It isn’t easy to become a great designer, speaker, painter, musician, business owner, etc. Becoming great at anything requires having the opposite of what people expect you to have in terms of standards and expectations.
Does having high standards mean everything needs to be perfectly polished and meticulously crafted?
I hope you already know the answer here is a resounding: NO.
Perfectionism is a virus. It will consume you and keep your creations from ever seeing the light of day. High standards, however, will ensure that your creations see the light of day in their best form possible, with thought and consideration taken from all angles.
Take my latest book project, for example. It started with WatchMeWrite back in December of 2016, when I set out to write my second book, Do It Differently, live for an online audience, in just 14 days. I considered just sharing a public Google doc and getting started that way, but my standards were higher than that. Instead, I had a mini web application designed and built for the experience I was envisioning in my head: a minimalist, clutter-free look for my writing needs, and an engaging, interactive hub for anyone who wanted to watch the process happen.
(The WatchMeWrite website – obviously I didn’t write about veggies for 14 days – hah!)
Was everything perfect with that project? No, of course not. I was still writing a book, and that’s going to be hard even if you have a custom-designed program to do it in. I still struggled sometimes, but I finished the first draft of that thing—80,000+ words—in two weeks because I had publicly set that high standard for myself.
High standards don’t have anything to do with getting things “perfect.” High standards mean you aren’t willing to take shortcuts, cut corners, or put creative work out into the world that you didn’t fully authentically create.
High standards means being detail-oriented. Notice I didn’t say “means YOU have to be detail-oriented.” If you’re writing and publishing words of any kind, have someone copy edit them. Can’t afford to pay a copy editor? Ask a friend to read your work (or use a free app like Hemingway). Or, read your work backwards, word for word, and look for mistakes. If the idea of doing that scares you or puts you off, then your standards for your work aren’t high enough. You don’t have to write Pulitzer Prize-worthy tomes, but you should care that what you are publishing has been looked over, read multiple times, and wasn’t just created for the sake of creation.
After I finished the first (public) draft of Do It Differently, the book was far from “done.” Actually, it would be another 14 months before it would be done, which means I took that first draft and shared it with several people—Caroline (my wife), family, friends, editors, you name it. I went through multiple rounds of polishing it, I changed entire sections and chapters, I threw it against the wall a few times…you know, standard author stuff. We had to make sure the book worked.
To take that concept of “does it work?” in a new direction, having high standards also means testing your workflows. Workflows don’t have to be a highly technical thing; they can be as simple as clicking the link you put in a tweet about your latest project. Does the link work? Does it display properly when you read the tweet? This may sound mundane and silly, but the more you keep your standards high, the more respect you’ll gain. And if we are talking about technical workflows, if you sell anything, you should be purchasing it from every angle and testing every piece of the customer process (like a customer). What happens after a purchase completes? Where does a customer go next? How do you help them along on their journey of enjoying your creation and getting value from it?
Feeling like you and your work aren’t good enough is usually only a result of expecting too much praise or success for your creations.
It’s natural to want accolades, especially when the process of creation is difficult and time-consuming. But, if you can temper your expectations to be exponentially disproportionate to the amount of effort you put into your work, you’ll be able to keep creating without focusing on the outcome.
With Do It Differently, I finished the book in February, and knew that I had something worth sharing with the world. I’d worked hard, I’d gotten great feedback, and I’d made a lot of improvements since the first draft. Thanks to Caroline’s amazing talent with design, I even had a custom mascot for the book and a professionally designed cover.
(Hey look, it’s the Do It Differently book! Like the cover design?)
But the key here is that I didn’t expect anything specific from those efforts. The whole point up until then was to create something, not to get something out of it. If I’d gone into the effort of writing Do It Differently with the expectation that I’d get a seven-figure book deal and the #1 spot on all the bestseller lists, this would be a very different article. But I didn’t. I went into it with no external expectations—just my own high standards—and as a result, I’ve gotten to enjoy every result of my work along the way. I’ve been able to be genuinely proud of myself and everyone who’s worked so hard on it so far. I know we’ve created something good, and that’s enough.
But does that mean the book project is over now? Nope, not even close. WatchMeWrite has now become Dear Book Publisher, a(nother) custom-designed website where I share the book in its final form and see if any traditional publishers out there are interested in picking it up. My standards are as high as ever, meaning that I’ve worked very hard to make that site an accurate reflection of this book and my work ethic as an author. And my expectations are as low as ever, meaning if traditional publishing doesn’t work out, that’s 100% OK. I’ve self-published successfully before, and I’d be happy to do it again. I know my audience wants to read it, and I’ll get it to them one way or another. High standards, low expectations.
Low expectations help you appreciate even the smallest of victories along the way. Whether you want a million followers or a million dollars, the journey to achieve those things can be long, arduous, and possibly worthless.
Publishing your first article. Uploading your tenth podcast episode. Receiving a thoughtful email from a complete stranger. There is a never-ending amount of small victories on the path of creation, and the key is to have low enough expectations to notice and appreciate them.
Low expectations keep you from the constant cycle of more. When you don’t expect gobs of money, loads of media inquiries, or heaps of positive reviews, you don’t get stuck in the trappings of craving more of those things. Instead, if your expectations are kept low, you stop wondering when you’ll get more, and start appreciate having enough.
It probably doesn’t feel like you’re in control of your expectations. We’re shown the picture of success on the covers of magazines, articles, TV shows, etc. Those are obviously the most successful and happy people, so we must strive for the things those people have achieved. But that’s never the full story, is it?
Measuring our expectations against the success of other people is a losing sum game. We will never have the same experiences, access, and random life events. It’s also important to note that a lot of “successful” people are completely miserable.
To lower your expectations for your work and your life, it starts with knowing what your true bottom line is. And I don’t mean what you need to live above the poverty line, I mean actually knowing what you need to put food on the table, to have good people in your life, and to feel like the work you’re doing matters to you and to other people (the last part is often how a business goes from an idea to generating revenue).
Some questions to ask yourself:
I could probably give you 20 more questions to ask yourself, but those are the important ones to start with. It wasn’t until I started answering those types of questions and being satisfied with the answer that I could start to lower my own expectations.
The more you can create your own definition(s) of success for your life, the better chance you have of actually meeting and exceeding your own expectations.
One of the reasons “success” eludes so many creative people is because they create based on the standards and expectations of other creators (or critics).
By establishing a set of high standards YOU apply to YOUR work, the only person you need to impress will be yourself. Did you take care of the details? Did you test your workflows? Then you’ve met your standards. Hurray for you!
No one can copy your life experiences or tell the same stories you can. The more you embrace that you’re creating your own path, and not following the paths laid out by other people, the more you’ll come to appreciate all the little moments along the way.
When your low expectations are met and your standards are kept high, the rewards will come. But as you’ve already figured out, the rewards are something you define and that are within your grasp.
*While listening to a wonderful interview between Matt D’Avella and Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn (of The Minimalists), Ryan offhandedly said something to the effect of the title of this article. I highly recommend giving the interview a listen:
This is no small feat for us. I’ve been hinting at this project here and there, including a mention in my State of the Union at the beginning of this year. This is the business baby my wife and I are having together (sorry folks, human babies are a bit further down the line).
Note: This post will be updated weekly, so feel free to check back for updates in the “WEEKS” section below.
The journey to combine our three business ventures into one has officially started. And of course, we’re being complete weirdos and sharing EVERY DETAIL. If you want to get daily emails and see all the nitty-gritty details we’ll be undertaking, you can click here to get daily updates.
You may be wondering why I’m making a big deal about this transition. Isn’t it easy to spin up an online business?
That’s why we’re going to share all the details on our Under Construction Wandering Aimfully website.
Here’s a bit more of exactly what we’re going to be doing and sharing (I’ll be updating this weekly):
WEEK #1 : BRANDING
We have a business name, Wandering Aimfully, but what the heck does it mean? What does it do? Who does it serve? What does it look like? All those questions and much more were be answered.
WEEK #2: THE BUSINESS
We aren’t writing a business plan in the conventional sense, but we are planning out the business. What are we selling? How much will we charge? What happens to existing customers? How are we working together as a husband and wife team? Read more here.
WEEK #3: WEBSITE
We’ll have a standard consumer-facing website, like anyone else (with an about page, blog articles, etc), but we’re also building a kickass customer experience like no-other. We definitely didn’t finish all the designs by the end of this week, but we made huge progress.
WEEK #4: CONTENT STRATEGY
Articles? Social media? YouTube videos? A podcast? Where does it all fit in? What happens to all our existing content? Read about our intentional approach to creating meaningful content (and not being on ALL the social media sites).
WEEK #5: MARKETING
We’re using an open and closed launch strategy to sell our monthly memberships. But, we also decided to take pre-orders. Get caught up on that.
WEEK #6: WE TOOK A BREAK
While we took a break to go on family vacation, our developers didn’t. They were hard work turning our designs into a reality. When we got back into word mode, we shared some of the biggest challenges we’re facing.
WEEK #7: ODDS AND ENDS + CONTENT
This week was the start of migrating our content from JasonDoesStuff, Made Vibrant, and BuyOurFuture into our new Wandering Aimfully WordPress site. I say “the start” because we didn’t get very far.
WEEK #8 – WEEK #???: CURRENT WEEK…
We have some updating to do… hah.
This will be no small undertaking. In fact, we’ve already been working on it, planning, and ideating for months. But we want to pull back all the curtains and share as much as our sanity will allow.
The under construction site for Wandering Aimfully won’t have much to it the first few days, but very quickly it’s going to fill up with daily posts, weekly videos (sometimes with completely unedited planning meetings we’ve had), and hopefully a bunch of fun peppered in!
The good thing is, I won’t be changing at all. Hah. My action-taking focused content will continue with Wandering Aimfully, but this site and my weekly email newsletter will go away completely (ahhhhh!). We worked that out and talked more about it in Week #4!
If you’re an Action Army email subscriber, here’s what you can expect to get in your inbox the next few weeks:
The fun thing, and what I’m really excited about, is that Wandering Aimfully means so much more than “JasonDoesStuff” ever did.
I can guarantee we’ll mess a few things up along the way, but I’m hopeful you’ll enjoy seeing how we deal with those inevitable bumps in the road.
As a self-employed person, it’s very easy to get caught up in “the work.” Keeping your head down and trying to do ALL the tasks. But taking a moment to look back at where we’ve been helps us see more clearly where we want to go in thje future. I thoroughly enjoy writing these annual reviews, and highly recommend you do the same.
If you’ve never written a “State of the Union” of your own, feel free to follow the format I use below (and you don’t have to call it a State of the Union, you can call it a Year in Review, or some fancy name you come up with!)
I’ll link to my previous annual reviews at the bottom of this article. It feels like just yesterday I was writing the first one of these, my how time flies…
Marriage has been a topsy-turvy topic in my mind. I have many conflicting feelings about the institution of marriage, but that’s for another time. What I realized, in one Uber ride home for an airport in January, was that we didn’t have to get married like everyone else. We didn’t need to do anything traditional or that served other people’s ideas of what a wedding was supposed to look like. Instead, my (now) wife Caroline and I had a “marryment” on a cliff, and it was absolutely magical. It’s cliche, but I definitely married my best friend last year. We’ve had so many laughs, adventures, and life-changing conversations since we first started dating in 2010. I happily put a ring on it (a ring that doesn’t have a diamond on it!) Oh, and we enjoyed tequila and donuts on our wedding day, overlooking our favorite spot in San Diego together. It was wonderful.
(Photo by Rad + In Love Photography)
This is one of those things we all strive for, but feels like a constant moving target. And while that’s true, trying to find balance is a constant moving target, I feel like my wife Caroline and I did a great job of living while working in 2017. Sure, we had our stressful moments, which I’ll share in a bit, but as a whole 2017 was a year very well lived!
Piggy-backing off balance, we were able to take a few dream trips last year. The first was a 2-week adventure with our friends Omar and Nicole in Italy. We spent time in Milan, Florence, Rome, and Sicily, and ate our way through that beautiful country. Then over the summer we checked Iceland off our bucket list when my friend and business co-founder Zack married his best friend Kelsey (and graciously invited us to the Icelandic festivities). The food in Iceland certainly didn’t compare to that of Italy, but the adventures we had and things we saw absolutely made up for it. Toward the end of the year we knocked another item off our travel bucket list: Tulum, Mexico. We’d heard rave reviews and drooled over the white sand beach photos/videos, and decided to make it our year-end retreat and 2018 planning session. Tulum did not disappoint, even though we barely left the coolest hotel we’ve ever stayed at. We also took multiple trips back to Florida to visit our family, as well as a few trips here and there to visit friends across the country. Needless to say, a whole lotta travel! (Videos and full trip recaps are coming at some point in 2018…) Here’s everywhere we went in 2017:
In 2016 I quit Facebook. It’s been glorious to avoid that dumpster fire. In 2017 I knew I would be using social media sites (really just Twitter and Instagram) quite a bit less. How much less? After tracking my time spent online over the course of 4 weeks I realized I only spend 5% of my time on social media sites. HUZZAH! While this may seem like a silly thing to include in the “what went well” section, controlling how I use social media has been instrumental in staying in creation mode, coming up with new ideas, and not letting news feeds change how I feel on a day to day basis. Oh, and I’ve still been able to have real friendships and hang out with other amazing humans!
I’ve come to the realization that we should all be redesigning our sites on (at least) an annual basis. Unless you’ve REALLY nailed down what you love to do and the branding/copy for that, redesigns are fantastic ways to continue to hone your message and execute your ideas. JasonDoesStuff went through its biggest redesign to date in the beginning of this year. You can read all the details about it, but I’m still super happy with how the new site turned out.
In 2016, JasonDoesStuff saw 323,600 visitors, which is amazing when you think about that as a group of actual human beings. This past year saw a nice steady increase in organic traffic, thanks to the SEO lessons I learned from Matt Giovanisci. Here are a few highlights:
You may be thinking, Jason, why don’t you try to get more traffic from social media, that’s a huge opportunity! And while that’s a completely fair question, I simply don’t want to rely on the tactics and effort it takes to grab attention from folks on FB, Twitter, etc. Plus, history has shown that if I continue to focus on writing good content and optimizing existing content for search engines, I’m getting rewarded with increases in organic traffic.
The big business move for me in 2017 was transitioning BuyMyFuture to BuyOurFuture (with my wife Caroline… you may be seeing a trend for 2017!) We decided the time had come to combine business-forces and ratchet up the awesome of BuyMyFuture. In March we opened the doors to BuyOurFuture and were pleasantly surprised by how it was received. We did a second launch in September, and even recorded a little daily video journal.
BuyMyFuture/BuyOurFuture has turned out to be an amazing project, not only from a revenue standpoint, but in building a community of 400+ creative human beings that we genuinely enjoying chatting with on a daily basis and creating things for. We have another plot twist in 2018 with BuyOurFuture which I’ll hint at in a few paragraphs.
Hmmm, I’m not exactly sure I’d consider this a failure, but more an experiment that we’re still toying with. Essentially, we wanted to take existing articles/newsletters and create a solid experience for new subscribers to get value from our older (but still awesome) content. We intended on that including a hands-off promotion process for some of our courses, but we never really got that far. I give my wife Caroline a TON of credit for diving into this super complex world of automation in our new email provider Drip (aff link). This is definitely something we’re going to spend time on in 2018 and figure out what to do next.
This is a very verrrry small preview of the intricacies that go into automated workflows in Drip…
What a roller coaster Spruce Metrics has turned out to be. What started as a super fun project with my friend Matt in 2016 kind of crashed and burned (a few times). I’ll save you all the nitty gritty details, but Matt has stepped away from Spruce, which was completely mutual and amicable (thankfully!) My friend Conrad, who helped me create Bumpsale, came on board mid-2017 and we’ve been completely shifting the direction of Spruce. It will continue to be a business analytics app, but we strongly believe that Spruce needs to do things FOR you. We have plans for weekly email reports and other things to help you track the growth of your online biz. I’m excited to turn the Spruce ship around and deliver a great product, especially to the Founding Members that took a chance on us in 2016.
Poor little Bumpsale. You were ignored in 2015, you were mentioned in 2016’s review, and in 2017 not much happened with you. BUT… I’m not upset about this, because so much of my biz partner Conrad’s time was spent working on Spruce Metrics. Nonetheless, we’ll see what next year brings for little ole Bumpsale. Fun fact: We did have a 37% increase in “connected volume” (meaning, people using Bumpsale and making money with it).
We wanted to have $50,000 in our saving account by the end of the year, but we ended up spending a bunch more on travel in 2017. I’m not upset at all by this, because I truly believe in enjoying our money and spending it on experiences we’ll remember forever. That being said, building up a financial cushion is important, so this will be a priority in 2018 for sure.
I’ll chat more about this in the “what’s coming in 2018” section below, but I didn’t get my second book out the door. I absolutely could’ve released Do It Differently, but I chose to use that time, energy, and attention on bigger projects. Not upset at all about this decision, just wanted to admit that I had it on my 2017 to-do list, and it didn’t get done.
Arrrgggg! I didn’t get a single “tool” created and out the door in 2017. I did, however, enjoy watching my buddy Bryan Harris crank out this tool, this tool, and this tool. It was fun to watch him actually get those things out the door (but it frustrated me that I couldn’t prioritize them for my own projects – that’ll change in 2018!)
We actually made the leap to eating 100% vegan at home at the end of 2016, but let’s just call it 2017. After watching a few documentaries about food, I picked up the book Eating Animals and it changed my life. If you want to hear me talk about our move to veganism you can listen to this podcast episode or this podcast episode. We’ve stuck with eating vegan at home and we’ve never felt better (nor do we miss meat). I no longer subscribe to the myth that you need ALL THE PROTEIN in your diet as I’ve stayed at my 230-pound fighting weight and haven’t eaten any animals in an entire year.
Full disclosure, we try to eat vegan when eating out, but on our Italy trip, it would have been nearly impossible, so we ate vegetarian (still no meat!)
I read 45 books in 2016 and that trend continued in 2017 as I read 33 books. My genre of choice has shifted from non-fiction business books to science fiction and non-fiction autobiographies (or biographies). My favorite books of 2017 were:
I started writing 1-sentence reviews (including emojis) for all the books I’ve read and you can read those here.
It was never our intention to sell OCB after Paul, Zack, and I created this piece of software during a season of the Invisible Office Hours podcast. But, your focus changes, and ours did when it came to supporting OCB. I put some feelers out and a BuyOurFuture member (hi Reed! 👋) ended up purchasing OCB from us. I’m super happy to have OCB in good hands and still in the “family.”
Oh boy… If you’ve been following the trajectory of Bitcoin, or any cryptocurrency, you know what a crazy adventure it’s been in the past year-ish. In 2013 I was going to purchase 10 Bitcoin when the price was $100 per coin. However, we were $100,000+ in debt and it seemed like money I shouldn’t spend. I’m not upset, those 10 coins would only be worth about $180,000 right now (haha!) Nonetheless, after reading countless articles and watching the Banking on Bitcoin documentary we decided to invest some of our riskier investment money into Bitcoin, Etherium, and LiteCoin. As of writing this article we have $7,000 total invested and our crypto portfolio is worth $21,500. That’s a 122% ROI! Not. Too. Shabby.
I believe in cryptocurrency as a long-term investment, but I’m certainly far from an expert. We look at our crypto portfolio as something we could lose and it wouldn’t kill our overall investments. The money we put in crypto only accounts for ~10% of our “portfolio.” (Gosh, I feel like such an adult writing about diversified investments!)
Caroline and I are making a huuuuuuge move in 2018. After many, many, many conversations, we’ve decided to take a big risk. I’m horrible at keeping secrets, so I can’t continue to write about this new project. We will, however, be doing a publicly viewable build out of this new project in mid-January. Should be fun to watch!
Heyo! This bad-boy has been in the works since I wrote the first draft publicly at the end of 2016. I’m happy to report that my second book will be coming out in 2018, but not before I try something weird to attract a traditional book publisher. The book itself is a giant leap in quality from my first book, Creativity For Sale, but that’s no huge surprise since I’d barely done any writing at all when I wrote my first book in 2014. A big shoutout to Caroline for putting in a ton of work to make my second book awesome.
In 2017 I wanted to focus on growing the customer base for Teachery, but I didn’t want to invest too heavily in marketing. Instead, we brought on a third partner, the aforementioned Zack (whose wedding we went to in Iceland!) Zack has been cranking on Teachery along with my original co-founder Gerlando. We released an entire new course editor interface and finally got some new features out the door. We’re trying to get a few more things added to Teachery in Q1 of 2018, and then we’ll be shifting focus to some fun/unique marketing efforts. My goal is to 10x our current customer base as that would create enough monthly revenue to pay all of us a full-time salary. Not sure that can happen in 2018, but we’ll find out!
Fun fact: In 2016, Teachery course creators generated over $380,000+ in sales. In 2017, that number jumped to $1,130,000! Super proud of that for our customers and hope to continue to see that number grow.
Yep! I was one of those people who put down $1,000 when the Model 3 was announced. I will admit that we have a perfectly good vehicle (our 2013 VW Tiguan) that’s in great shape, but the decision for us to upgrade is based on a few factors:
We’re excited to be Tesla owners!
This is something we’ve been talking about prioritizing for awhile. Caroline and I donate every year to multiple causes, but it’s very sporadic (which isn’t a bad thing, because at least we’re doing something!) We want to get more organized and contribute more in 2018. I’d love to get to a place where we’re donating $100,000 per year like Mr Money Mustache – wowzers!
It’s really easy as a self-employed person to get sucked into a project (or two, or three) and sacrifice health and other things. While OREOs are vegan, they aren’t a great replacement for vegetables and real meals. I know we won’t be traveling nearly as much in 2018 as we did in 2017, but we’ll prioritize shorter road trips and continue enjoying the life we’ve created for ourselves.
Each year I like to pick a word to use as a point of focus. These are the words I’ve picked the previous three years:
I don’t know that I fully embodied the word “different” in 2017 (at least, not as different as I would have liked to have done things). I do know that it was always in the back of my mind and the word different is ingrained in my soul, so I think I’m doing okay there – ha!
A big lesson I’ve learned over the past few years is that I’m getting too old for the unpredictable spikes in revenue associated with the “launch model” of online business. That model has served my wife and I very well financially since 2013, but it’s also been a stressful grind. With our new upcoming secret project, and putting more focus in growing Teachery’s (and Spruce’s) revenue, my goal in 2018 is to have more predictable income. I want to rely less on launching and more on building up consistent, predictable recurring revenue.
2018 feels like a year that will have more of a financial focus than years past, but that’s just the nature of writing these annual reviews. You see in one year you need one thing, and the next you need another. While we are focused on revenue growth in 2018, it’s not about unlimited and monstrous growth. We have specific, achievable milestones we want to hit (which, when we hit, will make things like increasing saving and charitable giving much easier to accomplish).
Writing your review doesn’t need to happen in January. You don’t have to do these annual reviews when everyone else does them, just prioritize actually doing them. And, whether you publish your review/preview/word publicly is completely up to you. It might just be a great exercise to do with a loved one, business partner, or Internet BFF.
If it helps you get your review and preview done, I’d happily read yours! You can follow the format I’ve laid out here and then email me your review…
Remember, this review is as much about business as it is about life. For us, those things are nearly one and the same. They certainly don’t have to be for you 😉.
Thanks for reading and being part of my journey!
If you liked reading this review and preview, you’ll probably enjoy reading these other ones:
Dreaming is a wonderful thing. That feeling when the wheels in your head start cranking, the sparks begin flying and the muses frenzy about because you’re feeling inspired. It’s one of the best feelings, especially as a creative person fueled by ideas.
Dreaming allows you to imagine possibilities and let your heart lead you to beautiful new corners of your mind.
In a business context, this kind of dreaming comes naturally to me. It’s why I have notebooks full of ideas and about a trillion (scientifically accurate number) three-paragraph Notes started in the app on my Mac.
Every few months I have an evolved vision for where I want to take Made Vibrant and the new things I want to create within my business. As a creative whose goal is always to build an ever-evolving business around my ever-evolving sense of self, this ongoing time I carve out for dreaming is a great thing.
But lately I’ve been reflecting on my various experiences as a business owner these past four years and it’s allowed me to pluck out some new lessons I didn’t quite see before, lessons that have me seeing my ideas and visions with a new perspective. One of those lessons is this:
The reality is ALWAYS different from the idea, so you better make sure you love the reality.
Whatever romantic notion I had about a grand vision of mine, whether it was writing a book, starting a digital magazine, teaching an online course, selling my art prints… the doing of the thing was always different than the glossy idea version I had in my head. This doesn’t mean the reality was bad in comparison, just different.
When you’re navigating the waters of intentional living (whether in business or not), it’s important to separate these two things in your head: the idea version of something and the reality version of something.
While it’s impossible to know what the day in and day out reality will look like for an idea you have, it IS possible to challenge yourself to think more granularly and specifically about how your vision will come to be.
For example, if it’s starting a local brick-and-mortar shop, what are the steps involved? Is there someone who’s done it before you can talk to? What does it take to get a retail space? How often will you be working in the store?
Don’t let these questions overwhelm you, let them guide you — if you’re energized by answering these questions you’re likely on to an idea that you’ll want to follow through with.
As for me, I had this notion of what I wanted next year to look like for myself and Made Vibrant. I didn’t spend much time on the details, just the big vision. The big vision felt good and fun and satisfying (things tend to feel that way when you don’t get into the nitty gritty!)
So, coming from this place of my grand vision, when Jason and I sat down to explore a different idea about what next year could like, I was feeling MAJOR resistance. Looking back I can see it was because I was so in love with MY idea already — I was already so connected to this rosy version of the future without really asking myself what the reality would look like.
That’s when we decided to break my idea down into REAL parts. The work it would take. The potential return. The impact it would have on our big goals as a family, both financial and lifestyle based. When we wrote it all out, the conclusion was pretty clear: the reality wasn’t all that great. It was a hard pill to swallow but a hugely important one that may have saved me a lot of time and heartache.
Here’s the other thing about separating idea from reality:
You have to be able to react to what is in front of your eyes, not a vision that’s still stuck in your head.
Then ask yourself… is this big idea the reality you really want? Or were you just the idea you’re in love with?
Listen, I think ideas are beautiful, and optimism is something I hope I never lose. I’m always down to shoot for the ideal at least as a starting point and still allow myself the luxury of seeing a vision form.
But, if we want to earn a sustainable living as creatives, especially ones that want to design a lifestyle that supports the brightest version of ourselves, we HAVE to pay attention to the reality version of our ideas. If not, we’re likely leading ourselves down a path that could carry us further away from our true selves, rather than bring us closer.
I’ll just come right out and tell you guys — year 4 of running Made Vibrant is shaping up to be uncomfortable for me.
What I mean by that is, for the first three years of building the business, my strategy remained largely the same. Explore, experiment, create, fail, and share it all with you in an effort to provide valuable wisdom.
That strategy has worked undeniably well in attracting an audience of eager readers and establishing a group of awesome customers. But the truth is, creating *NEW* things has now become well within in my comfort zone.
Need a boost in revenue? No problem — I’ve got 10 ideas for products or offerings that I can whip up and launch. I’ve done it so many times now that I feel confident in my ability to create and sell a new product.
BUT… new products are not necessarily what my business needs right now.
A lot of things changed this year — things that have an impact on my overall strategy moving forward for Made Vibrant. The biggest one is obviously that Jason and I got married, and we decided we want to start collaborating on projects a lot more due to the overlap in our audiences and the way our voices/skills complement one another (BuyOurFuture, a one-time payment for everything we’ve ever created and ever will create in the future, being the most obvious illustration of that new collaborative direction.)
With over 36+ products between us, Jason and I realized that if we are going to work together to create content, we need to know that a) the 3+ years of content we’ve created is being utilized to its maximum potential and b) that our existing products and offerings have systems in place to continue to sell without too much ongoing maintenance.
In other words, it was time for a transition in both of our businesses from creation mode to optimization mode.
I know I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to create something new every year for the rest of my life in order to keep my business revenue healthy and thriving. Instead, I want to put systems in place that will attract the right customers for the right existing products, offer up the right valuable content at the right time, and continue to sell great products I’ve already poured time and money into. Not that I don’t ever want to create something new again (quite the opposite, I’m itching over here!!), BUT I want to know that anything new I do create is on the foundation of a system that will continue to work for me.
It’s about making sure that my creative work is sustainable.
But this is where the notion of patience comes in.
For the past six weeks, I’ve spent nearly every day learning new email software (Drip), sketching out complex purchasing workflows, rewriting old content to breathe new evergreen life into it, rethinking how to personalize messaging so that you as a subscriber will get content tailored to where you are in your creative journey…
And, honestly, it’s been a slog. It’s many hours of intense focus, feeling confused, always overwhelmed, and none of it is exactly glamorous or interesting enough (yet) to share.
Meanwhile, when I look around I can see friends and peers launching new podcasts, creating new products, sharing on social media on a regular basis, being “out there” –and I can’t help but feel a little envious. I mean, that’s the fun part of running a creative business after all –making stuff and sharing it.
But every time I start to feel like the world around me is moving forward while I feel like I’m standing still, I remember what I’m trying to build and WHY.
I want a creative business that lasts.
The ethos that Jason and I live by is about working to LIVE, not living to work. We mold and shape our businesses in whatever way is most beneficial to designing the life we want to live everyday.
For us, that means flexibility. It means being able to travel or take time off or take a creative risk, without feeling like we’re perpetually in “launch mode” or “creation mode.” I have no doubt that we will always be creating, but as you know, creating from a place of scarcity is never as freeing or as rewarding as creating from a place of desire.
Right now, putting these complex systems in place for sustainability (i.e. flexibility) is requiring tons and tons of PATIENCE.
Patience in fighting my instinct to share on Instagram every day. Or create that shiny new course idea I have. Or re-open the iPad Lettering for Beginners course just yet.
It’s holding out on building new skyscrapers across my bustling city so that I can repave the roads and reinforce the foundations of all my existing buildings.
And as the saying goes, “what got you here, won’t get you there.”
I know I talk a lot around here about starting before you’re ready and just beginning something, even if you don’t know what or why yet. I still stand by that advice if you’re at square one and need to get some momentum going.
However, if you’re in a place where you need some time to regroup, to reconstruct the foundation of your creative business, or to be strategic about what you’re building… I encourage you to stay patient.
Fight the urge to get that instant gratification and pull your focus away from the work you’re doing in the trenches. Remember that you’re putting in this time now for an upside that will be SO worth it in the future.
Patience asks us to reject what’s comfortable or easy in order to build something that lasts.
Patience helps you win your own game by allowing you to focus and prioritize.
Patience helps you win your own game because it teaches you to stop caring about the path everyone else is on and keep your attention on your own.
Patience helps you win your own game by giving you permission to work on what lasts rather than what’s popular.
Whether it’s in business or in life, great things take time. Patience is a skill worth cultivating if you’re in it for the long haul!
Consider reminding yourself of your WHY and what will be waiting as a reward on the other side of that patience if you keep going.
I started my first blog back in 2011.
May 18, 2011 to be exact. How do I know this? Well my first post still exists. You can read it here. (But not yet! You have a whole email to get through first before I lose you to the time machine/rabbit hole known as the internet. SO keep reading then you can satisfy your curiosity by seeing what the 2011 version of me found so interesting to write about…)
Back when I started this first blog, I had just ONE intention: get the thoughts and ideas swirling in my head out and “on paper.” I felt like I had things to say and every day that went by without saying them felt like a waste of creative potential.
My own self-doubt was my greatest challenge, so just hitting ‘publish’ on a post was a HUGE win for me. The more posts I published, the less fearful I felt. The more confidence I gained.
Once I got a handle on my doubt and cultivated the self-discipline to sit down and actually write, my One Intention evolved.
I actually want people to read this, I thought. So I shared links to my blog posts on Facebook with my friends. And on Twitter with people following me. And people started to read my posts and share them. I started to build a tiny audience of people who cared about what I was making and what I had to say.
For the next three years, it didn’t even occur to me to try and turn this creative outlet into a business. I let pure passion and curiosity direct my time and attention. I taught myself design and Photoshop. I honed my voice and my writing skills. I learned how to stick to a content schedule and to get over my perfectionism. I figured out what I believed in.
All of these things turned out to be essential in building a strong foundation for the creative business that would evolve from it all by 2014 when Made Vibrant was born. That’s when my One Intention became finding a way to turn my creative expression into something of value for others, something my small audience of people might pay me for.
Now… why am I sharing all of this with you and taking you down Made Vibrant Memory Lane?
It’s actually to illustrate a point that I think could help SO many of you out there, especially those of you still searching for a way to turn your skills and passions into a business. It starts with this advice:
I know you’re probably searching for the blog posts or the online programs or courses that are going to give you that one magical shortcut — the thing that is going to take you from no audience to a paying audience like yesterday. And it’s only natural for you to want that, especially with how many more resources there are now online about how to start your business.
Trust me when I say this, though:
Searching for a shortcut is actually just distracting you from the one tactic guaranteed to be effective: putting in the TIME.
Every day and month and, yes, YEAR that goes by while you try to plan out the perfect strategy, that is all time that you could have spent actually making something, which is the foundation for any profitable creative business. Time you could have spent honing your voice and your skills. Time spent figuring out what YOU believe in.
It’s all too tempting to focus on the big, complex, well-oiled machine thing right out of the gate. You want the polished brand, the booming blog, the online products bringing you passive income, the adoring audience with thumbs and hearts and comments at the ready, the segmented content based on interests, the podcast interview requests, the book deal and the sponsored travel.
If this is what you’re chasing down though, it’s likely that you’re going to find yourself with a lot of half-baked ideas, more spinning plates than you can handle, and a lot of unmet expectations.
Instead, I recommend doing what my 2011-self did. Begin with ONE intention: to get your ideas out of your head.
Hone your message. Develop your confidence. Figure out what you want to say. Better yet, figure out HOW you want to say it by going within to understand who you are and what makes your perspective on the world one-of-a-kind.
To put it simply: focus on the foundation first.
All big, beautiful trees must begin with a seed, right? This seed may be a simple beginning, but it is powerful with potential. From it, a network of strong and sturdy roots begins to spread, creating a foundation that will support whatever complex growth this tree might undergo in the future.
If I was starting my business over from the beginning, here’s how I would start simple and layer in the complexity as I grew.
Practice getting those ideas out of your head and into reality. What is your craft? How can you improve it and develop your own unique recognizable style or approach to what you do? Do you enjoy what you do? Would you still do it if no one ever paid you for it? There isn’t a shortcut to making things, so start TODAY. Quit strategizing and start making.
Once you know your intention is pure and your craft is somewhat focused, you’re in the best place to connect with an audience. However, you can’t build an audience of people who value what you do if they can’t see what you do. Create a portfolio. Share your writing. Post your artwork. Take on pro bono work. Whatever you need to do to make your work visible, do that. Stay connected to your audience with a newsletter or through email correspondence — social media changes all the time but email is still the best way to maintain a line of communication with your audience that you control.
AFTER you’ve spent time building an audience and you know you have something that connects, consider ways that someone could pay you in exchange for your skills, services or work. Then… ask. Avoid making assumptions about what people will or won’t pay for. Instead, test those assumptions by making the ask and learning from the results.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll go through several ideas — some winners, some losers — while you figure out a business offering that connects with your audience AND makes you sustainable income. That’s okay. That is the core challenge of being a creative entrepreneur. If you can’t find a way to enjoy that process of trial and error, well it’s possible that owning your own business may not be the right path for you.
Many people make the mistake of trying to over-optimize before they have any sustainable revenue streams, and this is what leaves them completely overwhelmed and exhausted. (I’ve been guilty of this myself.) It’s probably not all that helpful to distract yourself with automation and list segmenting and marketing to new audiences if you don’t even have a product or service offering that is working yet. Remember, focus on the foundation BEFORE you add unnecessary complexity to your business. That is the key to not completely burning out before you land on something that works.
I know we all want to skip ahead to “the good part.” The part where it’s all working smoothly, we’re making a sustainable living, and we get to spend our days creating and doing what we love.
But trust me, for the sake of your creativity and your sanity, begin with the roots and THEN branch out as you go, when it makes sense.
If you give yourself permission to block out the branches for now, to focus on the foundation—planting the seed or strengthening the roots—you may finally get that “shortcut” you’ve been hunting for in the form of some good old-fashioned hard work.
Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the term “goal setting.” The biggest lesson I’ve taken from the past two years has been no longer defining my own progress by achieving goals but rather defining progress by better aligning my business decisions and my actions to my inner core values. This alignment-over-achievement shift has been a game-changer for my overall happiness and well-being.
HOWEVER… I’m also aware that goals can add value to my life, if framed properly. Rather than chasing them down as a way to seek validation, I’ve begun to see them as an effective tool for bringing purpose to my daily routines.
Waking up every morning with a purpose and a primary focus feels good because it provides me with a clearly defined metric for progress at the end of the day. “I set out to accomplish X and I got one step closer today. That brings me a sense of satisfaction.”
But even when we frame goals with this lens of purpose, there is a trap that we so frequently fall into when we set goals: We fixate on one anchor point as an artificial “finish line” and we fail to plan for sustainability beyond that point.
Let me illustrate this with an example.
The Better Lettering Course is relaunching next Tuesday with a fresh coat of paint and an all new blog and resource center for hand-lettering newbies. I’ve been working on this on and off for months, and more intently for the past few weeks since Color Your Soul ended.
In the past, I would have fallen into my same old trap, creating this “Launch Day” finish line in my head and allocating all my time and focus on working toward a polished product to reveal on that one day. I’d probably spend way too long obsessing over the details of the website, making it pixel perfect and as impeccable as possible for the big reveal. I’d put together a plan for announcing the launch on social media, and when that day rolled around, I’d pat myself on the back for making it to the finish line. Then… I’d set another finish line goal, and shift my attention there.
The real underlying purpose here is not to have a pretty website, it’s everything that goes beyond that point: having a plan to deliver value to site visitors interested in lettering; converting those interested into course buyers; nurturing a community of letterers; encouraging them to share the course with their friends; and, ultimately, creating a sustainable revenue stream for Made Vibrant. THAT is the real purpose… not just a pretty website and seamless launch day.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
To take whatever we instinctively set as the “finish line” and to mentally move it backwards to encapsulate the real goal: sustainability beyond the finish line. (Okay, I’m aware that I’m mixing metaphors here with the post-game and the finish line thing, but whatever… SPORTS.)
My mental milestone is no longer next Tuesday when the site goes live. Instead, I’ve set my calendar to one month after that when I can see if all the changes I’ve implemented have moved the needle for the course and its sales numbers. I plan to treat THAT Post-Launch Day with equal focus and attention that I would a website launch day.
How many times have we over-worked ourselves to launch a product, but neglected to plan for the promotion to actually make it successful? (*cough… Color Your Soul…cough*)
How many times have we put all our eggs in the basket of a presentation or delivering to a client only to neglect following up afterward to close the sale or maintain the relationship?
How many times do we focus on getting a new customer instead of keeping that customer happy?
Why do we do this? Well, I think it’s for a few reasons. First, as designers and creatives, we tend to over-emphasize the part of the process that we like because it feels easier for us. We experience less resistance. It’s obviously way more fun for me to make cool graphics and pick out fonts and tweak copy on my website than it is for me to plan out strategic email campaigns or follow-up sequences.
Second, we focus our attention on protecting ourselves where we feel most vulnerable. When we launch a website or a product, it feels like we’re opening ourselves up for public criticism. It may sound silly but a glaring typo or a broken link feels like a flashing reminder of our flaws, so we do everything we can to avoid feeling exposed or embarrassed. Far less people are going to see the follow-up emails and the marketing campaigns beyond the product launch, right? We feel less exposed, less at risk, so we spend less time protecting ourselves in that way.
By becoming aware of our tendency to ignore these “post-game” goals, we can actually start identifying a purpose that speaks to our long-term intentions.
We truly do ourselves a disservice when we pour all our time and energy into one of these “finish line goals” without a strategy to sustain or leverage that hard work well beyond the finish line.
So here’s my challenge to you this week:
How to tactically put this into motion:
Let’s be honest…the after-party is where it’s always at, right?! Let’s add a little more of that to our “goal setting”, shall we?
Have an awesome week!
I’m of the mindset that inner alignment and building a life that brings you sustained satisfaction based on your unique values is always the primary goal. I’ll never try to sell you the “six-figure dream.”
That said, turning your creative gifts into a full-time income can be an incredible way to live out your values in a flexible, impassioned, and impactful way, so this complex relationship between creativity and money is one that I feel compelled to explore with you.
That’s why I want to continue our conversation from last week about the survey responses I received from so many of you at the end of last year.
When I asked about the relationship between your creativity and what brings you income, only 30% of you currently said you have a business that provides your full-time income, yet 70% of you said that’s what you are working towards.
That got me thinking about ways I can help you close the gap and help more of you that want to have a full-time creative business, get there (on your own terms and in your own way, of course).
One of the hardest parts of being a business person AND a creative person is that you are often paralyzed by possibilities. Which ideas to focus on, how to structure your day, how to balance practicality and idealism… these are all issues that I continue to confront, even now as I approach my fourth year in business.
It can often feel like you’re in a complicated maze of decisions, like you have 20 buckets before you and all you feel like you’re ever doing is filling them up one tiny drop at a time.
But, after two strong and profitable years in business, working less than I ever have with more joy than I ever have, I want to share with you the exact process I engage in every time I discover my business isn’t making the money that I want it to be making (or every time it becomes clear to me that I need to make a shift in how that money gets made.)
The most distinct personal example of this is probably back in 2014, when I was just six months into starting Made Vibrant as a freelance design business. I seriously considered shutting it all down and getting a job again because I was bringing in just barely $1,000/month, which wasn’t enough to maintain the lifestyle I was living. Before I threw in the towel though, I wanted to know in my heart that I gave it my very best try.
The process outlined in the steps below is exactly what I did to take my business from a struggling crapshoot to a strategic, fulfilling, profitable business. In a matter of just three months, I was able to lift my monthly income to $4,000/month. Those shifts I made quite literally saved my business, and this process is how I’ve approached things ever since.
My hope is that by outlining some specific steps you too can take, that it will empower some of you to formulate your own action plan instead of staying paralyzed in the dark when it comes to your creative business. If making a full-time income with your creative gifts is something you envision for yourself, I truly hope that today’s letter will provide you with some ways to confidently move toward that future.
Alright, buckle up… here we go!
You guys are one step ahead because we already tackled this!
Just as no bucket can remain full if there’s a leak in the bottom, no business can thrive with an owner who is self-sabotaging. Many of you are solopreneurs or have small teams, which means your mindset and behaviors greatly affect every inch of your business operations.
If you’re not flourishing financially in the way you want, the first crucial step is to take a hard, honest look at what could be preventing your progress on a personal level. Once you find a way to start rewiring or rewriting some of those stories, you’ll find that everything else in your business will begin to flow more easily.
(I’d like to add that I don’t consider limiting beliefs to include things like very real health or mental health challenges, which require a different approach to treating and thriving. Limiting beliefs represent the false, invisible barriers we place on ourselves mentally, things that we have the power to flip the script on if we are willing to work at it.)
Going back to that crucial moment in my first year of my business, I had MAJOR limiting beliefs around my lack of confidence and my fear of rejection. These barriers prevented me from sharing my design work or art (which was an important part of attracting clients) and it led me to set my prices WAY too low, leading me to be overworked and underpaid.
Once I was able to confront these self-imposed limits head on, I could work past them, eventually sharing more of my work and raising my prices, which I know contributed significantly to the lift (and survival) of my business.
After you’ve take the time to reinforce the foundation, that’s when you can move on to the business itself.
Some of you out there may have one single thing that you create that brings you money. Maybe you sell jewelry or you are a freelance designer and that is 100% of the work that brings you income.
That business structure allows you to focus on one main thing, which may be an efficient use of your attention and focus, but it also leaves you incredibly vulnerable because the health of that one business line defines the health of your entire business.
My approach from the beginning has always been to diversify with multiple revenue streams so that the success or decline of any one income source won’t be the end of my business. (It also is a natural consequence of being a multi-passionate and curious person. I have new ideas and those create new revenue streams!)
While I believe this strategy is beneficial overall, it does also present me with a challenge, pulling my attention in multiple directions. This is why it’s incredibly important at regular intervals to check in and ask ourselves:
What do I want to continue to work on and what can I let go of?
Every time I’ve realized I’m at a road block with the profitability of my business, it’s usually because I’m wasting energy on something that isn’t quite working or I’m NOT giving my full attention to an opportunity that is ripe for the picking.
So, this step becomes about understanding what is working, what’s not working, and why.
Here’s how to make that deduction:
I still to this day do this on the first of every month. I export the data from my payment processors like Stripe and Gumroad, and I enter it into a spreadsheet where I separate the transactions by project, total them up, and add them to a master sheet that shows me totals for the year on all of my various courses and products.
Thanks to spreadsheet magic, it only takes me about a half hour every month, but it’s incredibly powerful because it forces me to check in on a monthly basis and identify where my energy went vs. where my money came from at a high level.
In other words, answer these two questions:
This goes for money, obviously, but it also refers to other things. A project could bring you joy, creative growth, cultivation of a skill, collaborations with great people, etc. In my business, these are all things I want to take into consideration, though understanding that if financial lift is my primary goal, then that metric is what needs to carry the most weight at that time.
The same guidelines hold true for this question. You want to consider cost as well as other things. How much money did it cost you to produce that revenue stream? How much time? Energy? Did it take joy from you? Did it take patience from you? These are all things I write down.
Your Power Player = the revenue stream that brings you the biggest profit for the the least sacrifice. (ie. Output is disproportionately larger than input.)
Your Dark Horse = the revenue stream that feels like it has the most potential, if it was cultivated properly.
That could mean it’s the one that is the most enjoyable but still isn’t very profitable, or it could mean the one that brings you a decent income but it’s taking too much from you and needs a process overhaul to be enjoyable and efficient.
In other words:
What are the things you care about most, and does each of these projects align with those values? What do you want to be working on?
Keep in mind, there’s a balance at play here between doing work that lights you up, but also being realistic about what is working from a business perspective (we’ll dive deeper into this next week.)
Again, if you’re in a place right now where financial stability is your goal, you may have to cultivate the projects that aren’t the most ideal in terms of aligning with your values, but that can serve as a stepping stone to doing that bigger, more meaningful “heart work” after you’ve reached a more stable footing.
By this point, at the very least you should start to see a much clearer picture of what is actually bringing you money and what is not, as well as what is an opportunity and what is a time suck.
This exercise is what led me to start shifting away from client work in early 2015 because I saw that my online lettering course was bringing in almost double the income of my client work with far less time spent and far more joy.
By shifting resources away from a revenue stream that was a losing game for me to one that had great potential, I was able to use my very limited time a lot more effectively.
The top-level evaluation in Step 2 may be enough to illuminate changes you want to make right now in your business in terms of ways you want to allocate your resources. But, here’s the next logical question: What if you can’t just cut off an entire income source cold turkey? What do you do in the meantime as you transition out of it or as you redistribute your attention to new projects or opportunities?
What if you see a Dark Horse — an opportunity that could prove to grow into a Power Player for you if you just changed some things around?
The answer is in evaluating each revenue stream or product on a micro level.
It’s time to take an honest look at the product or service itself, your process, your costs, and your daily routines to see where you could be slowly leaking resources — time, money, or joy.
In my experience, there are usually three different issues at play when it comes to optimizing a revenue stream on a micro level. You can adjust the product, the promotion or the process.
Your goal at this step them becomes to:
This will help you more clearly narrow down what it is about each individual product or service that’s working or not.
By far the biggest hurdle for me in that bunch has been process, mainly because of the slow improvements I’ve had to make on my relationship with time.
Time is sneaky little thing! If I was a betting woman, I would wager that mismanaged time is responsible for the majority of businesses that aren’t where they’d like to be financially. There are a few different lessons I’ve learned about how to cultivate better habits with time, and it’s improved my business significantly, so I wanted to dive into that one significant detail here.
When I was doing client work and only making $1,000 a month, Jason sat me down and very kindly but honestly asked me if I was using my time effectively. I was defensive, of course, claiming that I was using every hour I could and doing my best, darnit!
Still, he asked me to do a simple math exercise which really highlighted for me the fact that I was losing a LOT of time without even realizing it.
Think of every hour in your day as one block. How many blocks of actual focused work would you say you can do every day (not answering emails, checking social media, doing admin work… but actually doing focused, project-based design work?)
I answered 5.
5 hours = 5 blocks. 5 blocks a day, at 5 days a week means I essentially had 25 blocks a week or 100 blocks a month of potential “work time.”
At the time I was charging roughly $75/hr, which meant the total possible income I could be making as a designer every month if I booked my schedule was $7,500 (compared to the $1,000 I was making.)
So why wasn’t that happening? Why wasn’t I making $7,500/month?
Well, that exercise made me realize a few things. #1) I wasn’t estimating my projects very well (I’d quote a project at 20 hours and spend 40 completing it.) And #2) I wasn’t booking my projects in an efficient way (without the visual “block” reference, I was only taking on one project a month because I was afraid of not having time to complete it. However, now armed with a way to estimate my time and conduct my time effectively, I felt empowered to get out there and book more business to fill up my “blocks.”
I’ll admit, it felt a little restrictive at first, and honestly, humbling. Am I really not savvy enough as a business woman that I have to map out every single hour of the day to book clients? That’s how it felt. That is until I started seeing the monthly revenue climb. More projects, less wasted time, more confidence, less second-guessing… it turned into a snowball that was actually working.
After I started to notice that, I was more than happy to put up with more structure than I was used to and trade a little bit of flexibility for the peace of mind that my effort was paying off.
Here’s what we creatives need to understand:
I know it’s not sexy. I know it sounds cold, and boring, and not the exciting artistic impact that we all want to make on the world, but remember:
Time efficiency can be the (unsexy) ally of beautiful, soulful art.
If we reframe structure through this lens, we have a better shot at building thriving and sustainable businesses.
Aside from the time block method, I also try to use tools like Toggl to keep track of how many hours a single project takes, which allows me to really factor in the time spent as a cost.
It might take some mental effort, but evaluating the nitty gritty details of each project and business line will arm you with the information you need to make smart improvements to your business.
Now that you’ve taken a critical look at your creative business from a macro perspective and a micro perspective, it’s time to make some decisions about how to act on this information.
Prioritization is key here because if you feel like everything has to change at once, it’s likely you’ll start to feel overwhelmed and nothing at all will change.
That’s why I prioritize by looking for one Big Brick Wall and one Big Cracked Door.
These are two terms Jason and I discuss in our Make Money Making course, but they are my way of evaluating how to move forward when I feel I’m at an impasse in my business.
A brick wall = An obstacle you find yourself repeatedly bumping up against.
A cracked door = A sliver of opportunity presenting itself to you.
Your BIG Brick Wall is the brick wall that sticks out to you most. It’s the one challenge that you find yourself repeatedly coming back to most often. It could be on a macro level — one revenue stream that just doesn’t seem to be working. Or it could be on a micro level — a product, process or promotion issue — that’s undercutting everything you try to do in your business. There are two ways to act on a Brick Wall, and that’s either to try and improve what’s not working or to simply let it go.
Your BIG Cracked Door is the opportunity that feels like it has the most potential. It could be an existing product that is performing better than you imagined and could benefit from more time and attention, like your Dark Horse from Step 2. It could be a promotion method that is working extremely well but that you haven’t set aside time to crank the volume up on yet.
You can even take the two birds, one stone approach here by simultaneously letting go of your Big Brick Wall in your business to divert your energy and attention to your Big Cracked Door.
That’s what I did when I transitioned away from client work over to products and courses. In doing so, I wasn’t spreading myself thin because I was eliminating one thing while replacing it with something that was a better fit for me, which is really what this entire process is about: figuring the best use of your limited time and attention to make the biggest financial impact on your business.
By this point you will probably have an idea of how to better focus your resources, which is a great start. But it won’t matter how efficient your processes are, how amazing your products are or how well-tailored your revenue streams are if you can’t form a meaningful connection with your audience. That’s why I had to include communication as the final step of the process.
In the Better Branding Course, I talk about getting clarity around the 4 Q’s of your business, which will help you form clear and concise messaging on your website, your social media posts, your newsletter — every single touchpoint you have with your intended audience.
Those 4 Q’s are: Why? Who? What? And How? (… and in that order!)
As Simon Sinek says, “start with why.” Why does your business exist? What is the underlying mission behind your work? Defining this and weaving it throughout your work will help you attract your ideal audience and it will help you stand out in a sea of other similar businesses. Speaking of your ideal audience…
Who do you want to serve? Who are your trying to connect with through your work? Who will pay for your products or services? Try describing this group of people not in terms of their age or gender, but in terms of what they believe and what they care about. Like two puzzle pieces fitting together, your WHO should be a specific type of person that will resonate with your WHY.
What are you promising people? What benefit do your specific services or products bring to people’s lives? Think of this not in terms of any details about your products but in terms of how your products make people feel and in what ways you make their lives better.
Finally, how do you deliver that benefit to them? Through beautifully designed jewelry or online courses or colorful art? This is where you get specific on the things you sell and offer your audience.
Once you can clearly and easily define these four things, you can weave the answers to these questions across every single aspect of your brand. As long as you are communicating these things clearly, authentically and consistently (all three are very important!), you’re setting your business up for the best chance it has to achieve your financial goals.
I know there are a TON of moving parts to this puzzle, and a LOT of information I’ve laid out here, but that’s because it is the true reality of running a creative business with soul.
There are people out there that would like to pretend that running an online business is as simple as blogging consistently, delegating a few things, building an email list, selling an online course and watching the money roll in. They paint this picture because it is what helps them sell the course promising to show you how you can do it too in “7 easy steps.”
As for me? My goal has always been to show you guys my personal journey in business — the complex decisions, the emotional hangups, and the messy evolution of it all.
In my experience, running a creative business is damn hard. It’s a constant battle with your own self-doubt, managing the ebbs and flows of the inevitable creative cycle. It’s sticking with projects long enough to see them through, but knowing when to let go of ideas that aren’t getting you where you want to go. It’s constantly holding on to what makes you unique, and it’s being brutally honest about your own strengths and weaknesses so you can carve out a path for yourself that is sustainable and authentic.
But it is also immensely joyful. And freeing. And constantly illuminating. This business has given me the financial fuel I need to live comfortably, yet also the flexibility I want to travel and make space to grow.
I hope the steps I’ve outlined above help you form a game plan if you’ve been stuck, and I hope it serves as a road map for what’s possible with effort and persistence.
Keep shining, keep making, keep working toward whatever vision you have for your life, and I’ll keep being here sharing what I learn along the way!
Last year I kicked off 2016 with a post idea that I stole from my friend Paul Jarvis titled “State of the Union, 2016.” To continue with the tradition, today I want to kick off 2017 by sharing with you the highlights from this past year (2016), what lessons I learned, and where I think this new year could be headed. Let’s get into it!
It’s hard to believe that my obsession with acrylic painting originated only a year ago because it has become such a huge part of my daily life. At the beginning of 2016, I knew I wanted it to be the year that I really started to embrace my identity as an artist. I knew creating art was central to my core being, but there was a part of me that was still lacking confidence since I wasn’t “trained” as a painter. I knew the only way to overcome that insecurity would be to create A LOT of work, which is why I challenged myself to a year-long painting project, Abstract Affirmations Daily, creating and sharing one hand-lettered abstract painting a day.
Even though I wrapped up the project before the year was over, without a doubt I can say my “plan” to gain confidence and find my voice definitely worked. I don’t think you can go through that amount of paintings or spend that amount of time (around 400 hours!) without gaining confidence in a skill! I formed my own processes, experimented with all kinds of mixed media, changed up my style several times, and now I can look back on this huge body of work with immense pride and joy.
When I originally had the idea for the project, the business side of me wanted a way to justify the time I knew it would require (and the cost of my art supplies) so I wondered if I could sell prints of each of the pieces. That may have been the biggest surprise of the year with the Art Shop bringing in over $10,000 as a revenue stream.
Previously I had the notion that physical goods are hard to make any money on because of the low margins and high time/cost investment. I still believe that to be true but selling prints has shown me that if you have something people like and support and you’re willing to put in the effort and overcome the hurdles that pop up along the way, physical goods are definitely a viable (and fun!) business opportunity.
This was the other big win for me last year. Color Your Soul was something I had envisioned for over a year — a kind of hybrid monthly mindfulness subscription that was part community, part online learning, and part content/art discovery all built around one monthly theme.
Now, four months in, I can honestly say it’s my favorite thing I get to work on every month. I pour such love and care into every single aspect of the subscription, and I can see that come through in the responses I get back from subscribers. The biggest surprise has come in the form of the private Slack group that accompanies CYS. I’ve been blown away by the quality of conversations and connections forming there. It’s such a beautiful thing to see other soulful creatives sharing their insights and their challenges, getting feedback on ideas and helping each other. In a way it makes me feel grateful to be somehow offsetting some of the more surface-level interactions that social media so often facilitates.
Now that I have a few months under my belt, I definitely intend on trying to up my marketing game for this offering, mainly because I’m that confident in the experience it provides and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice by keeping it largely hidden from sight. Color Your Soul is definitely one of those things that for me blends art and commerce beautifully and I want to be able to show people you CAN actually earn a living off of some weird idea that is hard to explain. It may take longer and be harder to do, but it’s worth it.
I went back an re-read my State Of The Union from last year, and one of my goals for 2016 was to throttle up the intersection of creativity and personal growth in my work. Looking back at Color Your Soul and my Abstract Affirmations project, I feel I definitely followed through on that intention and it’s allowed me to carve out a little niche that feels 100% me. The fact that I am making a sustainable living doing that? Well I can’t ask for much more than that.
On a personal note, the best move I think we made last year was moving to a condo in Oceanside, CA. Finding this place is a perfect example of why I say “you get what you settle for” because we turned down tons of potential properties before we found this place, which we actually discovered by accident. It popped up on Zillow outside the general areas we had been considering, but with its modern style and location just two blocks from the ocean, we decided to check it out. I’m so glad we did because it only took us a day to snatch it up before anyone else could. Despite a little plumbing snafu that forced us to move into an empty unit for two months, living here has been beyond a dream. The natural light and panoramic views of the California coast have me waking up to gratitude every single day. I’m someone who draws a lot of inspiration from my environment, and I definitely think this home has played a large role in making last year so incredibly rich and joyful for myself and Jason.
I honestly can’t believe I’m even saying this but… 2016 was a good year for fitness. For years I’ve struggled to stay consistently active. I’d find something I liked (barre workouts, for instance), go all in for about a month or two, and then something would knock me off the wagon and I couldn’t get back on.
Around June of last year though, Jason and I made the commitment to start working out again together, despite the fact that working out as a couple has not worked well for us in the past. (Picture me throwing a temper tantrum because Jason told me to use heavier weights. It wasn’t pretty.) We joined a local gym here in Oceanside and stayed consistent for about three weeks when… the gym went out of business. Now, in the past I would have taken that as a well-timed sign form the universe that I am simply not meant to be “a fit person.” But, determined not to lose our momentum, we worked out a deal with our property manager to use the small “amenities” gym of a condo about a half mile walk from us, and we actually stuck with it!
With the exception of a few trips (many of which we actually worked out in hotels while on the road — who are we?!) we’ve been able to work out about 3 days a week. In no way is my health perfect but I feel really great about the slow, steady and most importantly SUSTAINABLE progress I made in 2016 to making it a real lifestyle shift. I still hate the gym, but at least now I have a love/hate relationship where I can see the benefits it’s bringing to my life, benefits I definitely want to keep making a priority.
Now… let’s talk about what didn’t go so well…
The proof is in the pudding, folks. If you neglect a revenue stream, it will show up in the sales. Better Lettering Course was my first online course and it has brought my business over $100,000 since its creation (that’s nuts considering it’s a $20 course!) But, in 2016, with my focus moving to painting and creating other courses, I no longer felt inspired to tend to that community and improve that low-priced course. Sales went from about $3,000/month at the beginning of the year to about $500/month in the last part of the year. I still am very passionate about hand-lettering, and I have a lot more to teach on the subject (including iPad Pro lettering and more digital topics that have become relevant since the course was created in 2014), so I have a plan to update and revive the course to give it new life. Stay tuned for that in the next month or so.
I spent way too much time on a screen in 2016. Even though I feel I was able to cultivate more balance in my work schedule by taking walks, spending time painting, reading, etc., the time I DID spend with my phone in my hand or in front of my laptop was not spent very intentionally. If I’m being honest with myself, I got way too sucked into the trap of trying to “keep up with” technology, which probably just stems from a place of not wanting to be left behind in my business. Too often I felt stretched thin, in a comparison mindset, and, honestly, kind of addicted to the validation of this little screen in my hand.
As I took a step back over the holidays, I was reminded that it’s not the amount of Instagram posts or one’s use of Snapchat that ultimately determines the growth of a business. It’s doing things differently and authentically enough that you create real connections with other humans who want to share your work. I’m going to do my best to remind myself of that in 2017. While social media can still be useful and fun, I want to make sure I’m keeping my usage in check.
Last year Jason and I were finally able to pay off our debt, putting us in a position to spend more money on something we both highly value in 2017: travel. As of right now, we have three big trips planned for the year: a family trip to Asheville, NC; a two-week vacation exploring Italy with two of our friends who moved to Sydney last year; and a week-long trip to Iceland for a friend’s wedding!
To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. I think back to three years ago when we were over $100,000 in debt, living modestly and busting our butts to build the foundations of our businesses. These trips were just a dream at that point, but with smart saving, hard work and values-based living, we’ve been able to design a life with enough financial room for the things we care about.
ps. Jason and I also have a fun side-project to share our travel adventures in the future, so you’ll be able to explore these new places with us!
While I love online courses as much as the next person, I really want to stretch myself to create more things that go beyond what’s typically seen in the online business world. I want to embrace experimentation, put aside my fear of failure, and try out some things that are a bit unconventional. I have no idea what this means specifically yet, but ideas have been brewing in my head for new art experiences, short films, interesting product pricing (like the Vibrant Stuff Bundle!) and fun software tools. I want to continue to challenge myself to create things that are beyond what you all are seeing out there in order to keep you (and ME!) inspired.
Man, this is what I struggle with the most as a creator/business owner. I come up with a plan, but then I lose interest in following through when a shiny new idea comes along. I’ve enlisted the help of the self-discipline master himself Jason to act as a sort of project manager for me and to implement a level of accountability to my focus. Like anything that you want to improve within yourself that doesn’t come naturally, I think it takes time and intention to slowly shift those habits over time. Rather than declaring some resolution to focus more this year, I’m viewing 2017 as my year to learn how to focus, acknowledging that it will take time and practice to cultivate this skill.
It’s funny, I’ve been writing consistently through my newsletter for three years now and yet there’s a part of me that still struggles to call myself a “writer.” I see similarities in this lack of confidence with my hesitance to call myself an artist in 2015. That’s why I want to continue to make writing a priority this year, and i want to work to integrate this more fully into my identity as a creator. Could this mean there’s a book on the horizon? Who knows. You guys will just have to stick around to find out.
Finally, for the past few years I’ve chosen a guiding word for the year and I know many of you do the same. In 2015 my word was SAVOR; in 2016 it was CURATE; and now my word for this year is LIGHT.
Here’s how I see that potentially manifesting in my life, though I’m sure it will change and take on new meaning as the year unfolds:
I find it interesting that for the past two years my words have been verbs, while “light” is more of a noun. That shift reflects a broader shift I’ve seen in my growth journey which is that the past two years I’ve been focused a lot on DOING, and now I’m sensing a move toward BEING.
I used to be largely focused on what I want to be creating and how I want to be creating it. But now I find myself more interested in how I show up in the world as a person, separate from the things I’m creating. Just an interested observation I thought I’d share!
Alright friends! That’s the state of things around here. I’d love to hear how your 2016 went — what worked? What didn’t? What’s your word for the year? Feel free to hit reply and I’ll do my best to get back to you. I love hearing from you all and getting to know you better.
Looking forward to another year of growing together and navigating this thing we call life!
It’s time to look into the rear view mirror, while also keeping one eye looking out the front windshield (and trying not to get dizzy while doing it). Weird way to kick off a “year in review/preview” article? Sure. But I’m a weird guy!
Last year was the first year I wrote a State of the Union article and it was a really great exercise. I highly, highly recommend you write a year-in-review (and preview) article for your own business. You don’t even have to wait for January 1 to roll around to do it, either.
Yeah, this one is first on the list and gets ALL the exclamation points and caps lock action. In 2013 my wife Caroline and I felt like we were drowning in debt. It felt suffocating. But we hunkered down and built a plan to pull ourselves out of our $124,000 debt-hole. I wrote two articles about our getting out of debt plan and then becoming debt-free. This was one of the biggest highlights of 2016.
Halfway through 2016, I redesigned JasonDoesStuff (for the fifth time). Funny enough, I have a new design in the works (that’s now live!). Yes, I have a problem with redesigning my site. Anyhoo, the 2016 redesign was great for cleaning things up, removing clutter, and getting focused on what I really wanted my digital home to become. I love redesigning my site because I’m always evolving as a person and my virtual home should follow suit.
While we’re on the topic of my virtual home, let’s look at some traffic numbers…
*It may seem weird to celebrate extremely low traffic from social media, but I’m on a tear against using social media for business these days. More on that in my next point.
Can I tell you how amazing this has felt?? I finally did it. I was scared, no doubt about it. I had over 9,000 followers/friends on Facebook. Some of my strongest connections with people have been through Facebook. But I finally decided to rip the band-aid off. I couldn’t take it anymore. I believe social media, especially Facebook, is the next great addiction we will face. I’m willing to be on the wrong side of history if I’m incorrect in that assumption. I greatly reduced all my social media usage and had one of my most profitable years yet (and I was happy!) If you didn’t read it, here’s my goodbye letter to FB.
I don’t remember how Matt and I originally got connected, but early on in 2016 we kept chatting and finally decided to work on something together (GetSponsorships.co). I think/hope Matt would agree, we work really well together. We’re both rare breeds of humans that can just hunker down and get a ton of work done in a short period of time. It was definitely a highlight to chat with Matt on Skype for hours about coffee, social media douchecanoes, and Internet sleazeballs. Oh, and we’re working on a fun software project together (SpruceMetrics.com). You can check out what Matt’s up to at MoneyLab.co.
In 2015 we (my wife Caroline and our dog Plaxico) sold all our stuff and moved to California. We spent the first few months finishing out an awesome roommate-filled adventure in this crazy house. Once our time there came to an end, we ventured a little further up the coast finding our newest digs in Oceanside, CA. We love it here!
On a whim Caroline and I decided to do a Black Friday bundle of all our courses, guides, and digital goodies. We’d been looking for a way to use Bumpsale together, but nothing felt right. Then, the Vibrant Stuff Bundle was born (Caroline’s site is Made Vibrant, and this site is JasonDoesStuff)! It was 16 total products, valued at $2,500, but the price started at just $1 and increased by $1 after each purchase. A few days of work, a few years of creating products, and what I thought would bring us a couple thousand dollars, brought in over $20k! Crazy awesome. It also felt good to give folks who couldn’t afford to buy all our products the deal of a lifetime.
Since I touched on it with the Vibrant Stuff Bundle, I may as well just come out and say it: We had a great year financially. Sure, we didn’t make $1,000,000, but we don’t need that type of money to be happy. Our projects brought us enough money to finish paying off our debt, build a small nest egg of savings, and start doing some light investing. After 10+ years of working at this online business stuff, I finally feel like I’m in a bit more control of my income and finances (insert huge sigh of relief).
Listen, you don’t need to run for the hills if you’re thinking about creating an online course. Go ahead and make one, I’d love for you to see if it’s something you should do. I, however, have been dabbling in creating online courses for three years and I got tired of it. In fact, I got downright bored with it. It’s one of those things I know I can do well, but it doesn’t excite me. As soon as something stops exciting me it’s time to move on. (Don’t worry if you’re a Teachery customer, read more on this in the What’s Ahead section below.)
Hah! I still LOVE that name. My Internet BFF Paul Jarvis and I decided to embark on a 24-hour project experiment. We wanted to create and launch an idea in just one day. Emojibombs.com was born. A daily emoji origin story delivered to your email inbox. People seemed to really enjoy watching the process, but we only ended up making about $200 after expenses (woof!) The t-shirt I got out of it was a nice bonus though!
There were a handful of times in 2016 when I simply had way too much on my plate. I have no one to blame but myself for this one. It’s crazy to realize that working for yourself can bring more stress and overwhelm than working for someone else. It shouldn’t be this way. This is something I’m definitely looking to get better at in 2017.
Sometime around June I was getting really frustrated. I couldn’t seem to lose weight, and I felt like I was eating pretty well (90% of our meals are prepared by a meal prep company). Then I started to think I might be fighting a battle I couldn’t win on my own. With the help of Paul and Brian from HealthGeeks, I ran a few tests and started taking some natural supplements. I also changed up my prepared meal company and got into a simple exercise routine (3-4 days of weight lifting per week, 15-20 minute workouts). I feel really good on a day-to-day basis since working with Paul and Brian, plus I’ve lost over 20 pounds. Yay for fitting into my clothing comfortably again and doing it in a sustainable way!
I used to manage all my disparate email accounts (11 of them) using Mac Mail. In fact, I’d been using Mac Mail for as long as I’d been on a Mac (since 2004). I got tired of the poor user experience of Mac Mail and trying to keep up with so many email accounts. I ended up just turning on email forwarding for 9 of my accounts and one account gets managed completely through a customer support system (Intercom). That left my main Gmail account and I turned one dormant Gmail account into personal stuff only. Now, I only use Gmail, have embraced labels, and love the multiple login feature. I don’t think anyone actually cares where your email reply comes from as long as they get the reply they’re looking for. It surprised me that this big move with my multiple email addresses went so smoothly.
Wait, what? Yeah… So, I love cookies. I love baked goods in general. But I REALLY love cookies and enjoy baking my own. I don’t enjoy the guilt I feel from eating them and I’ve tried to cut sugar out of my diet completely. I randomly Googled “cashew chocolate chip cookies” not thinking I would find any worthwhile results. I. Was. Wrong. Cashew-based cookies have become a staple in our home. I use this recipe as my go-to starter and replace sugar with maple syrup. From there, I’ve concocted a few different recipes of my own. Look for my Cashew Cookies Changed MAH Life cookbook to hit shelves soon.
In February I shared one of my favorite articles I’ve written (Find Your Flavor of Minimalism). A few weeks after publishing that article I cleared out the majority of my already fairly minimal closet. I wanted to see if I could wear only 7 t-shirts and further downsize the rest of my clothing items. The first few weeks were kind of weird, but after that I found it liberating to not have to worry about choosing what to wear. As the months went on, I’ve continued to stick to a wardrobe that consists of:
*I challenge you to go into your closet after reading this and start counting your clothing items. You may end up having 61 items just in shorts and socks.
I’m really excited about the software products I’m working on right now (Teachery, Spruce Metrics, and Your Pack). I want to dig even deeper with these products and make them better. Make the experience better for people using them. Be more helpful to existing customers. Just create more value. Notice I didn’t mention growth or money. That’s not my focus, that’s a byproduct for me at this point.
Oh man, I have a really fun twist for the third iteration of BuyMyFuture! It’s going to be crazy and should be quite a unique surprise. The third round of BuyMyFuture will open at the end of March. I will probably do a smaller fourth round in September as well. BuyMyFuture has become my main source of income and I’m really happy about that. It checks all the boxes for me and the first two groups of purchasers have been extremely happy with the value.
I feel like 2016 was focused on How-To articles. Which is fine. I have no qualms about that. But, I’d like to spend more time sharing my entrepreneurial journey. More time looking at the behind of the scenes of projects I’m working on and less time on how other people can replicate the exact steps. I, absolutely, want to continue to share my knowledge, but I’d like to find a new way to do that and one that stands out a bit from other entrepreneurs who write about their experiences.
I keep having these nagging thoughts about creating tools, not content. Instead of writing an article that would help you do something, I’d love to create a simple tool that does that thing for you (or, at a minimum speeds up the process!) This is very vague at the moment, but keep an eye out for interesting tools in 2017.
My friend and Bumpsale biz partner, Conrad Decker, got left out of my 2015 review and it’s stung me all year (don’t worry Conrad, the sting wasn’t that bad!) But, Conrad is super talented and I’m hoping that clearing my schedule a bit will free up time to build something unique and interesting with Bumpsale. I purchased a pretty cool domain last year and I think it could lend well to a software product that Bumpsale gets wrapped into. We’ll see!
Very recently I was introduced to YNAB (youneedabudget.com). I was searching for a way to track business and life expenses, and had yet to find an easy-to-use platform. So far, YNAB looks awesome (and I hate budgeting!) We have some financial milestones/goals we want to try to hit this year and YNAB looks like it will be great for keeping a closer look at our spending.
Caroline and I went on some awesome trips in 2016 and we’re continuing that trend in 2017. In fact, we created an entire website where we’re sharing all our travel adventures. Here’s a sneak peek.
I’ve jumped on the train of picking a word to “frame your year.” Here’s what previous year’s words were:
How’d I do with moderation in 2016? Eh, I’d say so-so. For business stuff? Better than 2015, but not fantastically great. For diet/nutrition and fitness, the moderation framing absolutely helped.
My second book will come out in 2017 and the working title is Do It Differently. I want to go somewhat-all-in on making sure I look at everything I’m doing a bit differently in 2017. Whether it’s a new product, a relaunch of a product, a new direction in writing, my website redesign, etc. Just really make sure things feel different and unique.
This doesn’t have to happen in January. There are no rules about year in reviews, year in previews, and framing words. I’m so glad I do this exercise every year, if nothing else to spend time doing a bit of reflection.
Looking back on where I’ve been helps me see more clearly where I want to go.
As a random end to this review/preview article, I surveyed the BuyMyFuture buyers and asked them to pick words for 2017. Here are the words they picked in case you need some inspiration:
Fun fact: Out of the 111 survey responses, over 60% of the words had something to do with creating/building. I love that!
Let’s make 2017 awesome and… different! 😉
Like these year-end reviews and previews? Read my other ones: