Category: design

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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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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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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 designing your ideal week can increase your productivity (and sanity).

business, productivity, systems

“You have a choice in life. You can either live on-purpose, according to a plan you’ve set. Or you can live by accident, reacting to the demands of others. The first approach is proactive; the second reactive.” — Michael Hyatt I love that quote by Michael Hyatt. I had googled “design ideal week” and stumbled upon his post: How to better control your time by designing your ideal week. I’ve been planning a week ahead  of my schedule for the last year or so… but what I hadn’t really realized is that I wasn’t really sticking to the schedule I had set out for myself, and still always felt busy. My weekly ideal schedule had become more of a pipe dream, and I was still operating in reaction mode. Finally after stumbling upon Michael’s post, I had a much clearer idea of how to create a framework for my week that would empower me to feel more focused by theming days of the week, and even parts of the day. SO simple, I know. Some of you have been doing this for ages and you’re already a pro, and some of your who saw my schedule said “woah, that’s so rigid, I need more flexibility!” Here’s the thing: this structure GIVES me way more flexibility. This allows me to be in proactive mode. Structure enables flexibility I do not naturally conform to structure; structure is not something that comes easily to me (I know some of my students might tell you otherwise). It’s something I study over and over again, so that I can find the environment that enables me to thrive naturally. What I realized since launching Digital Strategy School is that my schedule had become way too unpredictable. Students were able to book their sessions with me almost any time and any day of the week, provided my calendar was empty. This would sometimes result in weeks with 2 meetings, followed by weeks with 8 meetings, sometimes...

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Proposals, products, process, and workflow: Interview at Nusii.com

life, productivity, systems

“If ever there was an example of a design entrepreneur, then Marie Poulin is that example. She’s already enjoyed a successful freelance career, working with clients that most would give parts of their anatomy to collaborate with. But now Marie is embarking on a different path, the lesser traveled road of products. Marie recently took the time to tell us all about it. Grab a coffee and enjoy the interview. You’ve gone from freelance designer to multi-product entrepreneur. What prompted the change and what have been some of the biggest challenges?” Read the full interview over at: http://nusii.com/blog/marie-poulin...

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Check out my interview on The Busy Creator Podcast, episode 16

business, productivity

This week my guest interview with Prescott Perez-Fox of The Busy Creator went live. We talk about workflow, process, tools, habits, and some of my upcoming projects, as well as a little bit about my journey as a web designer and digital strategist....

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Are you booking your clients too far in advance?

business, life, productivity

I’m pretty grateful in that since the very first few days of running my business (back in 2009), I’ve had a steady stream of work inquiries in my email inbox. Not all of them are a good match or my ideal client, but I have been lucky to have options. There were many times over the last few years where I was receiving an average of one new job request per day. It felt like a good chunk of my days were being spent on customizing my “sorry I’m not available,” or “please tell me more!” emails. It was getting overwhelming, and I realized: I was undercharging and/or undervaluing my services (market demand is high… I shouldn’t be getting every single job I quote on!) I was not communicating my value or prices effectively (too many tire kickers; my services shouldn’t be appealing to everyone in a range of $500 – $20,000) I was wasting way too much time rejecting/accepting proposals (I didn’t have a system/templates!) Given that most of the time, I had to either turn down the work, or schedule them later, I started to find myself booked up for 4, 5, sometimes 6 months in advance! You would think this is a good thing, right? I know where my income is coming from over the next few months. Work is booked, bills are paid, everyone is happy. Right? Wrong. Here’s what happens, and I’ll give you a real life scenario from my own business. Project #1 begins in May, project #2 begins in July, and project #3 begins in september. There is some overlap scheduled within the projects, since I’m not working full-time on each project (there are 2-3 ongoing at any one time). As I begin approaching the middle of project #1, the strategy evolves, and a decision is made to add an online course component to the site. This obviously adds more design and...

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Mapping out your process for better workflow

business, productivity

When you’re just starting out your business, you’re likely figuring things out as you go. When I first started my business, I didn’t have a process. I was learning as I went along, and I never did things the same way twice. Each client became a mini experiment in my learning how to run my business. I would send wireframes to one client, and they wouldn’t really understand them. They wanted to see more visual detail, and couldn’t see how the wireframes were a skeletal overview to demonstrate the structure of the page. They were visual thinkers, and wanted to see visuals come together in a cohesive way in order for them to make decisions on the structure. Hmm. Okay, so, scrap this wireframe thing…? However, I had other clients that loved seeing wireframes, and it helped them understand how important the content was before beginning the design process. In fact, the wireframing process facilitated much discussion about some major structural decisions for the website that would very much influence the design and development. It became a huge time-saver in many cases. Huh. Some clients LOVE this wireframing thing, and some  just don’t get it. Some clients absolutely loved seeing a moodboard, and others didn’t really understand how to interpret it. “What am I looking at? Is this what the website will look like?” Some clients would hand me a document containing all of the content for their website, broken down page by page, and send me a dropbox link with all of their images sized, cropped, and ready to go. Others wouldn’t be ready with their content pretty much until right before launch. (Not recommended) Some would need more flexible payment plans, or wanted to negotiate items in the contract. One client required twice weekly (1-2hr) Skype meetings, with weekly agendas, deliverables and actionable tasks each day. One client would disappear for a month or two at a...

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Today is the day I forgive myself for being a night owl.

business, life, productivity

The last few weeks, or so it seems, I’ve had an incredibly difficult time waking up in the morning. I’ve found myself sleeping until 10am, 11am or sometimes noon. This morning I set my alarm for 8:45am, and hit snooze until about 9:45am. Perhaps it’s the change in season; not enough sunshine, not enough vitamin D… Ok maybe part of it is going to bed at 1am… UPDATE: I Finally rearranged my blinds so the windows now let in much more light, and hey, I’ve actually been able to wake up much earlier than usual! Either way, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated, as though my inability to wake up early in the morning was symbolic of laziness or un-productivity. I suddenly felt guilty, angry at myself and restless. My partner was quick to remind me: “You DID just launch your new website in 3 days last week, built 2 client website prototypes, went rock-climbing, did an interview, spent the weekend outside…” I laughed a little. He was right. When I look at what I had accomplished in the last 2 weeks, I was proud! Why was I giving myself such a hard time? Maybe I’ve read one too many books on productivity and efficiency. In Manage Your Day to Day, one chapter recommends not checking your email first thing in the morning, and instead, doing your best, most creative work first. This way you don’t spend the morning wasting energy on the drudgery of email and administrative tasks, leaving yourself feeling drained in the afternoon. The problem with this, however, is that I can safely say that nothing about my brain is creative first thing in the morning. That’s not to say that I am not open to the possibility of this, but for as long as I can remember, waking up in the morning has been a struggle. Picture 3 alarm clocks at various places around the...

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Use Google Docs spreadsheets to create a workback schedule for your web redesign projects

business, productivity

  UPDATE: This post is pretty outdated, but some people still find this useful. This is a public document. If you’d like to use it, save a copy for yourself and you are free to edit as you see fit! Web Redesign Project Workback Schedule   If you’re interested in rethinking your productivity and scheduling, you might want to check out one of my most popular posts to date: How designing your ideal week can increase your productivity (and...

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The many offices of Ubud, Bali

life, productivity, travel

I have had the pleasure of working in some very interesting offices during my time here in Bali. I made it my mission to find some of the best workable cafes/bars/restaurants/guesthouses. My main requirements were 1. Fast internet access 2. Comfortable/ergonomic seating & tables 3. Good food Below are some of my favourite spots I’ve worked at during my time in Bali, in order of preference Tutmak Tutmak is definitely one of the best places in Ubud to sit down and focus. I have spent many work days here (I’m on a first name basis with most of the waitresses). Food and drinks are excellent (try the wheatgrass shot, or the apple/carrot/beet juice), the wifi is by far the fastest and most reliable I’ve experienced, and the tables are upstairs, away from most of the other patrons. Tutmak seems like a bit of a hidden gem. Not a lot of people seem to know about it, so more often than not, I have the entire upstairs area to myself, which makes it easier to be productive. Clear Cafe Clear Cafe is definitely my favourite restaurant in all of Bali. The food is outstanding (though a bit pricier than most restaurants, but well worth it), their wifi is fast and reliable, and they recently renovated to include a very comfortable and quiet upstairs area that is perfect for getting a few hours of work done. I highly recommend the Magestic Mushrooms and the Vanilla Bean Latte (with cashew milk). For mains, you pretty much can’t go wrong… try the Hint of India, or the Chicano Burrito. Seniman A recent discovery, Seniman is an artisanal coffee shop. You can tell that they put a lot of time into their process/methods, and have very much perfected the art of coffee. Work tables are ideal, the wifi is very fast, and the food/coffee are fantastic (try the brie/cashew panini). The music is also...

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