Growth is Optional

I’ve been trying hard to figure out the best way of articulating this topic without coming across as a douche bag, telling you what should be oh-so-obvious already. But… I think it needs to be said, if only for my own cathartic therapy.

These past few weeks I’ve been working. Just working. 

Coming into my office in the morning, and setting about the day’s work. I haven’t learnt anything new. I haven’t experienced ‘awesome personal/business growth’. I’ve just worked. Nose to the grind stone, bringing home the bacon (or earning the cash to buy the bacon… and coffee), working.

And then I started feeling guilty. For working hard. What the fuck is up with that?!

There seems to be a worrying trend right now that if you’re not growing or learning, or expanding your blahblahblah mind desires dreams, then you’re not doing good stuff.

There is nothing wrong with just working hard. In fact, it’s really fucking admirable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of pushing your boundaries, learning new stuff, and generally being curious. But damn, not doing those things all the live long day should not be a cause of guilt.

I feel like we’re constantly being bombarded with new ways of learning, new information to take in, and a sick marketing ploy of ‘If you don’t do this you will suck forever & fail at life’. Nope. Nope nope nope. 

Growth is optional. Coasting is fine. Learning is a bonus. 

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How to Stay Organised Part 1

how-to-stay-organised

I’ve been meaning to do an organisation post for a while now, but the truth is that my methods of keeping organised change month-by-month. I might discover a new app, or change how I do something, so it’s a pretty fluid process. ‘How to Stay Organised’ is probably going to be an ongoing thing, and I’ll keep you updated on when I discover a new way of keeping my shit together.

I function so much better when things are in order. That goes for home life as well as work life. I get a sick satisfaction from having all my dry goods organised in Kilner jars with Martha Stewart labels, I could while away the hours cataloguing all our paperbacks, and the sound of a dymo printer is like music to my ears. I’m type A and proud!

I wasn’t always this way, I used to revel living in ‘artistic chaos’, and parts of my life still resemble that (don’t look in my desk drawer…jesus). This year, though, I decided it was time to take charge! I’m overhauling, decluttering and organising every aspect of my life. And boy, it feels good.

Today I’m going to focus on how I stay organised with work tasks, and let you know some ways I use several free (or low cost) services to keep things flowin’ smoothly. I’ll be following some of these up with more in-depth posts, but for now I just want to give an overview.

Evernote

I use Evernote every day for note keeping and idea dumping. Until recently I also used it to keep track of client projects. The beauty of Evernote is that you can use it across various devices and have them sync up. I can take notes when I’m out and about on my iPhone, and they’ll sync right back up to my Macbook when I get home.

  • I have several notebooks pertaining to different areas of my life, ie. ‘Finest Imaginary’ where I can keep notes on that side of my business and ‘Kim Lawler Creative’ where I can keep notes on that.
  • If I’m taking an online course, I’ll set up a notebook dedicated solely to it, where I can keep course notes and links.
  • When I was using it for client projects, I’d have three notebooks – Active, Complete, Upcoming – and a note for each project. It’d be a great place for dumping sections of emails, keeping information that I needed to reference quickly, and keeping an eye on what projects I was actually working on at the time.

There’s probably so much more I could also be doing with Evernote, but for now it serves as a great place for me to dump ideas and make on the fly lists.

Teux Deux

Me and lists are like that (I’m doing that crossing my fingers like we’re best pals thing). I couldn’t work without a daily to do list, how can anyone?!

“Let’s make a list!” is my go-to first action whenever anything comes up. “Wanna go to Ikea?”, “SURE! Let’s make a list!”.

Teux Deux is my digital list saviour. I’ve used a variety of list making apps: wunderlist, remember the milk, astrid, but Teux Deux has been the one I’ve stuck with. The beauty is in its simplicity.

  • It syncs across devices, so I can keep my Ikea shopping list on there!
  • I’ve created several repeating to dos to keep me on track. Each day I need to print invoices, package items, and print postage – those are repeated automatically without me having to re-add them. Every Monday I need to remember to install updates, restart my Macbook (without it being on my to do list it probably wouldn’t get done until it freaked out and crashed), and do my book keeping.
  • I add to dos as they happen. I might have told a client that I’ll have their contract over to them on Friday, so I add it as a to do for the upcoming Friday. When it rolls around, it’s already there on my to do list. It makes it so much easier to keep track!
  • Along with daily to dos, I have a few other random to do lists on there. These include ‘Stuff to do some day’ and ‘Stuff we need for the house’. I can drag entries from any list into any other, so if I decide I’m going to do one of the ‘Some day’ items this week, I can drag it onto a day. Neato!

Basecamp

I’ve only just started using Basecamp again, I’ve been looking for a project management software for the past year or so that fulfils all my objectives. I’d used it in the past but thought the price was a little high, however, after failing to find something that worked as well I decided to go back to old faithful Basecamp.

Everything else was either too complicated (Podio), came with hidden costs (Siasto), or was just not quite there with client access (Wunderlist).

  • Each project I’m working on has its own project space in Basecamp.
  • My clients can be added to the project (at no extra cost), and I can hide things from them that I want to keep just for my own information (they don’t need to see a bunch of development to dos).
  • We can share files, documents and comments on there. It’s removed the need for a lot of emails!
  • I can see instantly which projects are active, and can archive projects that are either complete or on the back burner.

It’s not cheap, at $20 a month for the basic package, but it’s not gonna break the bank either. I’ve been using the free trial for the past few months and it’s working out well! This is one I’ll keep you updated on, though.

Dropbox

Not much to be said about Dropbox that hasn’t already been said. It makes sharing larger files a breeze. It lets my accountant keep me in the loop with all the HMRC stuff that we have to look over. And it means I can store a bunch of stuff that I’d like to access via the app on my iPhone/iPad.

  • I use dropbox to create a sharing folder for me and my clients. It’s a great place for them to share image assets with me.
  • I store all my book keeping receipt scans on there.
  • I back-up all my iPhone photos on there.

Again, I’m sure there’s more I could be doing with Dropbox (what do you use it for?), but it’s already helped hugely with file sharing between me and my clients.

Google Calendar/Drive

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about Google Calendar or Drive, but they play a huge part in my organisation. Here’re just some of the ways I use them both:

  • Google Drive can sync with Basecamp, so clients can share documents with me from their Drive on there. It’s making the cross-program (I’m on a Mac, lots of my clients are on PCs) issues of the past quickly become irrelevant.
  • I’ve been drafting a few of my upcoming worksheets in Google Drive, it means I can access them easily from where ever I am – and even work on them via my iPad.
  • Adam and I share Google Calendars so we know when either of us has something booked. We’ve also got a calendar with our monthly home related bill schedule.
  • I share spreadsheets with my accountant via Google Drive, so he can make amendments easily and I can see where he’s changed something.

I think that’s enough for Part 1, and I hope it’s given you some ideas on organisation. I’ve still got lots of talk about, and I’m sure I’ll be going into more depth on some of the things I’ve mentioned above!

Now, over to you, what applications, website or other methods (old school pen and paper?) do you use to keep organised?

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Are you staying curious?

curious

Back when I was at University, I decided to spend some time making websites. I was interested in how people could create those awesome, updateable websites without just copying and pasting a html file. I figured there must have been an easier way. And that spark of curiosity is what lead me to what I do today.

Curiosity, especially outside your comfort zone, will ignite ideas and passions that you didn’t even know existed. And don’t forget how awesome it is to just learn new stuff. It’s been proven that continuing to learn throughout your entire life has a profound effect on how your brain will degenerate when you’re older.

How to stay curious…

Curiosity has many guises. It could be spending some time figuring out a solution to an everyday problem in your work, taking the left turn instead of the right turn just to see where you end up, or reading up on a subject that you’ve always been sort of interested in. It can be falling down a wikipedia rabbit hole, discovering that grilled banana and peanut butter really is one of the best desserts, or even just opening up wp-config.php and taking a look around. Here are some ideas for staying curious this week…

  • Pick up a non-fiction book and read it cover to cover. I just finished listening to Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 on audiobook, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
  • Draw a map of your favourite city – from memory (if you dare)! This is more of a brain exercise than anything, but it gets you thinking about somewhere you love to visit, and will spring ideas of where you’d like to go next.
  • Read an article each day about new technology, either in your own market (ie. web/jewellery design for me), or something completely different. National geographic is always a good resource for a curious mind.
  • Make plans to visit a museum this month.
  • Explore part of your town that you’ve never visited before.
  • Check out a Skillshare class in something you’d love to learn – my particular favourites are the lettering classes by Mary Kate McDevitt & Map Making class by Anne Ditmeyer.
  • Eat something you’ve never eaten before. We have a couple of sections in our local Sainsbury’s dedicated to foods from India, Jamaica and Poland, there’re so many interesting foods there that I’ve been meaning to try.

How do you stay curious? Any tips you’d like to share?

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Create brand loyalty from kick-ass customer service

brand-loyalty

Last Friday, on Valentine’s Day, we’d just enjoyed an awesome Marks and Spencer’s dine in meal-deal-thingy. It was awesome. Scallops, beef wellington, chocolate soufflé, red wine – all the things my foodie brain dreams of. And all from the comfort of my sofa. Ah. Glorious.

This particular deal came with a box of heart shaped chocolates. Cutely packaged, the perfect 9.30pm end to a gluttonous evening.

Only… ours tasted weird. They had some strange chemical taste to them, sort of like when you get deodorant in your mouth (I don’t do this often… well, it’s one of the main reasons I switched to roll on).

I tweeted about it, as you do. It hadn’t ruined our evening or meal, nothing like that, but it was a bit disappointing.

10 minutes later I was tweeted back by Marks and Spencer. At 9.40pm on a Friday they had someone manning their social media, replying to disgruntled tweeters and holding up their customer service excellence. They arranged to call me the next day and investigate further (which they did).

The very fact that they actually responded to my (not even directly accusatory) tweet has kicked my brand loyalty up a notch. We’re so used to being actively ignored by big corporations, we’ve all seen the social media horror stories of the past. This was refreshing, and such a simple act – and a fair few people on my twitter timeline noticed it & complimented M&S on their response.

So what are the take aways?

  • Open up the lines of communication – never leave a customer hanging. If they have an issue, respond.
  • And respond politely. I’m not saying I buy into that old adage of the customer always being right (let’s face it, they’re not), but damn, everyone deserves good manners. As an aside, since running my own businesses I always treat customer service staff with respect and try my hardest not to get frustrated. I understand just how far a smile and a “thank you” will go in their day, and how much more willing they’ll be to help resolve the situation.
  • Be timely. Don’t wait days to resolve the situation, resolve it as quickly as possible. I know that most people running smaller businesses can’t afford to have a customer service rep on-call 24/7, but make it your first priority when you get in the office.
  • Be honest. Did something go wrong? Explain this to the customer, and explain what you’re doing to resolve it & make sure it doesn’t happen again. People appreciate honesty*.
  • Be genuine. Don’t be automated. No one likes a robot, they want to feel that someone genuinely cares about their issue. And if you have any respect for your customers and your business, then you should genuinely care.

Now that we’re well and truly in the realms of social media driven customer service, staying on top of your customer’s issues is a top priority. A few tweets and Facebook shares could make or break your business, which way would you rather go?

What are your top tips for customer service? Have you seen any amazing examples of customer service? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below and share your experiences!

*Well, most people. You’ll still get the odd screamer – don’t let them ruin your day.

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A new leaf!

Things are looking a little different around here, right?

I’ve had a huge redesign, rethink, and rebrand.

I’ve also moved my ENTIRE old personal blog, hiphopsideproject, over here.

Why?

In the simplest terms: to make my life easier.

It was getting pretty difficult to maintain two blogs AND my other retail business website, so much so that I took a break from the whole blogging thing for a few months. I had time to take stock of where my business was at, where I wanted my business to go, and what I had to do to get there.

So here’s the new deal

  • There won’t be as many super-personal posts over here (don’t worry, I’ll still share puppy + kitty photos!).
  • There’ll be way more posts relating to creative business, the internet and stuff relating to the business side of things.
  • I’ll be sharing more about my creative processes, and of course, behind the scenes stuff in my office & home (they’re one and the same).

I’m looking forward to getting back into blogging!

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