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How to Run Your Creative Business While Working Full-Time

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It’s the ultimate dream doesn’t it? Spending your days in your studio or in your home office running your own creative business. The longest commute of the day is from your bedroom to your studio. Not having to request vacation or sick days from your boss because, the boss is you! It’s just you, your work and your customers.

But if you’re like a good many creative business owners, that scenario is a daydream…at least for now. Your creative venture don’t quite pay all the bills yet. So as of now you have a full or part time job in addition to your creative side gig (or gigs). How do you effectively juggle all of that and still have a life as well?

Juggling a creative business with a full-time job (and a family and that thing called life) isn’t easy, but it can be done. Here are some tips on how you can maintain the balance.

Managing your time

The biggest factor in juggling your job and your business is time. Or rather the lack of it. If you’re struggling to successfully managing your time between your job and your business, here are a few ideas to consider:

Carve out time for your business– We all have have small pockets of time throughout the day that you can take advantage of to get some work done. Even if you feel like your days are packed, there are always some pockets of free time you can use to work on your business.

The first step in carving out your time is to keep a time diary for a week or two so you can track when you go to sleep, when you get up, how long it takes you to commute to work, how long it takes you to prepare a meal, how long it takes you to get ready in the morning, what you do during your downtime, and so forth. By the end of the week you should have a fairly accurate picture of what your days are like and how you actually spend your time.

Look over your time diary and see where your free time is. Can you find pockets of 30 minutes to an hour you can use to get some work done? Are you able to make extra time for yourself by giving up a few hours of television or waking up a half hour early or going to bed a half hour or so later? Can you allocate a few hours per week on the weekend for your creative business? Could you spend a couple of lunch breaks per week to tackle a few tasks?

Don’t underestimate the amount of work you can get done in a half hour. I often find that the amount of time it takes me to do something magically expands to fit the time I have available. The advantage of time limits is that it often forces you to focus and work efficiently.

Juggling a creative business with a full-time job isn't easy, but it can be done Click To Tweet

Make use of systems– When your time is limited, efficiency is key. There’s probably a lot of tasks that you do over and over again on a regular basis like shipping orders, sending invoices, posting social media updates, or following up on sales calls. If you don’t have a systemized workflow to handle these routine tasks you’re probably wasting a good bit of time.

The benefit of setting up and using a system for your tasks is that you follow the same steps each and every time you do it. You won’t have to waste time trying to figure out what to do next. You’re less likely to skip a crucial step in the process which may cause mistakes that you have to go back and fix. And you can easily train an assistant or employee on the process if you have a solid one already in place.

A system doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a checklist or a set of tasks in a to-do list that you go through and check off while you’re working on a routine task.

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Setting up systems and workflows for common tasks to can help save time in the long run.

And remember that systems aren’t just a good idea for your business. You can use systems to save time in your personal life as well. For example, I created a system for preparing my clothes for the entire week on Sunday mornings. I check my calendar to see if there are any meetings where I need to dress up a bit, and check the weather to see if it’s going to be hot, cold, or raining. And I also check the clothes I want to wear to make sure there aren’t any missing buttons, wrinkled, stains that made it though the wash, or any surprise ripped seams or tears. The clothes are then arranged by day towards the front of the closet.

So instead spending five to ten minutes every morning trying to decide what to wear, all I have to do is grab my pre-selected outfit for the day and get dressed. This small savings in time every morning allows me to spend it on accomplishing business tasks before work.

Systems can be an awesome time-saver. Give them a try!

Get and stay organized– Another side benefit of creating systems is that they can also encourage you to organize your workspaces…which also saves more time. The less time you spend looking for more packing tape or trying to find that file on your computer is more time spend spent on more important things.

Take some time to organize your physical workspace. Set it up so you can quickly find materials that you use frequently and stow away things that you don’t need on a regular basis. Organize your digital files so that you’re not sifting through dozens of vaguely labeled folders or trying to sift through multiple versions of the same file to find what you need to work.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have to have one of those absolutely clean workspace with nothing but a pencil on the desk. Rather, set up your space so that you know where everything is and that you can lay your hand on the things you need when you need them instead of having to search for them.

Take advantage of mobile apps and services– There are a wealth of free and paid apps out there these days that can help you save time and manage your side gig while on the go. Everything from productivity apps like Todoist, IFTTT, Trello, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Evernote to apps that help your run your business like Sell on Etsy, Mailchimp, or Buffer.

With your mobile device and the right apps, you have the equivalent of a traveling office in your pocket. You can easily take advantage of spare minutes like waiting in line or at the doctor’s office, during commutes on public transportation, or for a few minutes between meetings to keep track of your projects, tasks, and schedule as well as manage your social media, update your Etsy store, send email newsletters, and update your blog.

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Day to day tasks and longer term projects can be successfully managed using productivity apps such as Todoist.

Have a plan– If you’re first starting out or even if you’ve been working at your business for a while, you may find yourself flailing around, doing one task, then switching over to another task, and eventually you find that you’re doing a bunch of work, but you’re not really going anywhere.

This drifting around from one unrelated task to another is usually a sign that you don’t have a clear plan for your business; a tangible goal to reach and a roadmap to get there. Without a goal or a timeline to work towards, it’s easy to simply fill what time you have with aimless tasks that gets you nowhere.

What do you want to accomplish with your creative business in the next year or so? Do you want to write your first novel? Build your first collection? Get into your top three galleries? Take some to to really think about where you want your business to go in the next 12 months. Express that accomplishment in the form of a tangible, measurable goal, such as; “In 12 months, I want to launch a collection of 12 new designs“.

Once you’ve decided on a goal, all of your tasks should be focused on that goal. This tight focus keeps you from wasting time on useless tasks. If a task isn’t closely related to your main goal, it shouldn’t be on your list.

Annual_Plan_CoverOne tool that can help you break your main goal down into an actionable task list is an annual plan. An annual plan steps you through on planning your main goals in various areas of your life for the next year, and then creating a plan help you reach your goal. You can download a copy of the Annual Planning Guide from the Creative Business Toolbox.

Get help where you can– Getting more done doesn’t mean that you have to do it all yourself. If you need help managing your Etsy store or building a website or managing a lot of your office related tasks, consider hiring an assistant for a few hours a week.

A virtual assistant can answer emails, update your website, or do marketing research, or send newsletters while you’re at your full time job or even while you’re asleep. You can opt to hire a local assistant to come in during the evenings or the weekend to help you with fill orders, filling, or organizing your workspace. This can free your precious time up to do higher level tasks like strategizing, creating your work, or finding new customers.

You may even find that your spouse or children are actually eager to help you with certain business related tasks as well. I recently completed a full inventory of my jewelry and supplies with the help of a teenaged cousin who also helps with household chores from time to time. Inventory is a task that I always find to be an exasperating, yet necessary evil. She found it infinitely fascinating to learn the ins and outs of keeping inventory and why it’s important. And of course, the main attraction for her was seeing all the jewelry. It was a win-win for both of us.

Don’t forget that the less time you spend on normal household tasks like cleaning, cooking, and running errands, the more time you can allocate for your creative gig. If you have a significant other or children, work with them to redistribute some of your household related chores so that you have more time to spend on your business.

If you don’t have anyone to redistribute chores to, consider hiring a cleaning service once or twice a month to clean while you work on your business. For other household projects line small repairs, errands, and yard work, you can use a service like Task Rabbit can help you find people in your area that will offload those chores on a one time or ongoing basis.

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Services like Task Rabbit can help you manage household and personal tasks so you can have more time for your business.

Managing your energy and focus

Making time to work on your creative business is only part of the battle. You also need to be productive with the time you set aside. Being able to divide your energy and focus between your job and your creative business is just as important. Here are some tips to help you manage your energy.

Work with your natural energy flow– Everyone has natural energy peaks and lows. If you work a regular 8 hour day at your full-time job, you may often find yourself too tired and mentally drained to work on your side gig before bed, especially if you’re not a night owl. If you’re not a morning person, the thought of waking up early to work seems ludicrous when there’s always more sleep to be had.

When you’re carving out time to work on your side gig, remember to work as much with your natural energy flow as possible. If you’re a morning person, take advantage of that energy by rising an hour or two earlier before work. If you’re a night owl, use your extra burst of energy in the evening to get your tasks done. Match the tasks you’re doing to match when you have the greatest amount of focus. I focus best in the mornings, so I choose those times to do tasks that require more brainpower for me, like planning and writing. I save tasks that require less focus like listing Etsy store items, editing photos, inventory, or filling orders for the evenings.

And take note of your limits as well. If you’re a morning person but you’re still sleepy at 5am, adjust your routine so that you either go to bed earlier to get enough sleep to be alert at 5am or simply get up a bit later, say at 6am instead.

You’ll also have days where you seem to be super focused and days where your mind seems to be a bit “fuzzy”. In many cases it’s better to adjust your tasks and schedule to accommodate the days that you seem to be off instead of trying to power through them.

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Use your calendar to map out your day-to-day work schedule and tasks.

Don’t forget that it’s just as important to manage your energy at your 9 to 5 job. The energy you spend at your full-time job will effect how much you’ll have left for your creative business. If you find that you’re frequently coming home from work exhausted and fried, that could be a sign that you need try to take better control of your work day.

If you’re able, try to build in more breaks throughout your day at your full-time job where you take a few minutes to get away from your task and regain your focus. One study showed that people tend to work better if they work in 1 hour increments followed by a 15 minute break. If you can, try this technique in your own 9 to 5 job and see if it makes a difference in how you feel at the end of the day.

Set the mental stage for work– Squeezing a couple of extra minutes into your schedule here and there can help you knock out small tasks. But a lot of your more impactful, meaningful work is going to require your full energy and attention. How you go about starting your work and setting up your work area can help you set the proper stage.

For tasks and projects require your full concentration, set the stage in so that your mind is totally focused on your work. In a recent Creative Live article, writer Suchi Rudra described how she juggled writing fiction pieces on the side while working as a staff writer for a business journal. She would come home from work, shower, change into comfortable clothes, light a stick of incense she brought back from a recent trip to India, turn on some mood music and spend the next few hours writing. Using this method she managed to write her first novella in less than a year.

Think about what kind of work ritual you can implement that will help you focus on your side gig. For example, I do most of my blog post writing in the mornings a couple of hours before work. I get out of bed, put on my most comfy robe, perform a brief morning ritual to wake me up, make myself a cup of tea, go to my office/studio, turn on my favorite focus app Focus@Will and concentrate on writing for an hour and a half. This sets me up not only to have a productive morning for my business, but it also puts me in a good mood for my full-time job.

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If you have difficulty concentrating, a productivity app like Focus@Will can help you focus while your work.

What kind of ritual will work for you? Make it into an experience. Where will you work? When? How for how long? What will you be wearing? What kind of sensory cues will you use to put you in the mood for work? Things like music, sounds, smells or drinks like tea and coffee can be a signal to your brain that it’s time to start working. These cues will make it easier for your brain to settle down and focus on work, which will make your work periods more productive.

Explore workspaces away from home– As strange as it sounds, sometimes you’ll get much more of your work done when you’re away from your home workspace. This is especially true if there’s a pile of laundry in the corner waiting to be washed, or a stack of dishes in the sink, or if your family like to come into your office to see if you can do “just this one thing”, or if your friends have a habit of dropping in for surprise visits.

If you find that frequent interruptions at home are constantly effecting your ability to focus on your business, see if you can find a spot away from your home workspace to work, like the library, the local Starbucks, or a shared workspace. Even if your home space works quite well most of the time, sometimes an occasional change of scenery can keep you focused on days where your brain seems a bit fogged in or you don’t quite seem to be in the mood to work at home.

Take care of your health– What is the most valuable asset in your creative business? You are. You won’t have the energy to successfully handle your full-time job and your side gig if you’re sleep deprived, sick, stressed out, or all three at the same time.

When I was running my freelance business a few years ago, I spent more time trying to get more projects done and get more clients and less time getting enough rest, exercising, eating right, and just spending downtime with family and friends.

I refused to slow down even when I occasionally felt dizzy, or when I found it harder to walk up and down the stairs to my office, or even when I got so exhausted I couldn’t stay awake past 9:30 pm. Finally, I was forced to slow down when I ended up in the emergency room with severe anemia. And when my health crashed, so did my business.

It took that hard lesson to teach me that spending time to exercise or prepare a good meal or just hanging out with family is just as important as getting that new client or finishing that project. Remember that the energy and creativity you need for managing everything you do comes from how well you treat yourself. Make it a top priority.

Managing your attitude

Juggling your job and your business doesn’t just require good time and energy management. A big part of the juggling act is your attitude about it, because when that sucks…everything sucks.

Shake off the “part-time” artist stigma– If you have the notion that you won’t be a “real artist” until you’re making a living from your work, get the idea right out of your head. Ever heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, Marie Forleo, or James Franco? They worked a variety of day jobs while building up their respective crafts and businesses. So you. So do I. So do a whole lot of other unknown artists all over the world.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about creativity, Big Magic, she quickly dispels the notion that that in order to live a creative life one has to give everything up and move to Paris to paint the rest of their lives. She stresses that, “living a creative life is simply having the courage to follow your interests and going where creativity may lead you”. She even cautions against depending on your art to support your life too soon (or at all) because the stress of doing so may end up killing your creativity.

If you’re telling yourself that you’re not a “real” artist or creative because you’re not doing it full time, stop it.

Have the right attitude– There will be days where you absolutely hate your job. These are usually the days where you’re itching to get a business project done and you can’t because your spending 8 hours of your day on the job. Or they’re the days where you’re having a crappy day at work. Or perhaps you just have a terrible job.

Those are the days you want to simply walk out the door. If quitting is completely out of the question, you may simply try to disappear. You’ll want to hide away from co-workers, start taking too many breaks, or try to do as little as possible while keeping your eyes on the clock, waiting for the end of the day.

Don’t do it. Just don’t. If you’re not reasonably sure that you can meet your financial needs after you quit, you’re dooming your creative business to failure. Desperation over finances usually leads to crappy business killing decisions, and as Elizabeth Gilbert pointed out in Big Magic, it can kill your creativity as well.

On the other hand, a having a bad attitude at work all day can be pretty energy draining and you risk having that bad attitude spill over into your creative business. If you absolutely can’t stand where you’re working, try to find a better job first. Unless you absolutely thrive on stress, quitting may put your side gig at risk.

If you’re going to stay at your full-time job, commit yourself to doing the work and doing it well. See if you can find ways to introduce your creative skills in your job to make it more enjoyable (The Todoist blog has a nice article about this). Instead of seeing your job as a burden, see it as an opportunity to get your business where it needs to be before you add the extra stress of making it profitable enough to go full time. You won’t be as tempted to make decisions based purely on the fact that you need to bring in money and you’ll have more leeway to experiment and take a few risks.

You can also use your full-time job as a training ground to master the skills it takes to run your business. Many of the same skills you’re likely using on the job; time management, customer service, and presentation skills are going to be some of the same skills you’ll need to be successful in your business. Use your time at your full time gig to sharpen those skills and apply them to your business.

Learning to successfully juggle your full-time job and your creative business will make you a ninja at managing your time and making your business run efficiently. Remember that your time constraints aren’t going to magically disappear on the day you finally quit and go full time with your gig. Your work will simply to expand to fill the rest of the day. So use this time to get the foundations of your business; systems, goals, and good work habits in place before you quit.

Other people's 'overnight successes' always seems more glamorous than building your own Click To Tweet

Become an intern at your job– One of the valuable things about internships is that it gives you a peek into how certain industries run and allows you to pick up a variety of skills. Depending on where you work, you may have the opportunity to learn specific skills that may benefit your business. In my job, I work within the marketing department, which gives me the opportunity to ask the social media team questions about Facebook advertising, or I can pick the brain of the public relations guy to see who the local media contacts are in our area, or I can gather a few more Photoshop tricks from the folks in the graphic design department.

What can you learn from your current job? If you pretended to be an intern at your current job, what can you learn that may benefit your business one day? What can you learn about customer service from your job? What can you learn about managing employees and teams? What can you learn about managing projects? What can you learn about local markets and trends? What can you learn about presenting your ideas? Or about setting up procedures and systems to manage everyday tasks?

You don’t have to work in a creative field to learn something that would apply to your business. Even if you feel that what you do is the most useless, soul killing position in the world, you can at least learn how not to run your business and see what doesn’t work. Keep your eyes open and take advantage of any lessons you can find at your job.

Be patient and stay motivated– Let’s face it. Working a full-time job or a couple of part time jobs while running your gig can be exciting. But sometimes it will be utterly exhausting and the exact opposite of exciting. When it seems like you’re doing so much work and not getting much out of it, it can be an absolute motivation killer. What do you when you feel like you’re not making any headway?

Recently my husband and I had dinner with a group of friends, one of which was someone we really hadn’t seen much of in a couple years. During dinner he talked about how well his business was doing. He’s getting lots of new clients…more than he could handle in some cases. He’s also getting lots of referrals and he’s projected to hit his yearly sales goal five months ahead of schedule.

Listening to my friend talk about his recent success, I reflected that it’s easy to forget that he had actually started his business over 13 years ago, building it slowly in the mornings before going to his full-time job and working on it before bed in the evenings. There were a few years where he always had an additional side gig or another part time job as well to keep things afloat. The past couple years, the ones where he “disappeared”, he had gone back to school to get a business degree….while working on his business…while working a full-time job.

Finally after 13 years of hard work, holding down multiple jobs, going to school, and slowly building his business one customer at a time, he was an “overnight” success.

Bottom line, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. Other people’s “overnight successes” always seems more glamorous than building your own. There’s going to be trade offs. There’s going to be setbacks. There’s going to be times that you wonder if you should just give up your creative business altogether.

Be patient. Focus on what you’ve accomplished so far. Focus on your routine instead of your results. Put your current results in the proper perspective.

Conclusion

Managing the demands of a day job and creative business can be a bit daunting. With the right strategies, the right tools and the right attitude, your day job can be the catalyst to help you take your creative venture full time.

Your turn! What strategies do you use to balance your full-time job and your creative business? What difficulties have you come across managing the two and how did you manage to overcome it? Share your thoughts by entering a comment below.

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How to organize and protect your digital files

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There are a lot of things that are essential to your creative business. A lot of these are tangible items like your finished artwork and products, works in progress, equipment and supplies, and electronics like your computer and mobile devices.

But some of your most important business assets are things that you can’t touch. However, if you lost them or couldn’t easily access them you’re pretty much screwed. These are your digital assets. Like product photos, financial records, customer contact information, your website or Etsy store.

If you’ve ever suffered a computer crash, or a virus, or was locked out of your website, you realize how essential your digital assets are to your business whether you operate it entirely online or just a portion of it. As a creative you instinctively understand the need to protect your art and the equipment and tools you use to produce it. As someone who runs a creative business, you also need to be equally protective of the digital assets that help make your business run. Here are some tips on how to organize and protect your most essential digital files.

Take a digital inventory

The first step in organizing your digital assets is to take a full inventory of what you have and where it’s currently located. What kind of digital files will you be inventorying? Basically, you need to inventory anything that you need to run your business. Write down where that asset is currently located, whether it’s on your computer, your mobile device, in a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive, or some other online service.

For example, I write all of my blog posts in Evernote and they also exist in final form on my blog. So in my inventory, that’s where I indicate where my blog posts are located. If you have an Etsy store, much of the information for your store may be stored on Etsy. If you have an email list, all the information about your list and your subscribers may be stored on a service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.

Include this information in your digital inventory and include any login information you may need for any of these services. If your information is located in multiple places, write that down too. Here is a list of digital assets you may include in your inventory:

Financial and sales records

  • sales records
  • receipts
  • budgets and financial planning
  • tax documents
  • banking information

Customer information

  • contact information
  • purchasing history
  • email lists
  • communications (emails, digital notes)

Media

  • photos (product photos, photos of your studio, marketing photos, social media photos)
  • video
  • audio
  • graphics (marketing graphics like logos, website graphics, social media images)

Content

  • website/online store content
  • social media content
  • marketing assets (brochures, line sheets, product descriptions, artist statements, artist bios)

Legal

  • Consignment agreements
  • Contracts
  • Commission agreements
  • Licensing agreements

Software, apps, and services

  • Installed software (eg: Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, etc)
  • Mobile apps (eg: Evernote)
  • Services (eg: MailChimp, website hosting, Etsy)

This is just a brief list. You may not have everything listed here or you may have other things that pertains to your particular business that aren’t listed here. The inventory allows you to see exactly what you need to allow your business to run smoothly, where it’s located, and how to access it. Once you start keeping an inventory you’ll probably find you have a lot more essential digital assets than you thought.

Organize your assets

One thing that you may notice while you’re doing your inventory is that your assets are usually not all located in the same place. Or you may have multiple copies of the same file in different locations. OR you may have different version of the same file in different locations. If you have a lot of digital assets, this can get fairly confusing really quickly and it can eventually cause you some problems.

You may not be able to quickly find what you need without sifting through dozens of files. Or you may have a newer version of a file located in one place and an older version elsewhere, and no clear indication of which file you really need. Plus, if you have someone assisting you this makes it harder for you to point them the files they may need to do their jobs.

Once you get an initial inventory of your digital files, it’s a good idea to organize them so that you can eliminate unneeded duplicates, make sure that you have the correct version of files in your inventory, and are able access any given file quickly and easily. Here are some tips on how you can make organizing your files easier.

Eliminate duplicate files wherever possible– Through the course of working with your digital assets, you may find that you have a lot copies of the same file located on your computer or other digital devices. Go through all of your files and get rid of duplicates where you can.

Designate “master” copies of duplicate files– There are some cases where you do need to keep multiple versions of the same file. For example, photographs of your artwork may be something that you have multiple versions of; such as a higher resolution version that you may use for print and media relations purposes and a lower resolution version that you use for your website or social media.

Or you may have duplicates located in multiple places to make accessing them easier. For example, you may have copies of files located both on your computer and on a cloud service like Dropbox so that you can access those files over the internet.

Determine which of the files are the “master” version of the file so that you know which file to backup or which file to go to if you need to make a copy or which file you version from. You can do this by putting them in a special folder or by color-coding the file name or adding a naming convention like “-original” or “-master” or something similar at the end of the file name.

Use naming conventions whenever possible– Speaking of naming conventions, they can be a life saver when it comes to organizing your files. Simply put, a naming convention is a system in how you name your digital files so that the name of the file can indicate what that file is. One area in which naming conventions really come in handy are when naming image files of your artwork or product images.

If you’re taking photos of your artwork with a digital camera, you’ll notice that the camera generates a generic file name like “DSC001.jpg” or “IMG_1500.jpg” for every image. Those files name tells you nothing about what the image is about, the subject matter of the image, or anything that can help you find a specific file on your computer quickly. A good system of naming conventions can help with that.

How you set up your own conventions for naming your files is up to you and depends on what kind of files and depends on what kind of files you’re organizing and how you tend to categorize things in your business.

For example, all of my jewelry have both a name and a product number that I use to inventory them, so I use both of these elements in the naming convention for my product images (eg. bb2001_Yellow_Hillsides_Earrings). Often, I have multiple shots of the same item, so in addition to the the product number and the jewelry name, I’ll also add a number at the end of the file, so I can tell whether it’s photo #1 or #2 and so on (eg. bb2001_Yellow_Hillsides_Earrings1, bb2001_Yellow_Hillsides_Earrings2).

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With this method I can use the search feature on my computer to find a specific product photo using either the inventory number or the product name. This method has worked quite well for me so far. Here are a couple of tips to help you develop your own naming conventions:

1. Choose elements that will help you describe what the file is; such as inventory number, names, dates, location, potential file use (is the file for print purposes? Social media? Public relations?), or file type.

2. Organize the elements in the file name by order of importance. So what’s the most important thing you need to know about a file when you’re looking for it? Is it the inventory number? Is it the date? Is it which social media channel you’re using the file for? For me, the inventory number was the most important element, then the product name. When you’re developing your naming convention, start by the element you’re most likely to search for first. Then add the next important element and keep going from there.

3. Use underscores to separate elements in the file names instead of spaces, dashes or other characters. Why? Using underscores will make it easier to find your files using your computer’s search feature rather than using dashes or other characters.

4. Choose only as many elements as needed to identify your file. If you don’t need a date or a location or some other element to help you figure what a particular file is, don’t use it in your naming convention. Remember that most computers only allow a certain amount of characters in file names. So only use the elements you need to identify a particular type of file.

5. Use different naming conventions for different types of files as needed. You probably don’t need to use the exact same type of naming convention for social media images or financial documents as you do for product images.

6. Be consistent. Apply the same naming convention to each file type consistently. If you decide that you want to name your social media images first by subject, then by channel, then by date, name them all that way. If you find that another naming convention would work better, don’t suddenly switch starting with new files. If you can, go back to the old files and rename them.

7. Use abbreviations where possible. If you’re finding that your file names are getting really long, use abbreviations where appropriate. For example I name my social media images by the subject matter of the image, the date, and then the channel. Instead of typing out the entire social media channel name (e.g. FollowFriday_07.15.16_Instagram), I’ll abbreviate the name of the social media channel to shorten the file name (e.g. FollowFriday_07.15.16_IG). And be sure to be consistent with your abbreviations as well.

Use folders to organize your files

Give some thought to how you organize your folder system on your computer and (if you use one) your cloud storage service. Throwing everything into one folder or a series of ill-defined folders can make a big unorganized mess. It can also be a big time waster to have drill through multiple levels of folders to get to the file you need as well.

Like naming conventions, how you set up your folder system is entirely up to you and it should be set up in a way that allows you to get to things easily and quickly. Here are some tips on he you can set up your digital folder system.

1. Use broad categories to create your folders. When your developing your system of folders, think of the broad categories you organize your business around; “Financials”, “Marketing”, “Photos”, “Contracts”, “Website”, “Past Projects”, “Current Projects”, etc. If you share your computer with partners, assistances, or family members, create separate folders for them.

2. Use subfolders where needed. You can further organize your files with your main folders by using subfolders. Unlike your main folders, subfolders can be more specific. While you shouldn’t worry too much about how deep your make your subfolder system, you also don’t want to have a bunch of subfolders that only have 1 file in it.

3. Consider naming conventions for certain subfolders. Say for example that a lot of your work is project based and you create a subfolder for each project. Consider creating a naming convention for each project subfolder so you can quickly scroll through your all of your subfolders.

4. Use special characters to help organize subfolders. Most folders and subfolders are automatically arranged alphabetically. If you have a folder that you want to pin to the top of your folder list, add a symbol (such as: ! ~ * @) to the beginning of the folder name. This works well with folders that are especially important to you.

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Back it all up

Once your filing system is under control, you need to make sure that you keep all of your files backed up and secure. Losing your digital assets because of a computer failure can cripple your business for days, even weeks. Creating a back up system and backing up your files needs to be a regular part of your business routine.

When developing your backup system, you have several options:

1. Back up to an external drive– If you have an external hard drive, you can use your computer’s backup software (for PCs use File History or Windows Backup, for Mac use Time Machine) to save a copy of your files on that hard drive. The great thing about using an external drive is that the only cost is purchasing the drive. And your file backup is only a USB connection away. If your internet goes down, you’ll still be able to access your files. The downside is that your hard drive can be vulnerable to things like fire and theft. Plus…just like your computer, external drives can fail as well.

2. Use a backup service– Another method is backing up your files over the internet using a service like Crashplan, Carbonite, BackBlaze, or IDrive. The benefit of using a backup service is that your files are backed up automatically on the service’s web storage system. So you don’t have to reminder yourself to do a back up and you don’t have to worry so much about theft, fire or other disasters that could befall your local external drive. The downside of using a backup service is that you will incur a monthly cost (usually around $5 per month) and the actual backup tends to be slower than using an external drive.

3. Back up to cloud storage service– A lot of people use a cloud service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box as a “backup” service for their files. While a lot of these services have plans that are completely free, don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re the same as using something like Carbonite or Crashplan. A dedicated backup service backs up your computer at specific points in time, in much the same that Time Machine or Windows Backup does. If something happens to your computer and you want to restore it back to the way it was last Tuesday, a backup service will allow you to do so. Cloud storage is good for making specific files available for you outside of your computer. It does not create a backup that you can restore your computer from. That’s the big downside of using cloud storage as a backup system.

4. Use a variety of different methods– A lot of computer security experts will recommend that you use a combination of backup options that allow you use both an “onsite” method (like an external drive) and an “offsite” method (such as back up service or cloud storage) so that you have multiple backups that you can access at any time. For example, you could back up your computer to a local external drive using Time Machine (Mac) or File History (PC) and then save a copy of that backup to a cloud storage service like Google Drive. Or you can use a backup service and manually back up your computer to an external drive as well. Using a combination of methods gives you a multiple layers of security for your files.

Once you decide on a method, create a plan to keep things backed up and stick to it. If you’re going to back up your files using an external hard drive, decide how often you’re going to back up (once a month should be the absolute minimum), put an appointment on your schedule and stick to it. And don’t forget to back up any assets that are stored on a mobile device like a phone or a tablet.

Keep It Secure

In addition to regularly backing up your files you also want to make sure that you keep your computer safe from viruses, hacks and other kinds of computer ‘malware’. One seriously heinous type of malware that’s been on the rise lately is called “ransomware”. Ransomware essentially holds access to your computer or your data files hostage while the attackers demands money from you to release them. Ransomware can not only temporarily put your business at a standstill, it can also cost a lot of money to regain access to your files.

Regularly backing up your digital assets will make it easier to restore your files if you ever get hit with a virus or if you become a target for ransomware, but preventing these incidents is always much better than recovering from one.

Secure your computer and all of your online accounts with strong passwords (a combination of letters, numbers, and characters) and don’t use the same password for every account. Make sure that you change your passwords on a regular basis. For more tips on how to choose good passwords, check out this post.

Install anti-virus and firewall software on your computer to help block viruses and hackers and keep it up to date. Most of all, carefully monitor your own online behavior. A lot of viruses and attacks can be attributed to being careless with basic computer security. Avoid clicking on dodgy online ads (viruses can be transmitted through them). Don’t click on links in emails that claim to come from your bank or emails requesting password or financial information. And don’t download software and apps from software providers you’re not familiar with. Be sure to check out this awesome article on ransomware from Lifehacker.

Keep It Organized

Now that you have your files properly organized, backed up and secure, come up with a plan to keep them that way. Schedule some time on your calendar once a month or once a quarter to go through and clean up and reorganize your files. Update your digital inventory. Make sure that your folders are organized and update your naming conventions and filing system as needed. And delete old and outdated files and folders on a regular basis.

Conclusion

The task of organizing and securing your most important digital files often isn’t something that a lot of creatives think of, but can be vitally crucial to the smooth operation of your business. Having an organized digital filing system will can save you time during your day to day tasks and a good back up system and security will help keep your digital assets safe.

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Planning for mid-year success: Why you should review your creative business goals now

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Summer has arrived and we are approximately half-way through the year. How is your creative business doing so far? Are you on track to meet your goals? Have you exceeded them? Are you a bit behind? Or do you need to reevaluate what you’re doing? Now is a great time to do a mid-year review.

Why you should review your year now

You already know the value of setting goals at the beginning of the year. There’s also a lot of value in checking in at least once during through the year to see if you’re still on track. I actually do this once per quarter or about every three months; in the spring, summer, and fall and then finish out the year with an in-depth annual review. For me personally, I need more frequent check-ins through the year to keep me on track. I know several creatives who checks in bi-monthly. You may not need or want to check in that frequently. But it’s a great idea to do it at least once during the year…and the best time to do it is at the half-way mark.

Why? There’s several reasons why this is a good idea:

1. You can check the progress of your goals– If you’re like a lot of creatives you started off with a list of things you wanted to accomplish this year. You may even have written up a detailed plan. But a list or a plan is only good if you review it every now and then to see if you’re on track. How far along are you on your list? How many of these goals have you reached? Which goals have you completed? Which goals are in progress? Are there some goals that seem to be roadblocked? One thing you don’t want is have October or November roll around and realize that you haven’t really accomplished what you set out to do this year. A mid-year review can give you the kick in the butt you need to get back in gear.

2. You can figure out what’s doing well and what needs work– One reason why many of us can’t hit our goals is that we plow ahead with our routine without pausing to see if what we’re doing is actually effective or not. A review allows us to look back and see if our past efforts are getting results. What are you trying to accomplish this year? Is it your goal to more sales? Getting into more galleries? Get more new customers? Is what you’re doing now actually moving you towards your goals? If not, why?

On the flip side, a review can also reveal what’s working for you as well. While it’s easy to zero in on what’s going wrong, there’s just as much that can be learned by figuring out what we’re doing well and seeing how we can apply that to other areas of our business.

3. You can adjust your plan and your goals– Just because you’ve made a plan at the beginning of the year, doesn’t mean that you have to be a slave to it. Things change. Situations change. Opportunities open up and disappear. And when they do, your plan has to be flexible enough to change as well.

A mid-year review can give you the kick in the butt you need to get back in gear. Click To Tweet

4. You can celebrate your accomplishments– Probably one of the best reasons to check at mid-year is to see what you’ve accomplished so far and celebrate. Even if you feel that you’re far behind in your goals, you can always find some accomplishment that you’re proud of. And you should remember it and pat yourself on the back. Running a creative business is a long haul activity. There will be some days that you’ll be excited and motivated to get to work…some days may be a bit of a slog. Reviewing your mid-year wins is one way to help you buckle down and get motivated towards finishing up the next half with a bang.

Reviewing your year…so far

When you’re doing your review, set aside quiet time so you can really reflect and concentrate. One day per quarter I set aside a whole day to really focus and get my review done. That means my calendar is completely clear for the day; no meetings, no appointments, no work of any kind. You’ll want your time, energy, and mind clear when you’re doing your review.

I also do my reviews away from my studio/home office. Sometimes I’ll visit the closest Starbucks, get a beverage and a piece of lemon pound cake (because lemon pound cake is brain food 😃 ), and work on my review there. My other favorite off-site work location is the local library. A change of scenery helps me focus, plus I’m less tempted to stop doing my review so I can put in a load of laundry or to get inspired to work on that half finished project on my workbench. If that sounds like you, consider finding a nice place other than your usual work area to get your review done.

And while I write my reviews in Evernote, feel free to use a diary, a notebook, a white board, a legal pad, or even a big sheet of paper and crayons if you like. Do whatever works best for you.

There’s really no one way to do a review. The following is my method. You’re welcome to follow it as you like and adapt and change parts as you see fit.

1. Review your annual plan– I plan my goals for the year by creating an annual plan. For you, it might be a simple to-do list or a list of goals. Whatever you’ve used to plan your year, take a few minutes to reacquaint yourself with your goals at the start of your review.

2. Update/review metrics– I’m a bit of a measurement nerd. One of the things that’s part of my annual plan is a list of metrics that’s directly or indirectly related to my yearly goals; such as the number of sales I’ve made, the number of people on my email list, the number of visitors to my website/Etsy store, how many blog posts I’ve written, etc.

Since most of the metrics are tied to what I want to accomplish for the year, they can be a useful indicator of how well I’m progressing with my goals. If you haven’t been keeping track of your metrics you can skip this part.

3. Look over weekly reviews– Yeah…so I’m also a bit a of a review nerd too. Once a week I write a quick review of what happened the week before and list what needs to get done for the week ahead. The great thing about doing this is that it makes it easy for me to track what I’ve gotten done week by week, what my main roadblocks were, and what I’ve been doing to address them. Which makes it really easy for me to look back and get an overall picture of how things have been going and why.

In your case, you may want to look over your calendar to see what meetings, deadlines, and appointments you may have had. If you write in a diary or keep a blog, review that. What you’re trying to do is to jog your memory about what you’ve done so far so that you can complete the rest of your review.

4. Write down your accomplishments– Write down everything you’ve accomplished. While it’s easy to remember the big stuff…don’t forget to include the small stuff, no matter how tiny it may seem to you, write it down. Think about what you did to accomplish these things. Write that down as well.

5. Think about what needs to be improved– Now think about the stuff that hasn’t gone quite right or the goals that you haven’t gotten accomplished yet. Write them down. Think about what may have lead to that result or lack of a result. Write down what you think and any ideas you have to improve next time.

6. List lessons learned– What have you learned so far this year? Is there a tip or a trick or a new method you’ve discovered that’s really help you out? Is there a new app that’s really changed your life? Have you read a book or an article online or found a quote that’s really inspired you? Have you encountered a situation or had a conversation with someone that’s changed your outlook? You guessed it…write it down.

It’s easy to zero in on what’s wrong. There's much that can be learned by figuring out what we’re doing well Click To Tweet

7. List goals for the rest of the year– What are your goals for the rest of the year? Look over your plan again. Cross off the stuff that you’ve completed…just the act of crossing stuff off your list can be deeply satisfying. Then go through the rest of the list and adjust, subtract and add goals and tasks where necessary.

8. Schedule time for your next review– Keep your progress going by making regular reviews part of your planning routine. The next review date could be six months from now at the end of the year or you could opt to do them quarterly. The frequency is up to you. Just commit yourself to your next review by scheduling the next date on the calendar now.

9. Congratulations…you’re done!– Celebrate by getting another piece of lemon pound cake <- This is optional but highly recommended

Lisa Jacobs also has a list of five good mid-review questions that you can use in her blog post. I’m thinking about incorporating some of these questions into my review process as well. You can check them out here.

What if you don’t have an annual plan?

A lot of the process is based off having a list of goals or a plan for the year. What if you don’t have that? Well, the mid-year review process will work just fine without it. But if you’re really wanting to have an annual plan for your creative business, there’s nothing stopping you from developing one now, is there? There’s no need to wait until the end of the year, write one now and start working it.

Annual_Plan_Cover There’s lots of way to plan your creative business goals for the year. If you need a step by step template to get started, check out my Annual Plan Template. It will help you review and plan your business and personal goals for the year. Subscribers can find it for free in the Creative Business Toolbox. If you’re not a subscriber to the Crafted Webmaster you can sign up for free here.

Taking some time out of the year to look back on what you’ve done so far, and to plan for the rest of the year ahead can help keep your goals on track. Have you done a mid-year review for you creative business? Share your review method and your goals for the rest of the year in the comments below!

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Productive Ways to Spend Your Leap Day

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It’s a day that only comes once every four years. This Monday is Leap Day! Aren’t we always hoping for more time in the day? Well here’s an extra 24. So how are you going to take advantage of your extra time? Here’s a few ideas:

How are you going to spend YOUR Leap Day? Let us know in the comments below.

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