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Your First Step in Planning For the New Year

Your first step in planning for the new year

The end of the year brings about a lot of feelings: excitement, nostalgia, anticipation…and, oftentimes, panic.

But before you give that a chance to set in, I highly advise trying something else that will help you process all of these feelings and build a plan from them: Reflection.

Reflecting on business and brand goals before the new year

The idea of planning for an entire year ahead can be supremely overwhelming, and like anything overwhelming, the hardest part can be getting started.

The solution: Start by looking back. After all, hindsight is 20/20, and we can learn a lot from reflecting upon what’s already happened.

Right around this time two years ago, I wrote a post about reflecting and planning for your business. I was excited about the leap into the new year, and doing a bit of reflecting myself over the questions I shared there:

  1. Have I reached the goals I set out for myself this year?
  2. If there was one thing, and one thing only, that I could accomplish with the remaining days of this year, what would it be?
  3. How has my business — and brand — grown over the year?
  4. What am I most looking forward to next year?

These are all very important questions to ask for your brand and business — both to handle the panic you might be feeling now, and to start your planning for the future. But, there was one thing that was missing in this questioning — the thing that makes this entrepreneurship thing possible: a sense of self, and self-reflection.

Turning inward: Self-reflection

Work-life balance as a business owner can remain elusive, and in my opinion, that’s natural — because as a business owner, it’s my mission to make work and life support each other, not work separately from one another.

To make that possible, I have to understand the impact my personal life, health, and feelings have on my business. In other words, I need to self-reflect.

As a lover of traditional paper planning, I start my self-reflection by looking back through my planner from the last year. Here are the types of things I pull out, beyond just the projects I’ve worked on:

Starting with the reflection that extends beyond the projects completed and clients satisfied is important. It’s easy to be reminded that we chose the hard path in pursuing our freedom and choice when we’re in the day-to-day, wearing 15 hats and managing it all, but when we stop to reflect on what we’ve been able to make possible only because we’ve made this hard choice, it makes it all worthwhile.

Having reflected upon all that being a business owner has allowed me to do, I then look at the full picture that includes those projects and clients and ask myself the following:

What didn’t I do, and why? Having celebrated all that I did do, I then take time to look at the things that I didn’t do — whether I said ‘no’ or simply didn’t make the space or time. A lot of information can be found in the reasons why something didn’t get done. Did I not make the time it needed — and if not, what can I do differently to make space for it? Did I not prioritize it — and if not, does it really need to be a priority or does it just feel like a should?

What felt good, and what do I want to do more of? While finishing projects, satisfying clients, and taking time off to travel can give a strong feeling of accomplishment and is well worth celebrating, it’s also worth taking a look at whether that felt right and good. Was that project in line with the work I want to be doing? Was that client a pleasure to work with? Was that travel rewarding? Beyond money and external recognition, it’s doing what feels good that makes the effort worth it — and it’s knowing what feels right that helps me decide what I want to make room for more of in the new year.

What do I want next year to look and feel like? This is where I can get into the real planning. With a solid sense of self in everything I’ve done and say I want to do, I can:

  • Choose my word of the year: What word encompasses the direction I want the year to go in?
  • Create my vision board: What’s included in this year, from work to family and personal development to experiences — and how will it make me feel?
  • Set goals: What are the actionable steps that’ll break down these high-level feelings and dreams into achievable tasks?
  • Prioritize the right education: What do I need — and want — to learn, that’ll help me to feel the way I want, more often?
  • Plan my calendar: When will I make these things happen in the new year?

Self-reflection and the new year

As business owners, we build our businesses to support the life we want to live. We need not forget that fact while we’re experiencing the excitement, nostalgia, anticipation, and panic that inevitably comes as the year comes to a close and a new one begins.

Before you plan, reflect. And above all, practice gratitude for all that has happened and has undoubtedly led you to where you are now. After all, where there’s gratitude, there’s abundance. And where there’s abundance, there’s light.

And if we all enter the new year from a place of light, we stand to make this world a better place.

How to Get More In Tune With Your Ideal Client

How to Get More In Tune With Your Ideal Client

In any business, a crucial piece of designing a brand and developing products or services is being able to describe who your ideal client is — who, exactly, you’re targeting with what you do.

Once you’ve done that, you can be more focused not only in what you develop/build/create, but also in how you market it.

So, defining that ideal client (or avatar, or buyer persona…) is pretty darn important. It will save you time. It will save you money. It will save your sanity.

But many business owners struggle to really dig beyond who their ideal client is — their demographics, like age, sex, location, etc. — and into what they’re all about — their thoughts, feelings, motivations, and aspirations.

Fortunately, I’ve found a way to conquer that struggle throughout my decade as a business owner: I’ve learned how to put myself in my ideal client’s shoes, ultimately becoming them if even for a short amount of time.

Becoming your ideal client

Let me be clear: I’m not asking you to change yourself. I am asking you to practice a little empathy.

If you’re a store owner who sells clothing, get out and go shopping for clothes yourself. What types of experiences sit best with you? What are your struggles as you’re shopping? What types of thoughts go through your head?

If you’re a restaurant owner focused on offering an entirely gluten-free menu, head out to restaurants that not only do what you want to do, but also those that don’t. What types of struggles do people who need to eat gluten free encounter? What are they feeling when they can’t find it? Better yet — what does the environment look like when they do?

The best part about this process is that in many ways, you’ll realize that you already largely embody your ideal client. After all, many of us start a business because we recognize a need; because we were feeling it ourselves, first.

Here’s how I’ve learned to become my ideal client — and how it’s influenced my business.

What practicing empathy looks like in my graphic design business

My graphic design business has served clients in more industries than I can count on my two hands, but one thing’s been made clear throughout the last decade: I’m at home when I’m designing for the travel and tourism industry.

Once I realized that niche, I set out to empathize with travelers in every destination so I could learn more about how destination marketers could brand themselves. It opened my eyes to new businesses and stories in Asheville. It caused me to better document my travels to Santa Monica when visiting my daughter. It put me in the shoes of my fellow travelers and their aspirations for traveling: to experience that which is unique, to collect stories, and to find themselves. It’s given me a new regard for traveling — and it’s undoubtedly helped me in my research process when designing a destination.

What practicing empathy looks like for my painting business

I apply a similar approach to my painting business. As an artist, it can be easy to keep creating and never tell a soul about it. After all, it’s a very personal thing, to work from your soul.

But expressing that which otherwise might get hidden away isn’t my only reason for painting — it’s to find the people who connect with my light-filled art and are looking to welcome it into their homes and businesses.

To do that — to learn how to find these people and connect with them — I have to actively put myself in their shoes. I love to look at art. I love to buy art. But now, I also love to start conversations with its creators, and their buyers. I love to enter a gallery with others and learn what speaks to them. I love to attend festivals not only as an exhibitionist, but also as a buyer, to get a feel for the experience.

Putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes helps us get ever closer to the things that really matter when it comes to them connecting with our products, our services, our creations. It gives us personal experience with their feelings, their thoughts, and their motivations. It’s inserting ourselves into those experiences that helps us design our own.

Hone in on how you’ll best serve this world

Identify with your ideal client. Put yourself in their shoes in order to develop what it is they need most, and learn how you can deliver it in the way that carries the biggest impact.

Simply put, empathy leads to focus on what you do. Focus leads to impact by doing it even better. And your impact is what we all need most in this world.

The Mentality That’s Holding Us All Back In Our Businesses

The mentality that's holding you back in business

Each year in May, we celebrate a very special day for women: We take a full day to acknowledge and appreciate mothers.

On that one day, moms might get to sleep in, or enjoy a brunch. They might be brought flowers, or given a gift to go to a spa for a day.

And then Monday morning comes, and we go right back to life, as usual. Life where groceries, appointments, cleaning, jobs, and the needs of others overtake everything, and nothing can quite solve a problem like super mom.

The supermom mentality exists in business, too

It’s this “supermom” mentality that creates a lot of stress for mothers, everywhere. And it’s this “supermom” or “super(wo)man” mentality that often plagues small business owners who feel they need to do it all, as well.

When we start our own business, it’s up to us to decide what will be offered, how operations will run, and how the lights will stay on, among many other things. We pour our blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes figuratively; sometimes literally) into making our visions a reality. We might leave our desk at 5 or 6 pm each day, but our minds are in overdrive around the clock, never really shutting down.

And many of us consider our business to be our “baby.” Here’s why that’s a dangerous way to think of it: Because when we consider our business as our “baby,” we lose the ability to detach ourselves from outcomes, to take a significant break, and — most importantly — we fear what outsourcing and delegation might do to this business we’ve built from the ground up.

Supermom mentality takes over our business (and no, this isn’t limited to women, or moms), and our business ends up owning us, instead of the other way around.

The first step in overcoming super(wo)man mentality in your business

It wasn’t until I took a very distinct step that I was able to really put things in perspective in my graphic design business. That first step? I asked for help.

I joined a business mastermind. I hired an accountant. I paired up with an accountability partner. I hired a copywriter. I delegated certain aspects of projects that didn’t need my expertise.

This didn’t happen all at once, of course. It took a few years to even get started. It took a few tries to find the right people. And it took a whole lot of inner wrestling with the part of me that didn’t want to let go of any piece of my business before I was able to truly start seeing the benefits.

And, in my mind, when you ask for help and learn to trust other people in your business, two things happen:

  1. You do more of what you’re meant to do. Until I took the things that weren’t quite lighting me up off my plate, I couldn’t truly focus on the aspects of my business that do. For me, that’s digging through color books to develop potential brand palettes. That’s being on a photo set as art director to make sure my clients get the shots they want. That’s opening my windows at my home office and spending hours finding the layout for that brochure, or visitors guide, or direct mail piece that works just right. With a team of people on my side, I can spend more time doing what I started this business to do.

  2. You allow others to do more of what they’re meant to do. Of course, this goes both ways. What I really love about building a team of people I trust is that I can empower them to do more of what they’re meant to do. I give them the guidelines, then back off and give them the space. In letting them exercise their expertise in the best way they know how, I get to see what lights them up in their businesses, and help them to do more of that.

Focus on your supreme powers

I believe that everyone has supreme powers in this world. And it’s not until I focus on empowering others to use theirs that I can fully use mine.

Let go of the super(wo)man mentality in your business. Leverage the power of others. And watch your own shine through.

What could you make room for if you began to leverage the power of other people’s talents and focus on your own?

PS – Case in point: Until I learned to delegate certain portions of my business, I was not able to make nearly enough time in my life for painting. That has changed — and over the last few months, I’ve been blending my talents with that of a web designer and copywriter to bring my new painting site to life.

Warm Letters From the Heart (and Soul) of Your Business

handwritten letters

There’s nothing quite like heading out to the mailbox and spying an envelope that clearly isn’t a #10, stock white, windowed piece of mail surely containing a bill, donation request, appointment reminder, or credit card offer. It’s that feeling of warmth that comes from seeing a friend or family member’s handwriting; the anticipation that follows as you wonder what might be inside.

But unfortunately, it’s more of an exception rather than a rule these days. Snail mail is a thing of the past…Or is it?

A Valentine’s Day reminder

Remember this time of year back in grade school, when we were tasked with bringing in enough valentines to pass around? Some were homemade with construction paper and markers; some were store bought with fun characters and designs; still others were attached to suckers or conversation hearts (yum!).

If you’re anything like me, your heart fluttered as you walked around the room passing out your creations — and it flip-flopped even more so as your desk became littered with valentines signed from other people in your class. (Especially that person…we all had that person.)

Aside from the celebration of Valentine’s Day, there was something that made the exchange of valentines particularly special — the fact that it was the one time we could count on getting handwritten notes.

Adding a personal touch

For the most part, the love of receiving handwritten notes doesn’t fade well into adulthood. While we shun junk mail and sometimes attempt to avoid the post office at all costs (particularly around the holidays), there is still something incredibly special about the oft-forgotten method of communicating that is snail mail.

Digital communications make life convenient — and I’m incredibly grateful for email, social media, and other digital forms of communication for so many reasons (my location-independent graphic design business being one of them). But with the prevalence of such channels, they’ve largely lost their personal touch: the personal touch that comes from knowing that someone picked out a card or purchased special stationery, took the time to write a message and sign their name, address and stamp it, and drop it into a mailbox.

Warm, handwritten notes are incredibly important in a world of colder communications.

Don’t wait for opportunity — create it

Connecting with others via handwritten notes can apply to so many facets of life — for me, I use them to build relationships as a business owner, a friend, and a daughter/mom/wife/sister.

While holidays provide the perfect catalyst, don’t wait for them to pop up — create your own opportunities to connect with those around you.

Here are a few ideas for how to do just that:

– Send a quick thank you to a client: for their business, for their referrals, for their appreciation of your work

– Choose a friend to surprise with a random note to say you’re thinking of them

– Grab a few cute, anytime cards and have them on hand for when you feel a family member could use a pick-me-up

A fun tip: Sites like Postable help you easily collect addresses and will remind you when birthdays are approaching. I also like to put my handwriting to the test by writing reminders in my paper planner.

Timely as it is with Valentines Day fast approaching now, what if you were to simply schedule a letter-writing session of approximately 10-20 minutes once per week? When that calendar reminder pops up, you can grab a sheet of stationery or a card, write it out, and mail it. Whoever’s on your mind is the perfect candidate.

Make someone’s day

How easy is it to make someone’s day? All it takes is $0.49 and a little focused writing time. Worth it? Absolutely. It makes you feel important. It makes others feel important.

Spoiler alert! I’m beginning work on revamping my fine art website in just a few weeks — and before we know it, it’ll be live. In the shop there, I’ll be selling notecard sets you can keep on hand for those snail mail letter writing sessions.

Revitalize Your Brand to Revitalize Your Business

brand revitalization

A few months ago, I got up on my favorite soapbox (my blog, of course!), and debunked three myths about branding.

The first of those myths was that your brand can be created in no time — well, actually, that your brand can be created at all. Here’s why I had to falsify that thought: your brand is something that, with time, you’ll uncover. It’s your job to embrace that discovery and then illuminate it.

There’s another piece of evidence, though, when it comes to debunking the myth that your brand is a one-time creation. And that’s this: over time, your brand will evolve.

The evolution of a brand

The three initial keys I gave to discovering/uncovering your brand were these:

1. Observe. Watch your clients, and document how they interact with your business and current brand.

2. Research. Survey clients, analyze the competition, and create benchmarks.

3. Evaluate your mission. Identify the audience(s) you most want to serve, and learn how you can best serve them.

Now, that is, of course, the abbreviated version of each of those steps. I won’t dive in further right now, but here’s the important thing to take note of: none of the actions listed above are a one-time task.

You should always be observing.

You should always be researching.

You should always be evaluating whether your mission still fits your audience, and vice versa.

And as you continuously do each of these things, here’s what will happen: your brand will evolve.

A case study for a Brand Boost

Because we often hear that consistency is the most important thing in branding, it’s often thought that your brand can never change.

I urge you to consider this, though: your brand is the feelings, biases, and inclinations that flood your clients’ and prospects’ minds when they hear or see your organization’s name. It’s an emotional connection that rarely stays stagnant.

And so the truth is, as your business grows, your brand often needs to change to reflect that growth and keep the doors open to unlimited possibility.

This was illustrated for me perfectly through a recent client project. The task? Give new life to the brand of Ferris Hills, an independent and enriched senior living community in the Finger Lakes. Naturally, this called for a Brand Boost.

Ferris Hills realized that it had outgrown its branding. And it did this by observing, researching, and evaluating its mission over time.

In observing and researching, the organization realized what its residents really loved about the community and what sets it apart from others: its proximity to Canandaigua Lake as well as Thompson Hospital; its options for meals, activities, and events; the carefree living it allows for.

A fresh take on the good life

What the Brand Boost resulted in for Ferris Hills: an updated logo, a wave of new photography, and design of a beautiful brochure that captures the essence of the good life.

We’ve interwoven design elements — from colors like greens and lavenders to scripted fonts — that evoke a sense of happiness, vitality, and calm.

Ferris Hills isn’t your standard senior living center. When they lead with “I promised myself the good life…” they let you fill in the blank with whatever that might mean, and then they strive to create it. The campus at West Lake is a hub of activity where life sincerely gets better.

Revitalize your brand

Change is good. It means you’re observing, analyzing, and evaluating the environment you’re operating in and the audience(s) you most want to serve, and keeping an open mind as to how you can do it better.

Your brand will naturally evolve as you grow, and it’s your job, business owner, to let it.

Want to see where your current brand stands? Download my free ebook, What Does Your Brand Say? to do a mini-audit of your brand — then sign up for a complimentary Brand Clarity Call where I’ll help you work through it.