Monday was a busy day – full of phone calls, constant emailing, errands, conversations, order processing, and the like. In the midst of the chaos, I got my oil changed at the car dealership, and like I always do, I set up my computer on the counter and got down to business while I waited. I am always, always multitasking it seems.

One of the fellows that worked at the dealership seemed interested in what I was doing and asked if I was working on homework. Side note: I try to be grateful that I look young, but sometimes looking like I’m still in high school gets old. When I said I actually owned a business and really wished their internet would start working, he said, “really? You look so young.”

pros-cons-running-small-business

A little while later he came back and asked what it was like, running a business. It must be awesome, he said, getting to just do what I wanted to do all the time.

What a misconception that is. That and my lunchtime conversation with a good friend who left her small business to take a job with a firm lead me to pondering all the pro’s and con’s of owning a small business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for entrepreneurship, but I think knowing what you’re getting into is important too. So, here goes nothin’…

Cons (for lack of a better word)

– Many days, I am working before the world is awake. It’s the only time of the day I can work without emails rolling in every minute or the phone ringing like crazy. So if I leave work a little early, it’s usually because I’ve already been at it for 10 hours or so and my brain can’t handle it anymore.

– I rarely, if ever, take the proverbial “lunch hour.” It’s usually lunch at the desk, reading the news or industry updates for 15 minutes or so.

– Although we are closed on the weekends, we are often putting in several hours just to keep the accounting, legal, and “corporate” side of the business straight. As small as we are, I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to keep client projects going and do that too during business hours. You have no idea what a paperwork monster running a business is until you have to start doing all of that for yourself.

– Just because I run a business that technically falls in line with my passions doesn’t mean that there aren’t a whole bunch of parts of it I don’t like. I think that’s the biggest misconception out there – you like to fish, so you start a fishing business, and you love everything you do all day long. Unfortunately, that’s just not life — see previous point: paperwork, taxes, billing, and days when the fish aren’t cooperating. It’s not all sunshine and roses even when the business is based on your passions.

– Days off are almost impossible. When you have a job with a boss, you can usually ask for the day off and the office knows you are off so they more or less leave you alone. When you are a small business, you have no one boss, you have a whole lot of clients. You can’t really inform all of them that you’re taking the day off, so needless to say it’s a bit difficult to do.

– Basically, it’s all on you.

On the flip side, the Pro’s:

– I have the choice to decide that I want to get up at the crack of dawn (or before) and work so I can take off a bit early one day.

– Even though there are parts I don’t love, there are absolutely a whole bunch of parts I do love too, and that more than makes up for it.

– It honestly is really hard to take a day off – there’s just no way to manage to tell everyone that and it seems someone almost always ends up thinking you are ignoring them. But, you do get to be in control of when you want that vacation time / sick time and it doesn’t have to actually be “approved” by anyone.

– I do get to make the choice to have a long lunch every now and then if a friend stops by or I got up early to work.

– Again, it’s all on you. It’s a double edged sword – wonderful and terrifying all at once.

Really, I think it comes down to control, doesn’t it? It’s wonderful to have the choice of when and how you want to work, but the bottom line is that there is still a whole lot of work to be done. So while you have the choice of when to do it, you aren’t hanging out at the pool in the afternoon without sacrificing somewhere else in your day, whether it’s that the business isn’t doing well or that you were up at the crack of dawn.

Have you ever run a small business? What would you consider small business pros and cons to be? What are the pro’s and con’s of working for someone else?

The oft used phrase “you learn something new everyday” really is true. Considering I have been using Gmail for years now, you would have thought I’d know about this, but I just recently learned about canned responses, which are basically Gmail email templates.

gmail email templates

I’m always trying to attend to more details of our process and customer experience, and after I received a really nicely designed “it’s on the way email” from West Elm, I decided I wanted to send a much more designed email containing tracking information & order details. Of course, time management is a big factor, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to recreate it in Gmail every time I shipped something, so a little looking around turned up canned responses.

Side note: I still think that’s a really weird thing to call it and makes it less than obvious that that’s how you create Gmail email templates. Either way, it’s how it works currently. Here’s how to create one…

gmail email templates

1. Compose a message. There is no need to fill in a “to” or a “subject” at this point. Create the email you want to use as a template — i.e., insert any photos or text that you’ll want to make up the template.

emailtemplates2

2. Click the little arrow in the bottom right of the “compose” window and select Canned Responses.

3. Choose “New Canned Response” and name it whatever you’d like it to be called.

emailtemplates3

4. That’s all you need to do to create gmail email templates! Now, when you want to use them, you simply compose a new message and select the name of the template you want to use under “insert.”

Happy Tuesday!

Being in a somewhat in-between time for invitations lately, I’ve managed to find a little bit of time to take care of a few projects on the “other” to-do list. You know, the one that sits by patiently and pretty much never, ever happens because your must-be-done-today list beats it every time? That to-do list.

twine

Now that we’ve been in our office for about nine months (can it really have been that long?), there were definitely some things that could use streamlining. For one thing, we had no closet. Fortunately, I have a very nice landlord and a closet across the hall that was just begging to be uber-organized and full of pretty paper. I set out on that mission about two months ago and luckily was able to make it happen, so we were able to move a lot of the storage type stuff out from underfoot.

So of course then it was rearranging time. I toyed with all sorts of ideas, but we ended up with relatively what we had as I think it’s ultimately the best solution. Rearranging did involve acquiring this fabulous bright blue piece from Nadeau though, with which I am totally in love…

nadeauweb

Next mission – filing cabinet. We had had one in the home office but it stayed there for our personal stuff. So now that we had a little room, it was time to bring one into the office. However, being a bit crazy and far too in love with my office space, I couldn’t bear to bring in an ugly beige filing cabinet. If you’re going to be a part of my 175 square feet, you’ve got to bring something to the table ;-)

So I found one on Craigslist and planned to paint it. A few weekends ago the weather looked great and my sweet husband offered to help. So we borrowed my MIL’s backyard and got to work.

FilingCabinet-Before

All was going great, and we popped into a neighbor’s house, only to come back outside to a straight-up downpour. Out. Of. Nowhere. We ran out and stood over it with some cardboard, thinking it would blow over, but not so much. Imagine three people holding cardboard over a Craigslist filing cabinet in the pouring rain…yes, I know, I am crazy and very lucky to have people like that in my life! We found a box that fit over it though when the rain wasn’t stopping and figured we didn’t have much choice at that point but to wait it out inside and see what happened.

The paint was dry to the touch when the rain started, so luckily the water beaded up on it and wasn’t much of a problem. It was dry enough to move that day, but I will say that it took a few days for it to completely lose its tackiness – i.e. setting stuff on top of it kind of thing. But overall, I think the blue was worth it!

cabinet-finished

And then there was the pegboard on which I had my heart set. They are not easy to install though. Again lucky for me, my wonderful assistant Kellie has an equally wonderful husband who’s a homebuilder, so he spent a Friday morning helping us hang up this huge beautiful pegboard. Yes, we have 32 square feet of pegboard space. For someone who loves rearranging like I do, it’s a really good idea.

I spent that Sunday afternoon throwing some white paint on it and dancing away. It really didn’t take long at all. White latex paint worked great.

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And then that week, we got to start hanging stuff! I wish this photo was better, but we are blessed to get really nice light from our big window, and I’m not a talented enough photographer to adjust for that well.

pegboard

Lastly, the invitation catalog. This is seriously the longest project in the making. Finding a way to organize samples and present them well is a huge challenge. They could be organized in so many different ways — color, style, date, name, venue, printing type, etc. Finally, I realized that the way I really identify each suite is with the bride for whom it was made.

So we now have a “Bible” of sorts for most of the invitations we’ve ever created and they can be looked up by bride — it makes it so much easier when I’m talking because I know exactly where to find an invite I want to show someone.

catalogs

Hopefully we’re good to go for another six months or so until some idea strikes. We are off to Florida this week for a mini vacation and I couldn’t be more excited. I hope summer is treating you well so far! What have you been up to?

Oy, product photography. And blog photography. What a love/hate relationship we have.

In my three years (yikes! Has it been that long?) of running an Etsy shop, blogging, and running a graphic/web design company, I have learned quite a bit about product photography while still knowing relatively little in the scheme of things.

Although I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination, I thought it might be fun to start sort of a layman’s series on the subject — because, if you’re going to blog or have an online business, the quality of your photos will make or break you.

So where to start said series? Where else but the beginning? I think so much can be learned by going back and comparing where you are now to where you started.  A little trip down memory lane is necessary to get our series rolling.

This is the earliest photo I still have, from January of 2010. It isn’t a terrible photo, and did, in fact, make it to the front page of Etsy once or twice. I was pretty proud of it, and for a long time it was literally the only halfway-decent photo I had. I got lucky on this one I think, considering the same day the other ones I was okay with looked like this…

Dark, shadowy, and not super visually appealing.

The above photo was one of my earliest “for real” efforts, in May of 2010, when I was trying to assemble good product photos to have a website online before the first Artist Market. So, we can see that by this time I had figured out that natural light is pretty important.

However, environment is pretty important too.  And while I was right on the natural light, this looks like exactly what it is — somebody took their product outside to their apartment complex picnic table and took a photo.  Maybe not so professional.

I actually still don’t think this one is terrible. I took it around the same time; however, I probably took 200 photos and walked away with only three or four that I would still consider decent photos.

Still May, I realized I wasn’t as into the landscape backgrounds and wanted to figure out how to get nice white backgrounds. Obviously this didn’t work. I was on my screened porch which did not have great light because it was surrounded by trees, and it just really did not work. The camera is out of focus (and it somehow was for almost all of them) and the photos aren’t crisp by any means. Dark and shadowy again.

Still snapping photos outside. Great lesson: WHEN you snap the photos outside matters quite a bit. See how blue these are? The sun was almost completely down. My impatience to get a photo that evening did not matter to nature apparently.

In August, I decide the problem inside is my lighting (lesson: with photos it is always about the lighting), so I go and buy two cheap incandescent bedroom lights (you know what I mean, the kind that clip on the side of the bed) and set up a little studio where I pointed the lights on the product.

Hello, orange photo.

In December, my sweet husband (well he wasn’t husband yet ;-)) gives me a little fold-up photo studio for Christmas. Here’s what the raw image from that looked like.

And then when I Photoshopped the stuffing out of it, I got some decent white background images. But it took forever and it was a little bit overdone – it lost its natural appeal. I really didn’t want my photos to have that digital look – you know, where people create the product image completely digitally instead of actually taking a photo of the product.

This was in no way the photo studio’s fault. User error, as I am slowly discovering!

Here’s a few from 2011…

Not horrible but definitely not great by any means.

There were a few times when I tried going places like the pier to get some natural light shots, like the from March of 2012…

Again, though, my impatience to get photos when it was convenient didn’t help me – it was way too bright and harsh a light when I tried to do these in March of 2012.

The burlap background idea turned out okay, but you can see on the bottom shot the coloring / lighting of the photo isn’t so hot.

I think the most frustrating thing about product photography is that you know exactly what you want – clean, crisp, well lit photos that showcase how much you care about your work – but achieving that look is by no means an easy feat.

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better in the last few months. I took this photo yesterday on a very cloudy day, inside, and it needed very very minimal editing…

…and I did it by finally venturing away from Auto Mode and attempting to learn about things like ISO, aperture, and other photography concepts.

What have your experiments in blog / product photography yielded? Any tips or stories to share?
If you want to pop in and share a guest post, email me and I’d love to include you in this little mini-series. Next week we’ll start going through some of the concepts and tools we have at our disposal to generate much better photos!

I guess because somewhere deep down I still feel like the girl-who-never-got-a-real-job, I’m always kind of surprised when I get an inquiry from a talented designer or recent grad as to whether or not we have any positions available here at dodeline. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that I was writing those hopeful emails too.

Lately I’ve received quite a few, what with the recent college graduations, and I thought it would be a good time to talk about the job search. Now that I’m kind of on the other side of the coin, I have some much better perspective on that process than I did when I was looking.

tips for the job search e-mail

  • Brief and to-the-point.  If an employer wants to know more, they’ll ask, but to get them to ask, you want to put together a well written synopsis of who you are, what you’re looking for, and why you’re a good fit for the company you’re emailing.  That said, if you can find some common ground with the person you’re emailing, that would also be a great way to start your email — for me, things like, “I went to UGA” or “I’m a font fanatic” usually work pretty well.  It will help the recipient connect with you personally and quickly amongst the scads of emails he/she receives.
  • Be mindful of file types and sizes.  Do not send a ginormous attachment.  Yes, send your best work, but be selective and send the very very best at this initial contact.  There will be time for more in depth discussions in an interview if the recipient is interested.  Also, make sure you’re paying attention to your file types — it’s important to send something pretty universal, such as a PDF.  Even Word documents can be finicky and look weird depending on the version it’s created/opened in.
  • Try to have a link online.  Most professionals nowadays rely very heavily on their phone and mobile devices.  The one moment they might have found to read your email they could be in the car eating their lunch in a 10 minute respite from the daily chaos.  So try to make it easy no matter how they’re viewing your work — whether you share a Linked In profile, a blog (although I wouldn’t send a blog if it’s super personal), or a portfolio website, it’s an easy way for them to quickly size you up.  Check out free sites like WordPress, Wix, or one of these 8 free online portfolio sites.
  • Include a phone number.  If I’m really interested, I may prefer to call you.  So in that same vein, put the numbers of the places your inquiring in your phone.  That way you know when/if they give you a call who it is and not to pick it up while you’re standing at the grocery checkout line.
  • DO follow-up but also be PATIENT.  I had the hardest time with this when I was looking for a job.  The email you just fired up is the most important thing you’re doing right now and you want to get an answer now.  This area is where I’ve learned the most: professionals and people in managerial positions (whom are the ones you would be emailing) are unbelievably busy.  Their inboxes are constantly filling up with things they need to do, people they need to answer, and probably also other applicants.  Everyone has the best intentions, but sometimes you just can’t get back to an email for awhile.  I would suggest that if you don’t hear back in a week, follow-up.

best advice I was ever given on this topic: never forget that you are interviewing the company too — you have the choice of where and how you want to work.  The interviewing company wants you to be impressed with what it has to offer just as much as you want to impress it.

Have you found any tips/tricks that worked for you when looking for a job?  Have you ever been in a position to hire and have any insight to offer?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given as an entrepreneur is the following…

“learn the difference between working in your business and working on your business.”

One lousy preposition makes a really big difference, doesn’t it?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again…there is so much to do when you’re a one person show. Everything from trash pickup to bill paying to stocking office supplies to meeting clients and, oh yeah, whatever your business is actually in the business of doing.

It happens so quickly — you fall into the cycle of trying to just keep up with your business and not working on the business as a whole anymore. Those big picture conversations — so common at the beginning when you have plenty of time for these things — about where you’re going and how you’re getting there fall to the wayside in the face of endless to-do lists and waiting clients/customers.

I am by no means immune and am constantly trying to remind myself that the hamster on the wheel gets nowhere, but that doesn’t make it any easier to occasionally look into the future and beyond what needs to be done today.

I did manage to get inspired and find a little time for a mini-reno here on the blog though.

Ever since the blog-tastrophe in March of this year, I haven’t had the time or inspiration to improve the design and functionality on the blog to be more what I had envisioned. Randomly, inspiration struck and getting up at 5AM provided the spare hour necessary to implement it…et voila! (Psst…if you’re in a reader, pop over to the actual site to see it).

Which also reminds me, ever since the aforementioned disaster, I think the feed has been a little off. If you wouldn’t mind double checking your reader subscription, I would very much appreciate it :-)

So what do you think? Like the changes? Don’t like the changes? Do you struggle with the difference between working in and on your business?

This is probably the first question I get when I tell people I work from home. “How does that work?,” they say. “When I’m home I get nothing done.”

Well, it’s not always easy, that’s for sure.

Here are a few tips for how to be productive while working from home:

  • Try to keep hours.  It’s oh-so-tempting when you first start to sleep til 10, work for awhile, go grab lunch, then work again around 9PM, etc.  Doing that will make you feel like you never have a break, even though ironically you’re taking lots of breaks, and will really inhibit your productivity.  Even though it’s less fun, you really should keep the hours that businesses in your industry keep.  If most people are open 9 to 6, you should at least be available, up, and ready to answer phone calls / emails during that time.  It’s better for your business and it’s better for you to have some sense of schedule.
  • Leave the house once.  If you end up staying home for hours and hours on end and not leaving, you can definitely end up feeling very blah and out of touch with the world.  I try to leave the house even if it’s just for 20 minutes or so in the morning to run up to the post office, bank, etc.
  • Take a shower!  Again, tempting to stay in PJ’s all day, but that also tends to make you feel like you haven’t woken up and kind of in a fog.  Not only that, but should you get a “Hey, can you meet me over here really quick?” phone call, it’s not going to sound good to either (a) say no because you haven’t had a shower (b) show up in your PJ’s anyway (c) be super late and show up with wet hair because you tried to play it cool and take a shower lightning fast.
  • Clean when you’re cleaning.  This is one of my bigger issues.  It’s distracting if the house is not in order so you can find yourself feeling like you need to clean it up before you can work.  If you have serious tasks to get done, that can be an issue.  Try to plan when you clean and stick to it.  I’m still working on this one.  A pin has been floating around on Pinterest and I’m going to try to use its suggestions (Monday vaccuum, Tuesday dust, etc.).  Not only that, but we got a Roomba yesterday (our vaccuum died) so now I have a little robot slave to take care of the vaccuuming! :-)
  • Find a favorite spot to go.  Sometimes the house is messy and you just do not have time to deal with it, or you’ve been there all day every day for three days and you’re stir crazy.  If you have that option, which most of us do so long as we have a laptop and a WIFI connection, pick up that computer and go somewhere.  Almost all coffee shops have internet connections.  I have a few favorite spots around town and it’s always nice to be around people.  Plus, I’ve made great connections that way, both new friends and new business acquaintances.

A great website  that covers these kinds of topics is Working Naked.   It has a great funny but informative spin on the work from home topic.

Have you ever worked from home?  Know what it’s like or wish you could?  Some people I meet wouldn’t want to because they say there’s no way they could be productive.  What about you?

Coming home from being away is never easy. When we were kids, it was just because life got significantly less fun. But as adults it has a lot more to do with the pile of stuff we didn’t get to before leaving, which could have politely waited for you until your return, but instead chose to actively engage in doubling, tripling — no, quadrupling itself — like a science experiment gone wrong.

But in the ultimate paradox, we would be just as if not more stressed if we were to return work and find we weren’t needed. Not sure how to win in this scenario.

So that’s where I am today. Mind on a beach, inbox on overload. Random photo I snapped with an Iphone and spent way too much time Photoshopping for a blog post. You know, that kind of day ;-)

How do you deal with “vacation brain”?

I wandered into my new favorite store The Southern Curator over the weekend and discovered the Duke Cannon Supply Company.

As soon as I saw this, I thought it would make an awesome Father’s Day gift! My dad is a true salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, so soap that donates to veterans and “isn’t for sissies” is kind of perfect.

And the bonus is that their marketing is kind of impressive.

They have a real manly man approach and a fantastic sense of humor. Check them out if you have a chance for a few laughs. I love companies that present themselves in such a clever and humorous way.

How was your weekend friends? Hope all is well in your part of the world!

Hellocotton is one of the newer blogging / social media avenues out there and I really like it. It’s really kind of amazing how these new ideas come up and you think, “not another version of Facebook/Twitter,” but somehow they really are unique and have a place in the lineup.

Basically, it’s like using a reader for all of your favorite blogs, but it organizes them in a really nice way. You can also browse tons of other blogs that you don’t follow yet by category.

It’s the perfect way to keep up with all of your favorite blogs as well as discover new ones.

What do you think? Going to give it a try or are you social media-d out?

If you do, I hope you’ll come say hi so I can follow you! Find dodelinedesign on hellocotton here.

Happy Tipsy Tuesday!