What's in a Brand?

As aspiring, young, and seasoned business owners you're an expert. Where you are in your journey, at this moment in time, you're an expert for this stage. The first time you realized it might have been hanging out with friends when you used some business term that required explaining. Maybe you were on a coffee date with a fellow small business owner swapping tips and realized you had more to teach them than there was time. 

I found myself in a similar situation this week. Chatting with an aspiring entrepreneur about branding, what it is, and trying to explain what it is I do. Afterwards, my husband pointed out that a lot of what I was saying could be explained more in depth, that there were terms I used that most people don't know, and that I needed to work on my sales pitch. Luckily for him I was having the same thoughts while I was driving so I didn't take any of this the wrong way. ;) 

The knowledge I have about starting a business, branding, and design is information I've been taking in for YEARS. 7 years of research if I ignore the research I was also doing during high school. #nerdforlife But holding all that information doesn't help anyone. So here's the deal. I'm ready to share. My knowledge, expertise and time. I'd love to grab coffee and share my knowledge but I can help more of you by sharing here. 

I'm going to be diving deep into everything I know about branding, business, social media,...and on. This site will be getting more robust with a clear services page so you know exactly what you need to be investing in for your business dreams. I'll be sharing some case studies of both business brand clients, some mockup ones just cuz as well as hand lettering and wedding suite projects. Keep an eye on this blog. Save it to your favorites, follow on bloglovin' or your preferred feedburner because I'm giving away everything I know. 

Want to learn more about freelance life? Check out the posts below!
Curious what I do? Check out a small snippet of my work here.

5 Books For Freelance Designers

You know those people you admire and aspire to be like? You follow their blogs, instagrams and twitter accounts to gleaning every bit of info you can from them hoping to tap into even a tiny piece of their talent and work ethic. In an effort to also build community and open the door to design to you that might be a few steps behind me on your own creative journeys I wanted to share some of the resources that I'm using right now. We don't have all the time in the world to research indefinitely and finding a list like this would have been very helpful early on. 

These books have been incredibly helpful. Some are for reading cover to cover, others are handy guides for those random questions that come up along the way. They're not listed in any particular order but if you're shopping for a designer friend items 4 & 5 would be my top choices.

1. The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

This is a quick read and a great beginning overview of what branding is and how it ties to your business. It has short abbreviated overviews that will help if you're DIYing your brand identity or just getting started with your business. And there's a glossary of terms because those of us in branding can move a bit quick and drop words/terms that you might not know just yet. 

2. Start With Why by Simon Sinek

I have just barely started this book but from what I've heard it's been the key for a lot of designers I admire in cracking the code to their brand message. I'm excited to dive into this book and really figure out what my 'why' is to narrow down what I offer to my clients.

3. The Freelancer's Bible by Sara Horowitz

As freelancer's there never seems to be an end to the questions. Right? Questions like what do I do after I get a client? How do I calculate the right price for my services? What about health insurance? Then we google these questions and get sucked into a rabbit hole of blog posts by lots of people in different places with various career backgrounds. My searches tend to pull results for SAM's (stay at home moms), copy writers and family/craft bloggers. Us designers just don't seem to share a whole lot in the behind the scenes realm of design. That's where this book comes in. It's written by an expert of the freelancing world that leans towards designers, I think. Anyway, it's been quite helpful for those little questions so I can get answers that I can trust.

4. HTML & CSS by Jon Duckett

I am a graphic designer with most of my experience in print design. So when I started diving into the behind the scenes of my websites the code looked like a foreign language. And that's a topic I've never been too great at retaining. This book is perfect for learning just enough code to DIY a few things and get into some trouble ;). Also, as someone who is a visual learner and can't stand the site of ugly design, this book is nice to look at. Topics and bits of code are layed out in pleasant graphics to making the learning pretty. 

5. Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

This book is amazing!! I've barely tapped into it's knowledge and it's already paid for itself. Quite literally. How? Because inside is all the nitty gritty info that we wish we could get the major designers to spill the beans about. For example theirs a section that breaks down the average (correct) pricing for various design services. And not the averages based on what everyone seems to be pricing but the prices that we should actually be charging. There's also line by line contract examples and notes on what should be included and why. 

What books have you found helpful as a freelancer or small business owner? I'm always on the hunt for more.

Looking for more tips on freelancing? Check out other posts from this series below.

8 Free Tools to Run Your Business

Running your business is hard work. Between doing the work that we love, managing all of the finances and mundane task to making sure our clients are happy customers there’s always more work to do. We have to maximize our time efficiently and smoothly to make our dreams a reality. After many many years of research and prepping for this moment, I've tried and tested quite a few free programs for running my business. Many have had great initial appeal only to flounder at the first sign of trouble or sadly there's been programs that have gone away because the company folded. Here are the 8 Free Resources that I currently use and love for running my business.

1. Sunrise

This is by far my absolute favorite app for managing my time right now. This is a free Chrome extension available on the web, desktop but is also available as an app for iPhone. I think there's also an Android app. This app syncs with my Google Calendar where I am able to keep track of regular life events with my husband. But with Sunrise I can then merge all of my calendars such as my business schedule into one beautifully designed central place. This app lets me schedule my tasks for the day in a drag and drop manner that I love. I can set alerts for each task which is helping to train my brain to focus and stay on schedule. I talked more about this in my post Scheduling And Staying Productive When You Work From Home.

2. Wave

This is another free Google Chrome extension. It is a completely free finance management system. I am able to sync it to my business bank accounts, send estimates, invoices, and track expenses. There are lots of other apps that I've heard people rave about such as Freshbooks, Pancake and 17 Hats, but these programs have fees and for my business Wave's free system is a fantastic substitute.

3. Toggl Timer

This program is how I track my time to make sure that I'm using it efficiently for the projects that I have. For clients that are billed hourly this program is vital to make sure I'm staying on track with what I quoted them as well as making sure that I let them know if we need to bill for additional time. With the free version I'm able to export PDFs to send to my clients that break down my hours spent on the project. It's available online and as an app.

4. Squarespace blog and metrics

My website is set up through Squarespace. I am a business branding designer so my focus is not on web development, at least not yet. Using Squarespace makes my life a ton easier for managing my web presence. When I'm on the go Squarespace has beautiful phone apps for blogging and checking my metrics too.

5. Asana

Asana is a task management system. There's an app and a web platform for managing your tasks as well as the ability to assign items to employees if you have them. And hallelujah! Asana just redesigned their look. It's awesome for scheduling the big project tasks so that I have them in one single place and can check in on progress. And it syncs to Sunrise.

6. Unroll.me

As an email subscription addict I've reached a point where it's tough to find the time to read through all of my emails or really sit through an hour of unsubscribing. It can be really frustrating to check your mail and see 5 new emails only to discover that they are all subscriptions from various stores that I shop at or be useful inspirational posts but it’s not the right time to read them. Unroll.me has saved so much time and my email. What it does is combines all of those daily emails into one email per day summarizing all of your subscriptions. This way you can check to see which ones you want to read or you can delete the whole email in one go. The actual individual emails are stashed in their own folder if you need them later. Unroll.me also has mass unsubscribe capabilities! Give it a try for a week and then let me know if it doesn’t make your email a million times better.

7. Boomerang

This is a free extension available within Google email. I love this program for being able to write emails when the motivation hits but can schedule them to actually be sent out during normal business hours. I understand that my clients might need to check their email at 10 p.m. and will respond immediately, but I prefer to train my clients to remember that while I am a freelancer I do still run my business as if it was a 9 to 5 and I'm not available at all hours of the day. This way if I find myself with a few free hours on a Saturday I can sit down and respond to all of the messages and schedule them to be sent out at 8 a.m. on Monday.

8. Google Docs

I still keep a paper journal for jotting down ideas on the go. I have my Wiselist app, the Squarespace blogging app, Evernote, and others I'm sure. But when I sit down to actually write out full blog posts I still love the convenience of Google Docs. This way they are accessible from anywhere and I don't have to worry about the hypothetical day my computer crashes and nothing is synced. #dramatic They've also just recently added a handy tool for typing with your voice. Yes that does mean you have to sit and talk at your computer and yes this post was written with Google Voice type tool.

I hope these tools are useful for your business. I'll be back with some resources I found very helpful for learning how to become and operate as a freelancer.

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This post 8 Free Tools to Run Your Business first appeared on Manami Design.

Freelance 101: Scheduling & Staying Productive When You Work From Home

As a new freelancer and business owner there's a few things that I was definitely excited to have change. No more nagging boss, no more chatty Kathy office mate, no more blaring alarm and no more awful commutes. While it's exciting to be done with those things they did have their purpose. They helped me keep a schedule, stay on track and keep focused. Instead of a boss being there to nag on you to get things done or just to serve as that possible ‘over the shoulder hey don't get on facebook' voice you have to be that person for yourself. And Chatty Kathy while distracting helped me stay focused by knowing I had to tune her voice out while I focused on my work. And that commute, it may have been a vital transition for my brain to know when it’s work time.

But the whole point of being a freelancer is being able to set your own schedule and make your own habits and do the work the way you want to do it. So instead of repeating the habits that I already knew, I decided to take some time to discover what actually works best for me and hopefully some of these things will be useful for you as well. 

The 5 things that have helped me stay productive while working from home.

1. Develop a “Commute” trigger.

Many freelancers struggle with the balance of work and life especially when they work from home. Particularly because when you wake up in the morning and your office is just next door it's hard to mentally transition into doing the work when you have to walk past that pile of laundry that’s been haunting you for the last few days. I habit I am working on building to help me mentally transition into work mode has been to wake up, make my bed, get dressed to feel more boss and make myself a cup of coffee. For you maybe this commute trigger looks more like waking up, getting your kids sent off to school, then taking a walk before feeling ready to get to work. Think through what would work best for you and give it a try for a week. Then revise and edit from there to figure out what your best transition process looks like. I'm sure mine won't stay the same forever so remember this is an evolving process.

2. Find your perfect work environment 

For me my perfect work environment is my tiny home office desk set up, against a wall at the front of my house (the house is under construction). For one, because having a rented studio is not in the small business budget currently and I'm sure many of you understand this. Then the small desk forces me to keep it clean and not have distractions left on it. Maybe working at a coffee shop everyday is better for you because it removes you from distractions like cleaning the house and doing laundry and taking care of all the other to do list items that are on your list but aren't actually priority as far as your business goes. Maybe you're lucky and you have a spare bedroom or even a closet that you can set up into a very exclusive dedicated office space that inspires you and mentally feels like the ‘work’ room. Maybe you need a version of a chatty Kathy to tune out. I love Coffitivity for that. It creates ambient coffee shop sounds which research has shown to help people focus. When I’m doing design work I’ll listen to helpful podcasts like Being Boss & The Freelancer to maximize the usefulness of my time. For you, maybe a curated Apple Music playlist will energize you and keep you focused. Take your time and experiment to find your perfect work environment.

3. Train your brain to work on cue.  

I'm a sucker for print calendars and to do lists. As a hand lettering artist, having a pencil or pen in hand is comfortable so of course I've tried and tried and tried to keep a print style of organizer. But if you're like me you've lost track of how many times you've lost your to do list in jacket pockets but find them a year later to distinctly remember searching everywhere for that list. Been there done that. 

The other problem I found with keeping written to do's was that I had no way to prioritize those items and focus on what was top priority. Often I would end up wasting time rewriting the to do list on a new post it to try and prioritize them, which of course was just wasting more valuable time. Numbering didn't help and definitely didn't help me take into account how long each task would take to complete. Then I read an article about how many of the big CEOs and corporate leaders and innovators don't use to do lists in the traditional sense; all or at least most of them used digital calendars to keep track of their day. Why? Because it's much easier to organize tasks and there are these wonderful things called notifications. By setting calendar notifications for each task and scheduling set time frames for tasks to be completed we can train our brains in a Pavlovian manner to be able to focus on tasks. When your phone dings you know it's time to move on to the next task. I personally LOVE the Sunrise extension for Google Chrome (also available as an app) and have it synced to my Google Calendar. There's lots of options for you to try and figure out what works best for you. *Check back for another post listing all of the free online resources I currently use for being productive.

4. Schedule your day so you stay on track 

Going along with item number 3, I've found it very helpful to schedule my days. I try to schedule my tasks for the next day the night before and throughout the week depending on what is coming up ahead. Checking the night before helps me to mentally prepare for the next day so that first thing in the morning I know exactly what I have to get up and do. Without knowing what you need to get done for the day it's very easy to want to crawl back in bed and stay there a bit longer. Don't fall for that trap. Schedule those lazy days to reward yourself after making the most of your productive days and so you can indulge in the rest time completely.

An example of what my day looks like might be:


7:45 AM Wake Up, prep lunch for Mr. and breakfast for myself.
8:30 AM Make coffee
9:00-10:30 AM Writing Time
10:45-11:15 AM Email Clients
12:00 Lunch, read inspiring magazines, yoga time.
1:00 PM Design Time
3:00 PM Admin Tasks, invoices, etc.

I make sure to schedule break times of about 15 minutes in between tasks and I set a dedicated hour to relaxing, maybe exercising and having lunch to break up the day and recharge. 

5. Delegate your weaknesses and remove distractions 

I know that one of my weaknesses is social media. I can get sucked into hours of Instagram scrolling, Vine video watching, blog reading and of course Pinterest. So for me that means putting my phone in airplane mode and disconnecting from Wi-Fi so that I can't open those apps and they don't get loaded. On the computer the same distractions are still available so I have gotten into habit of visiting coffee shops and not asking for the Wi-Fi password. Thus forcing me to only work on my tasks like writing, designing or office admin tasks. For those who work at home maybe that means signing off of Wi-Fi or signing up for online task management distraction blockers. There's lots of free tools available that will help you stay focused on your work.

If you know that managing your finances is a weakness that sucks up your productive time, consider delegating that task out. Hire a CPA, Virtual Assistant (VA) or beg your spouse (if they are good at it) to handle that task for you. 

These are the top 5 things that I've been practicing lately to help me stay productive when I work from home and hopefully they will help you as well.

Next up: 8 Free Tools to Run Your Business

This post Scheduling And Staying Productive When You Work From Home first appeared on Manami Design.