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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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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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Should you use pre-made themes or drag-and-drop builders?

design, process, productivity

Here’s my (potentially controversial) opinion on working with themes and builders. To paraphrase a great question I got from one of my Digital Strategy School students: “I see many people using drag and drop builders for clients who can’t quite afford a custom themed service. But I’ve had reservations. Basically, I’m a purist and all that bloat makes me not happy…plus the fact that if they want to move onto something else later the shortcode mess afterwards hurts my brain… plus the fact that the client can seriously fudge up their layout and functionality and USEFULNESS of their site we so carefully planned out… So, what’s the upside? Is it the time factor? Is the wiz-bang factor? Am I being too precious about it all and just do what works? *hmmpf*” EXCELLENT question, and I do have opinions about this. And you are more than welcome to disagree with me My answer to the question above is this: I’ll begin by saying that I don’t believe there is one magical way to build a website. There are “best practices,” of course, and as much as possible I try to stay on top of what’s happening in the intersection of conversion-focused and empathy-driven website design. I used to build all of my clients’ websites from scratch, and this was extremely time-consuming. I spent MANY years learning how to work with HTML, CSS, PHP and WordPress, and I still don’t really consider myself “a developer.” I started using the Divi theme a few years ago, and it has become one of my go-to themes of choice for a number of reasons. Using Divi as a starting point has probably reduced my design and development time to less than a quarter of what I used to spend. No joke. A 75% time savings. This means I can build websites much faster, and focus on really diving into strategy + adding more value for my clients.   Your clients don’t “benefit”...

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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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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 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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The importance of presenting your work to clients: A live chat with Dennis Field

behind the scenes, business, design, digital strategy

This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Dennis Field, a designer, micropreneur, educator, and most recently Enterprise Evangelist at InVision, an application that helps designers prototype and present their progress to clients. This interview was originally recorded for Digital Strategy School, but there were so many good nuggets here that I decided to share it openly, and to give people a sense of the kinds of conversations we have in DSS. We talk about the transition from pixel-pushing designer to strategist, the importance of presenting your work to clients, and selling your clients on your ideas. There were a few technical glitches, so the last little chunk of the interview is gone, but there’s still lots of goodness here....

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Digital Strategy School Scholarship Winner(s)!

business, design, digital strategy

Wow, I had no idea I’d get so many fabulous applications for the Scholarship (there were 42, and I read every single one!) There was no easy way to choose based on best fit or application, so I decided used random.org to level the playing field! There was however one absolutely STAND-OUT application, and in the end I decided to award her a full Mastermind Scholarship. SO, I’ve awarded 2 scholarships: 1 Full Mastermind, and 1 Go Solo. Winner (Go Solo): Amanda Schoolfield Congratulations! I’m so excited to meet you and have you along for Digital Strategy School 2015! I will be in touch with next steps! Winner (Full Mastermind): Mylène Sigrist Ueda She was the only one who sent in a video application, and the effort she put in was seriously impressive. It was also the first time she had ever recorded herself on video. She stood out, and was clearly so excited about the opportunity, I really wanted to reward her effort. Check out her application video below! I’m so excited to see what we can do for her business over the next 6 months!     Thank you everyone who applied, tweeted, and got creative – I so appreciate you!!...

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Full Scholarship for Digital Strategy School! (closes Friday Jan 9, 2015)

business, design, digital strategy

I would love to help a fellow creative kickstart their business in 2015 with a scholarship to Digital Strategy School. If you’ve heard about Digital Strategy School and believe that the program is aligned with the direction you’d like to take your business, I invite you to send in an application. Course begins on January 16th, 2015 and runs for 6 months. Criteria Anyone is welcome apply, but I will select someone based on a few criteria: Best fit for the program Financial need Demonstrated potential Interest or activity in the field Some self-employment experience Creativity in the application process Deadline: Friday January 9th, 2015 (5pm PST) Award: One student will be awarded access to Digital Strategy School (the Go Solo course) + a 30-min Mentoring Session via Skype (or Google+). How to Apply: Head over to: http://digitalstrategyschool.com/scholarship for more details. Fill out the form, and a random applicant will be chosen using random.org! Learn more about the program at http://digitalstrategyschool.com Hear what the students are saying about the course: Digital Strategy School is the best investment you can make for your design business Marie is that unique blend of person who has the chops and the knowledge, and is constantly furthering her own education and networking to benefit clients, but is also a person of deep integrity who finds her purpose in supporting others to grow professionally and personally. Perhaps her greatest strength is that she has been where many designers are – wondering why client relationships aren’t as rich as they should be, why specific problems crop up repetitively with different clients, and how we as the leaders of the process can change our tools, approaches and interactions for the satisfaction of both client and service provider. I have watched my DSS peers grow exponentially, and heard their voices change from harried and worried about everything from sideways contracts and fear of financial setbacks to purposeful crafters of their own destinies, and I’ve seen the difference to their bottom lines and their...

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The Art and Science of Succeeding as a Designer

business, design

Join me for a free Webinar this tuesday October 28th, 11am PST with Bryce Bladon of Clients from Hell: The Art and Science of Succeeding as a Designer DURING THIS FREE WORKSHOP WE COVER: Systems and philosophies that help you create value, do well, and be happier. How to work smarter and not harder. Learn to get out of the freelance hamster wheel, striking “overwhelm” from your vocabulary, and making time for your passion projects. How to create real value for others by listening to the market, & giving others what they truly want & need. Small steps toward big results. Starting before you’re ready, knowing what you really want, and “Closing the gap” (between where you are now, and where you know you want to be). An authentic approach to business building. Finding your way in a crowded market, and aligning with you natural strengths. It’s a live Google Hangout, so please come join in on the Q+A!   UPDATE: Here is the recording if you missed...

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Behind the scenes: building an online course

behind the scenes, case study, design

Some of you may know (from Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest) that I’ve been working on an online course, Digital Strategy School. It’s a design business accelerator for freelancers who’ve had a few years of experience working for themselves, but are ready to run their businesses more strategically. This has been one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve ever taken on, and wanted to share some of the things I’ve been learning along the way. Perfectionism is crippling. Take imperfect action. I was terrified to “put it out there.” I’ve been thinking about it in some form or another for over a year, over-thinking the format, the cost, the content, etc. Initially I thought it was a book. Then perhaps it was an ecourse. I thought my audience was other website owners, and was trying so hard to do what I thought I should do (create an offering for those that couldn’t afford my full partnership services), and in the end, my audience wasn’t who I initially thought it would be. I decided to take Breanne’s Transform Your Course to help me piece together all the different parts, and it was instrumental in me discovering my real audience, and figuring out a way to deliver content that would help take them from Point A to Point B, which a clear plan of action. This also led to me releasing my unfinished/imperfect course to a small group of paying Beta testers. BETA TEST. BETA TEST. BETA TEST. I had no idea there would be such a demand for what I was assembling, and it wasn’t until I had someone offer me money for my insights via Facebook that I realized: I need to do something NOW. Not 6 months from now when this is polished. (If I’d waited until it was perfectly polished I know I would never have started!) So with that encouraging push, I assembled a simple page to gauge...

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Featured “Winning Wednesday” Interview on Makeness Media

business, design

Each week for her new series Winning Wednesdays, Illana of Makeness Media features an interview with a new entrepreneur from the greater Makeness community [so that means her clients, readers, colleagues, and members of the Makeness Insider community] who are doing one thing in their business really, really well. It will not include their whole life’s story. It will be a close examination of how they totally fucking rock at one single area. Topics we will probably cover will include things like design [duh.], client experience, copywriting, marketing tactics, etc… This week she featured me as her inaugural post, where I discuss building a community that will pay top dollar for your work. Enjoy!...

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Behind the scenes: logo design for A New Possibility

branding, case study, design

This is the first post in my Behind The Scenes series where I show you my project process as it unfolds. It’s fun. It’s messy. And hopefully you find it interesting! Benjamin and Lorie from A New Possibility have given me permission to share our work and communication with you. Benjamin first contacted me in April 2013 (no that’s not a typo, it has in fact been over a year of working together!). Wow, what a lovely introduction! I get a lot of work requests each week; the way they opened with their admiration for my work/attitude helps me feel more invested in them already (and of course, I tend to trust referrals from people I know). I responded at the time that I was fairly booked already, but if they were open to waiting a few months, we could arrange a Skype chat, and make sure we were a good fit. They responded that it was more important for them to have a flexible timeline in order to ensure that the experience was positive, and that they were hiring the right person for the job (aka they were willing to wait). After establishing our start dates and the project scope, the next step was to move our project communication into Basecamp, the project management tool I use to manage all of my client projects. My brain would surely melt if I had to manage all of our communication via email… I also started a Pinterest mood board where I encouraged them to pin anything relevant to the project: visuals, colours, symbols, photography, and anything else that related to the overall project look and feel. Inspiration We began by pinning images to the Pinterest board, and a few specific images I posted to Basecamp to encourage further discussion. Follow Marie Poulin’s board A New Possibility on Pinterest. Pinterest allowed us to get on the same page about the desired look and feel, by enabling us each to comment and give feedback on our various pins....

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Ten Women You Need to Know in Interface Design

branding, business, design, web

Fuel Your Interface included me in their blog post: Ten Women You Need To Know in Interface Design. I am honoured to be included in that list amongst some of those other...

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