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Online Course Delivery: Should you use a WordPress plugin or hosted platform?

business, online learning experiences

If you’ve been thinking about creating your own online course, you’ve probably been investigating your options for how to actually deliver your course material. I want to address the pros and cons of two specific approaches (there are others, but these are the most common, so these are the ones I’ll address here). For the majority of people, your options will boil down to one of two approaches: WordPress Plugin (like Wishlist Member, Memberful, or WP Courseware, etc.), or Hosted Platform (like Doki, Thinkific, Teachable, etc). Read the full post here  ...

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Discovering a Need And Filling–Twice: Podcast Interview on Tara Gentile’s Profit Power Pursuit

business, digital strategy

Join me as I speak very candidly with Tara Gentile about my journey into bringing products to life. We talk about everything from customer development, to self-doubt and imposter complex, to starting before you’re ready. Listen below: Discovering a Need And Filling–Twice–with Digital Strategy School & Doki creator Marie Poulin...

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Designing websites when you don’t have copy

business, design, process

You know the challenge: Your web design projects consistently get held up because the client just hasn’t delivered the content yet. I’ve seen this situation delay projects for as much as 6 months or more. How the heck can you do your job as the designer when you don’t have the copy yet? I’ve seen some small businesses try to tackle this by indicating in their proposals that they won’t even think about beginning the project until they’ve received all final approved copy. But that’s really just a band-aid solution. It doesn’t solve the real human problem at play here, which is that most people don’t know how to write great copy. If you’re a solo design business owner, you likely wear many hats (project manager, accountant, designer, etc), and while you might not be a copywriter, there’s a lot you can do to help manage the process of working with great copy in your projects. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the willingness to engage in helping provide a solution to this problem is a key part of what can separate you from a sea of other designers. It’s the difference between a designer and a strategist. If you haven’t yet read Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, go do that now (it’s a web designer must-read). She makes a pretty strong case about why content is everyone’s job. “Most web project schedules postpone content development until the eleventh hour. As a result, content quality is often seriously compromised. When we practice content strategy, we ensure that our web content is treated as a valuable business asset, not an afterthought.” While I have a few preferred approaches for dealing with this, I surveyed a few designers to find out how they deal with this issue, and have outlined a few ways to keep your projects moving: Design Content Modules Think of your design elements as...

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Making Your Own Rules (Podcast Episode: Confessions of a Female Entrepreneur)

behind the scenes, business

Alyssa Martin of Confessions of a Female Entrepreneur interviewed me recently, and we chat about everything from the importance of soft skills to paying attention to your energy, and building a business that suits your natural strengths....

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How to Implement a Retainer-Based Payment Model

business

Retainers can be a valuable way to bring in more consistent income, and reduce the feast and famine cycle experienced by many freelancers. A retainer is a fee paid in advance by a client to secure your services. There are several different types of retainers and ways to get started, each with it’s own challenges, requirements and advantages. Read more over at Freelance to Freedom...

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How to Transition From Technical Skill to Big Picture Strategy

business, design

Most designers, programmers, and other freelancers use their experience to help their clients strategize and figure out what work needs to be done to achieve the client’s goals. But how do you sell this type of strategy work, instead of only charging for the technical work (design, coding, etc) that results from it? See more at Freelance Transformation. This is a podcast interview with Matt Inglot at Freelance...

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Reflections on Microconf 2016

business

I’ll admit, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up for Microconf. I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that several people I knew and respected online had called it a “must-attend” conference. Microconf calls itself The Conference for Self Funded Startups. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve attended my share of conferences and events—mostly in the marketing space—but I was looking for something much more specific, and Microconf delivered. Having recently productized a large part of my business through the creation of Digital Strategy School, I was now in a completely different place with the very, very recent launch of our course platform Doki. We’d been working on our first MVP (minimum viable product) of our platform Doki for the last year or so, and 2 weeks before Microconf we had finally launched with actual instructors and students on the platform, which was equal parts terrifying and exciting! (If you want to be a beta tester, get on the list for the next round of onboarding, and we’ll send you an invite soon!) Now, I didn’t know the first thing about marketing software. I’d been reading everything I could get my hands on regarding product development and marketing, lean startup, prototyping, onboarding, user experience design, and even design thinking + innovation. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to attend a conference where every session was highly relevant, insightful, and actionable. Every conversation between sessions offered fabulous and interesting insights from people at every stage of business: still in idea mode, recently launched, focused on growth, sold their first product and working on the next one, and everything in between. There was such a willingness to be honest and transparent about successes, failures, revenue, growth, stagnation, etc. I learned just as much from attendees and I did from the speakers and presenters. And I felt grateful that I...

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Transitioning from Web Designer to Digital Strategist

business, design, digital strategy

In this episode of Divi Nation I chat with Nathan B. Weller about my transition from Web Designer/Developer to Digital Strategy and why more people might want to make the switch. We also talk about re-branding, what makes outside consultation valuable, and common mistakes WordPress web designers and developers make with clients. You can read the full interview...

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Why should I hire you?

branding, business

A designer was asked this by a prospective client in a Skype meeting, and she froze like a deer in headlights. “There are lots of designers out there… why should I hire YOU specifically?” If a prospective client asked you this on a call, would you know what to say? If you know exactly what you’d say, feel free to move along; this post is not for you. If you suspect that you’d probably have the same reaction (freezing in fear, unsure of how to respond), well, we’ve got some work to do, so read on. This is probably one of the most common struggles I see with designers: an inability to articulate the value they can bring to the client. There are many issues at play here including: process and workflow issues, confidence, and positioning. Just be aware, that if you struggle with this, you are in good company! I’ve seen this issue pop up time and time again, and as someone who has struggled with my own business confidence, I really needed to address this. First things first. It’s a totally fair question for a client to ask, yes? They’re not necessarily trying to grill you or catch you off-guard… they legitimately want to know what makes you different from the sea of designers out there (and yes, there is a sea of them!) An inability to answer this question usually signals one or more of the following issues: You don’t know your own value (or how to articulate it) You don’t have a solid, dependable process Your positioning is weak You lack confidence (or suffer from imposter syndrome) (Hint, these things are all related) Let’s address each of these problems, so that you can start to get more comfortable with the inevitability of the question: “Why should I hire you?” Problem: You don’t have a solid, dependable process I used to think I was winging it with...

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Making Space for Big, Ambitious Ideas

business, productivity

Guest post at One Woman Shop as part of their Solopreneur Sanity Series   If you’re anything like me, you’re a busy business owner, and it often feels like there are never enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. So how do you go about making space for big, ambitious ideas? How do you pay the bills, make time for wellness, and still achieve, create, and launch? Strategic Imbalance. This means planning for parts of the week/month/year to be hectic, while others are intended for recovery. There are times where I know that socializing and wellness take a bit of a backseat to my creative work. If you’re looking to accomplish something big in the next year, you’re inevitably going to be making some sacrifices. Instead of setting unrealistic goals, and beating yourself up for not reaching them, be realistic about the fact that you can’t do all the things. Choose which things are going to be your focus, and acknowledge that imbalance is part of the strategy. Read the full post: Making space for big, ambitious...

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2015 Year End Annual Review

behind the scenes, business, life

Every year in December I write a review of my year. They’re long, and they’re personal.  I take a look at the highs and lows, successes and failures, projects launched, and lessons learned. (You can read my 2014 and 2013 here). From last year’s intentions: 2015 will be the year of: connection, flow + ease. I spent so much of 2014 really focusing on business and marketing tactics; this next year is really about leveraging what I’ve already created, and finding more flow and ease within my business. I will let go of and stop doing: rush work, favour work, working on weekends + evenings (unless it’s my own work of course!), scope creep and unnecessary stress. I will feel: joyful, connected, loving, creative, energized, free, “in my element.” This year I will achieve more balance with my work and free time. I will continue to evolve Digital Strategy School, and will reinvent how I work with clients by scaling up my impact and offerings. I will create with ruthless intentionality, and nurture strategic and supportive collaborations. I will help as many people as I can grow their businesses strategically, and do work they love. Yep. I would say 90% of that was achieved. To describe 2015 in a nutshell… I’d compare it to leaping off a cliff with a big gust of wind keeping me soaring. I took some major risks, pushed through some major fears, and played a way bigger “role” (aka, majorly came out of my shell). It was an all around epic year. I had my first speaking gig, successfully launched my signature program, and Ben and I are close to launching the first beta of our web application Doki! This year’s review is a little less structured than in the past, and focuses on what happened each quarter, with some key learnings and take-aways. TL;DR Highlights:   (In mostly chronological order) Launching Digital Strategy School Visiting Portland with Amanda Working with Tanya Geisler, Leadership Coach That blog post going viral Traveling to Mexico for a wedding  ...

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New Dates for Digital Strategy School Mastermind

business, design, digital strategy

Digital Strategy School is a design business accelerator that helps designers transition into trusted advisors to their clients. We help designers run better businesses, position themselves more confidently in the market, and help them create their own strategic process. In this online mentorship program, you’ll learn how to run a thriving business as a digital strategist. I’ll show you a complete “behind the scenes” of how I run my businesses, complete with real numbers, real strategies, and real results (the good, the bad and the ugly). With over a decade of experience working on the web with tons of successful clients and incredible project launches, I’ve seen successes + failures, epic launches, and massive flops. I’ve seen what works, and where there’s room to grow. Get ready to take on a leadership role with your clients, run your business with more confidence, and learn how to integrate digital strategy into your workflow. You’ll get a sneak peak at how other established business owners run their design projects from start to finish, with insights into building (and improving) your client base, managing clients, scoping projects and proposals, budgeting and scheduling, streamlining your work processes, and understanding how to position yourself in the market. Over 70 designers have gone through the program, and have been raving about their experience and results:     “Coming at projects as “business improvement” instead of “web design” was a revolutionary idea to me, even though it was how I was approaching projects already and not charging for it. Marie is not just changing individual lives, she’s changing the industry.” — Rachel “This is a course that delivers waaaaaay more value than you’re paying for. Marie is a wealth of creative ideas for how to look at all aspects of your business and even though the course content is already so deep, she seems to have a magical never-ending library of worksheets, podcasts, blogs or anecdotes that help with the exact issue you may be facing. One of my favourite...

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10 Ways Designers Can Add More Value to Their Client Projects

business, design, digital strategy

As a digital strategist, I help my clients grow their businesses through the use of digital tools, only one of which happens to be their website. On the whole, I’m looking at how their website and related tools, systems, products, and workflow support the greater ecosystem of their business. If you’re a designer looking for new ways to bring more value to your client projects, but don’t know where to begin, here are 10 ways to get started: 1. Customer Experience Mapping As most clients are not designers, they often haven’t planned how all of the different customer touch-points come together to create a cohesive customer experience. How many barriers are there to purchase? How many calls to action? How cluttered are the interfaces? How do customers typically move through the site? How do you want them to move through the site? Help your clients design their customer’s experience by helping them identify the gaps, streamline technical pieces, and creative cohesive design elements at every touch-point. From sign-up forms and payment pages, to email confirmations and client welcome documentation, make sure that your client’s have factored in all of the pieces that often get forgotten, and contribute to the overall customer experience. Think branding, copywriting, and overall flow. 2. Customer Personas I often challenge my clients to get really specific on their customer personas, so they don’t make claims that their audience is “20-50-yr old females who like food!” (aka, way too large a market segment). There’s a huge difference between a 20 yr old woman and a 50 yr old woman, and making generalizations in your marketing will only make it more difficult to connect with your audience. I typically help my clients identify a primary and secondary persona, and then make strategic recommendations based on those personas. For example, if the customer persona is not active on Facebook, I’ll recommend alternative ways to connect, some of which might even be in-person. Do some research into your client’s audience +...

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The Art of the Sales Process

business

(Or, how I ended up doubling my budget for my new hire.)   I can’t emphasize enough the power of first impressions with regards to “sales calls.” I almost cringe when I say “sales call,” because it feels a bit devoid of humanity, doesn’t it? In Digital Strategy School, I teach my students to paint the vision of their prospective client’s future via your collaboration together. You can’t simply offer a list of technical features; you have to help your prospective clients envision what results are possible. Not only that, but it’s so important to listen deeply, ask the right questions, and read between the lines. What does your client really need and desire? What’s keeping them up at night? Well, for once *I* was on the receiving end of an incredible sales experience. I had become the bottleneck in my business My ideal week was beginning to look more like a pipe dream, and I needed to regain control of my schedule. I knew needed to hire some help, but who to hire? I’d been a lone wolf for so long, I wasn’t sure what kind of help I needed. And who could I possibly find that could work with my erratic schedule? So in late September I started putting out feelers for people to help me with my workload, without any clear idea of what I needed. Did I need design help, administrative assistance, or something else entirely? I wasn’t sure yet, but I quickly decided to hire a virtual assistant (VA) to help me with some of the more mundane day-to-day tasks that were not revenue generating, and could be done without my involvement. (This was immediately a great decision). Then a colleague of mine connected me with a woman who she thought might be able to help me. I thought to myself, well I’ve already hired a VA, so I think I’m good, but it...

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How to Sell Like a Saint

business

“Marketing is simply, and literally, “bringing your products to market.” And sales is making the right offer to the right person. And yet, research shows that “selling” immediately brings to mind negative word associations. It’s as if the world hadn’t dramatically changed since the release of Glengarry, Glen Ross. But the world has changed, and it’s the prospect, not the salesperson, who has control. So, the simple secret to “selling” is something much more powerful – empathy. I’m joined today by Marie Poulin, a coach who helps purpose-driven entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life in the digital space. Her advice can help any freelancer or creative entrepreneur who wants to grow the business without sacrificing the soul. Listen to the Podcast Interview with Brian...

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Smooth out the feast or famine cycle

business

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen that consistently holds creative business owners back (and plenty of other businesses for that matter) is the Feast or Famine cycle. Most creatives have experienced the feast or famine cycle in some capacity or another: too many projects happening at once, or crickets chirping which makes us nervous, so we take on projects that don’t really make sense for our business out of financial desperation. Conquering the feast or famine cycle doesn’t happen overnight, but here are a few ways you can start to smooth out that cycle, and reduce the extreme highs and lows. 1. Raise Your Rates I see a lot of creatives who are operating their business at a loss, but they aren’t even aware. They have money come in, and money goes out, but they haven’t truly crunched the numbers to figure out how much they need to earn at a minimum to pay their bills, pay themselves, and leave some equity in their business. They’re undercharging on projects, and their business is taking a hit because they aren’t accurately tracking things like administrative time, trouble-shooting, new business development, and marketing. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of my business decisions tend to be based on what feels good, but in order to make smart decisions about your business, you have to have all the information first. If you’re feeling the “feast or famine” in your business currently, it’s likely that you aren’t charging enough to leave a buffer for when work slows down. If your pricing is based on an hourly rate that assumes you’ll be working an 8hr day, you’re going to be stretching yourself too thin. (Most people forget to factor in vacation time and holidays as well!) Is there room to increase your current rates? (Whether project-based, hourly, or value-based?) Is there room to shift the way you charge your clients?...

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Chatting about what it means to be a more strategic business owner

business, digital strategy, productivity

Check out our chat over at the Freelancers’ Show. We talk about managing projects, transitioning from freelancer to strategic business owner, and making tough decisions in your business....

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How to choose your clients wisely (and why you must!)

business

  One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to get ruthlessly honest about who you work best with, and for whom you are the best fit. What this means: You need to know your criteria for an excellent client fit. And that won’t be the same as mine, or as any other business owner. It also means that you have to be willing to often say no. Which can be really. damn. hard. And initially this can seem impossible if you’re in a position where cash-flow is an issue. You will be defined more by the clients you turn down than those that you work with. You’re not giving your best to clients when you feel resentful, annoyed, under-appreciated, or under-paid. Either remove what is causing the resentment (under-charging, too-quick turnarounds, bad habits), or be at peace with letting that client go, and move on with your business. Don’t take on any new projects where you already feel resentful (about their budget, their aesthetic preferences, or anything else for that matter) or plan to half-ass the project because you need the cash. Everyone suffers when you do this. How do I decide who to work with? I have my own criteria based on years of experience, observation, personal development, and self-awareness. I look at: The business or idea/vision: Is it interesting/unique/revolutionary and marketable? Does it provide an interesting challenge for me professionally? Does it provide something good for the world? Is there potential for this idea to grow? The client: Are they passionate about their idea? Are they open to collaboration? Are they open to the organic nature of my process? Do they value my contribution as an expert (or are they looking for a pixel pusher)? Are they flexible, curious, and committed? Do they have the required budget for the work involved (are they being realistic about desire vs cost)? Will I be able to help...

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Behind the scenes of creating, launching and marketing an online program: PART 1

behind the scenes, business

TL;DR: Your first launch is scary as sh*t. Validate your idea by asking your audience first before you build the thing. Feel the fear. Do it anyway. Leave space to execute on big ideas. “Pay what you can” helped me build an intimate + supportive community. Give generously. Then give some more. ______________________________ Last week I pressed send on the final email of my 6-month online mentorship program, Digital Strategy School. I remember before launching that I had no idea how I would reach the end. I didn’t know what it would look like, or how I would get there. It is by far one of the most terrifying, challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever taken on, both personally and professionally. I want to share with you the evolution of DSS, because I hope it helps you see that creating online programs, products, courses etc., doesn’t happen overnight. And they certainly won’t ever happen if you don’t give yourself the time and space to create them. In reality? The entire process took about a year. Here is a peek into my journey of creating an online program: a hybrid online course + group mentorship program. The Evolution of an Idea The concept for DSS was a long and slow evolution. Back in the summer of 2013, I was having my first inklings of an idea, and I knew that I could help other freelance designers. I would get emails from designers who were struggling, and I knew a lot of the problems stemmed from the same things I had struggled with: boundaries, expectations, confidence, and project management. Around the same time I had started working with coaches and mentors, and knew the value that these fresh + intelligent perspectives were bringing to my own business and confidence. “It must be an ebook for freelancers,” I thought to myself. I knew I wanted to help other freelance designers, and I was too zoomed in to see the...

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The Collaborative Designer

business, design, digital strategy

If you want to survive as a designer in the new digital economy, you must take a collaborative role with your clients. Your job is to assist your clients in finding the most effective solution for them and their business. Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of designers, and seen behind the scenes of a lot of client projects. One pattern that I’ve seen pop up again and again (and make no mistake, I’ve been guilty of it myself) is the designer becoming frustrated with their clients for making design-related requests. “But I’m the expert! Why is the client hiring me if they won’t let me do my job?”. The designer of the new economy must act as a facilitator, not dictator. A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives. (Wikipedia) “Designer knows best” doesn’t work anymore (I’m not sure it ever did?), because no matter how sweet your design skills, you really don’t know what your client’s audience wants without doing your research. David Holston puts it best in his book The Strategic Designer: “Clients, once thought of as the spoilers of great design, are now seen as the source of creative ideas and an integral part of developing meaningful design concepts.” It’s essential to bring your clients’ insights into your work together if you want to contribute to meaningful work that solves real problems for real people. Your role is to facilitate the success of your client. It’s time to check your ego. Now of course, it’s true that most of the time your clients aren’t trained in basic design principles. And yes, there are times where a client will make requests for aesthetic changes that don’t do their business any favours. This does happen, and can be frustrating, but you have a few options when this happens: Educate yourself and your client. Find evidence that...

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