about page is crucial. Website owners must give extra special attention to your about pages, to help your visitors get to know you better and see how you can be of help to them.

How do you write an about page on your website or blog? Here are some tips I’ve discovered over the years!

How to Write an About Page Step 1: Know Your Audience

All content creation, especially for a website, involves knowing just who you are writing to. This can be a bit tricky when you are starting out. Before you have regular readers, the answer usually is, “Whoever will read my stuff!” However, you’ll get more readers, and happier readers, if you gear your writing to a specific audience.

How to Write an About Page Step 2: Know Yourself

Even trickier is not only knowing who you are, relative to your audience and website, but conveying this in an effective way. Who are you? Why are you writing a blog or starting this website?

Exactly what it is about you that you should convey also varies based on what kind of website you have. For example:

About Pages for Creative Websites and Blogs

For Creatives, such as photographers, artists, designers, and writers, who you convey you are should discuss not just personal information about you, but what makes you tick as a creative professional.

What inspires you?

What keeps you designing and creating?

People who purchase from craftsmen and artisans also usually like to hear the story behind the art. Don’t be afraid to tell your story.

If necessary, link to other posts that tell the story of your professional journey.

About Pages for Businesses

For businesses, the about page is not usually about individuals but the company as a whole. Discuss what makes your company special and sets you apart from the competition.

Still, visitors like to have some person to person contact. So it’s a good idea, where possible, to add information about individuals working in your company to add a personal touch.

About Pages for Organizations

The same is true for organizations as it is for businesses. Although you’re not one person, you still want to make a personal connection with your audience.

It’s also important for organizations to share what motivates them and makes them tick. For example, a campground doesn’t just provide a place for kids to go camping but may be driven to help connect at-risk youth with nature a bit.

If any information that tells more about your organization is found on other pages, you should still mention it on your about page, and link to it for further information.

About Pages for Churches and Ministries

Additionally, for churches and ministries, it’s important to think like a visitor, rather than a church member admiring the website.

What information would someone new to the area looking for a church to attend need to know about your church?

Churches and ministries should also provide a brief summary of what they believe, with a link to a more detailed doctrinal statement for those who are interested.

For churches and ministries, as well as service organizations, it’s important to introduce those who are in leadership in your organization, to make a personal connection.

There are other things a potential visitor may need to know about such as links to your service times, a link to the page giving them driving directions, and information about children’s programs during services.

The key is to think like a visitor.

How to Write an About Page Step 3: The Value of Photos on your About Page

Although an about page should never be made up exclusively of photos, a well-shot photo of you is a must have for your website.

Most people like to have a face to put with the name. They want to be able to look you in the eyes.

Now, I know I put this one off for years, especially as I battled with my weight. I also reasoned that I couldn’t afford a nice professional photograph anyways, so why bother?

Well, a professional looking photograph doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything at all. The one I have on my about page was shot of me sitting in front of my drawing table on a stool by my daughter, and yet it looks very nice. I think it may well be my favorite photograph anyone has ever taken of me.

The best tip I can offer when taking a photograph of your about page is to have the photographer (even if it’s your kid) stand higher than you. Look up into the camera. This provides a better view and also takes a good ten pounds off of your face. 🙂

How to Write an About Page Step 4: What Benefit Do You Provide to Your Target Audience?

How exactly does reading or shopping at your website benefit your audience? What do you intend for them to get out of visiting your website? What products or services do you provide for them?

I once heard someone say during a webinar that even though it’s called an “about us” page it’s not about the website owner as much as it is about how the website owner can help their audience. So again, thinking of your target audience, emphasize those parts of you, your website, your products and services and how they benefit your audience, instead of focusing just on what they mean to you.

Why Should Your Audience Trust You?

Especially in regard to information websites, most people want to know they can trust the information on the website. They need to know enough about you to know they can trust you and the information you’re sharing. Write about yourself and the benefits you provide with the trust factor in mind.

Your Education and Achievements

If applicable, this would also be a good place to share your education (whether formal education, or the kind of education where you learned some hard life lessons in the school of hard knocks), and what you’ve achieved in your life.

How You’ve Helped Others

If you provide a product or service that has been of help to others, either sharing some brief testimonials or linking to a testimonials page could help your readers see how you could help them as you’ve helped others.

 

How to Write an About Page Step 5: Making Connections

Social media makes it easier to make connections with others from around the world. Share how to connect with you or your business on social media via your about page, as well as how to best contact you through other means (email, phone, mail). If you have a physical location, link to driving directions and hours of operation.

You, Live and In Person

If you attend craft or professional trade shows, do speaking engagements, or are signing copies of your latest book, you should include links to upcoming events where your readers might meet you in person.

Next Steps on Your Website

Most readers aren’t going to know what it is you want them to do next on your blog or website. It’s up to you, especially on a heavily-read page like your about page, to offer them some direction.

For example, on my website, I suggest using my start here page, which helps my readers dive deeper into all that I have to offer here at Thoughts and Designs. I try to help my readers explore my site more deeply and find content relevant to them. Once you’ve decided what the purpose of your website is, you can figure out more specifically what you want your visitors to do with your website once they’re there.

For Further Help

If you’d like to learn more about copywriting and writing for your website, there are some great classes I’ve found helpful over at Udemy. 

Digital Marketing Copywriting Bootcamp – Web Writing 101Don’t miss out. The future of copywriting is digital. Get the basics of writing for digital marketing here.