Instagram Inspiration Challenge for the Month of April

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One of the questions I get asked over and over is: what type of content should I be sharing?

What should I blog about? What should I email my list about? What should I share on social media?

Sometimes we make this stuff way too difficult, because we’re overthinking it. It shouldn’t be that hard.

To get you inspired to share more photos on Instagram, I’ve created an Instagram Inspiration Challenge for the month of April. Creativity explodes when you’re given constraints. When you’ve got a focus, you’ll see that you come up with a lot more ideas. That’s the idea behind this challenge.

And if you want more people to follow you, you’ve got to be sharing new content regularly. Daily is even better.

Here’s how you participate:

1. Upload a photo on Instagram inspired by the phrase of the day. (Example: For April 1st, you want to publish a photo on Instagram inspired by “Life is Messy” and on April 2nd, you’ll publish a photo inspired by “Black and White.” And, you’ll continue throughout the month.) Do as many as you can…it’s okay to miss a day or two or more.

2. Include the hashtag #BelleInstaInspiration in the description of your photo so that we can find each others’ photos and follow each other!

3. Connect with the other women participating by searching for the hashtag #BelleInstaInspiration and like and comment on their photos. This challenge is about more than uploading content–it’s about connecting with each other and finding other creatives to follow on Instagram.

4. Download and print (right click and select “download linked file”) the list to keep at your desk as a daily reminder.

5. Comment below to let us know that you’re participating with the link to your Instagram profile.

And, because I want to make this challenge even more fun, I’ll be selecting a winner on May 1st.

That winner will receive: A Life is Messy Kitchen bundle ($67 value) that includes the digital kit, an artist signed copy of Life is Messy Kitchen and an exclusive coloring book with bonuses!

I’ll be picking the winner based on the person who participates the most and gives it her all. I’ll announce the winner right here on May 1st.

I’m publishing the list early in order to give you time to start planning and taking photos. I hope this challenge sparks your creativity.

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10 Most Frequently Asked Blogging Questions Answered

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I get emails every week with questions about blogging, so I’ve compiled the ten most frequently asked questions and answered them below.

1. How often should I blog?

There isn’t a perfect rule for this. You do NOT need to blog every day or three times a week, especially if your blog isn’t your business which it usually isn’t. If your blog is a tool to market your business and connect with your target market, try once a week.

Always choose quality over quantity.

2. Does my blog design really matter?

YES! You’ve got seven to ten seconds to make your first impression. Within those seconds, each person decides whether to spend more time with you or leave.

If you don’t hire a web designer, I recommend that you find a theme for your website that is simple and classy. And, do not add a bunch of clutter—less is more.

3. Should I start on a free platform or should I start with WordPress?

If you want your blog to look professional and you’re blogging for your business, you need your own website.

I recommend using WordPress. That means you need to: get a domain ($10+/year), pay for hosting ($5+/month) and pick a theme.

4. What theme are you using for your blog?

I use Canvas by WooThemes, because it’s completely customizable. I love it.

5. How do you deal with spam?

I use the plug-in, Askimet. It catches 99.9% of my spam comments. I have to delete about two spam comments a week which isn’t bad considering I would have to delete hundreds if I didn’t use Askimet.

6. How can I monetize my blog?

I spent an entire segment on monetization in my CreativeLive course, Build a Successful Creative Blog, because this a HUGE topic. To get you started, ads and promoted posts aren’t the way to go unless your business model is built on promoting other businesses.

If you’re a creative entrepreneur selling your own products or services, don’t include ads or promoted posts on your blog because it takes away from your business and that’s what you want your readers to focus on. Instead, use your blog to give your readers an inside look into your business and talk about your products in creative ways.

7. Can I use pictures I find online in my blog posts?

If they aren’t your pictures and they don’t have a creative commons license, you shouldn’t use them unless you get permission from the photographer. Don’t pull pictures off of Pinterest and use them on your blog unless you want to put yourself in a precarious legal position.

8. Where can I find pictures to use on my blog?

I suggest using your own pictures. It’s a way to strengthen your brand. If you don’t enjoy taking photos or don’t want to learn how to take good quality photos, you can purchase stock photos, find creative commons for commercial use photos, higher a photographer to provide photos or use free stock photos like the ones on Death to Stock Photo.

9. Do I need to pay attention to SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and is the process of affecting how your website is found with search engines like Google. Yes, you should pay attention to SEO, because you want people to find you by searching for keywords online but you don’t need to spend a ton of time on it. I use plug-ins (All in One SEO Pack and Scribe) to help me with SEO.

10. What are the best ways to get more readers?

First, publish high-quality blog posts that your readers love and can’t get enough of. If your blog posts are good, your readers will share them for you!

Second, you have to market your blog like you do your products and services. You can’t build it and expect that they’ll come. The things that brought me the most readers have been: guest posting, speaking engagements, interviews, hosting blog tours and using social media to promote my posts.

Want more information about blogging? Check out my CreativeLive course, Build a Successful Creative Blog. I cover everything from what you should blog about to how to build a loyal readership to how to make real money from blogging.

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Operation World Domination: A B-School Mastermind for Creators and Innovators

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B-School has once again taken over the internet.

Lots of well-known entrepreneurs are saying the same thing: buy B-School from me.

They’re shouting from the rooftops about B-School for a couple of reasons: 1) They know how great it is. 2) They get a commission from each sale.

Even though Mayi and I get a piece of the apple pie if you buy B-School through our affiliate link, there is no way we’d promote it if we didn’t believe in it.

Three years ago, we both invested in B-School, spending nearly two thousand dollars each when neither of us were in a position to be investing that much money in a course.

Neither one of us regrets that decision for a second. We’ve both moved from barely paying the bills to living the dream with the help of Marie Forleo’s B-School.

If you’re here trying to decide wether or not to jump on the B-School party bus, I want to help you decide if it’s the right decision for you. Mayi and I are hosting a happy hour to discuss all things B-School on February 25th at 4pm EST. You can reserve your spot and get a reminder email right here.

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We know that it’s a big investment. We also know that it isn’t the right fit for everyone. Join us on that call, and we’ll help you figure out whether or not it’s the right time for you to register for B-School.

Because we know how much B-School can help creative entrepreneurs, we put together a bonus package to make your decision easier and your B-School experience even better. It includes a membership to our mastermind: weekly live calls during the program, a B-School survival guide, access to a private Facebook group and the coolest mug in the galaxy.

We wanted to recreate the cozy, sisterhood experience we had when we went through B-School. Because the program is so successful, there are thousands of members in the B-School community, making it overwhelming at times. Mayi and I loved how much personal attention and support we got when we went through course and wanted to give that to anyone who purchases B-School through our affiliate link.

You can find all the details of our bonus package, Operation World Domination, right here. If you have any questions, email them to blacksburgbelle@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to help you in your decision process.

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Five Tips for Maximizing In-Person Events + Retreat Schedule Announced!

I get giddy with excitement before a big event. Even though I’m an introvert at heart, I enjoy pushing myself out of my elastic waist pants comfort zone at least once or twice a year for a conference or retreat.

When I attend an event in person, either as a speaker or attendee, I always come away inspired and electrified. The feeling, a bubbly excitement, can’t be replicated by anything else. It takes meeting new people, learning in person and experiencing epiphanies with other creatives.

As I pick out my outfits, including giant polka dotted skirts and comfy sweaters, prepare my talk on creating your own success, and chat with the other women hosting the event about the food, surprises and details for The Movers and Makers Summit, I can’t help but count down the days.

There’s still time to join us but there aren’t many spots left so if you’re interested, I’m elated to share the official Movers and Makers Summit retreat schedule which has just been announced.

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Whether you’re joining us for The Movers and Makers Summit or attending another event this year, I’m going to share the five biggest tips I’ve learned while attending my fair share of conferences.

In person events are amazing for finding like-minded entrepreneurs and establishing solid connections with them. This is where you can meet an accountability partner, a group who forms a mastermind, or even a business partner.

Or maybe you find that person who you mesh with so well that you become true friends who chat about business and life each week. You could meet your Mayi. You never really know.

When you invest in a retreat or conference, you want to make the most out of it.

1. Connect before you arrive.

Don’t wait until the day of the event to start developing connections. Reach out to others attending on social media or via email. And, if you can tell that you like someone, ask if they want to have lunch with you one of the days, if they want to grab a cocktail in the evening or want to meet for coffee before it begins.

If you’re introverted, this can help to reduce some anxiety before arriving at a conference or retreat.

For The Movers and Makers Summit, Lisa created a Facebook group so that the hosts and attendees can start to learn about each other’s businesses and chat well before the start of the event. It’s been really fun getting to know the women joining us in Charleston.

2. Quality over quantity!

Don’t worry about meeting everyone in the room at a conference of 100 women. Don’t freak out about the amount of business cards you trade. And, don’t push your products on people.

Instead, get to know the people you really click with so that you leave with quality connections.

When you just trade business card after business card, you often don’t follow up with those people. You probably won’t even remember what you talked about for the two minutes you chatted three weeks later.

When I attended Marie Forleo’s conference, I spent a lot of time with Mayi. We ate lunch together each day, we talked during some of the breaks and our relationship grew so much because of it. I met some other women who I still keep in touch with but that was because I wasn’t trying to meet every single woman in that room.

3. Make the most out of your time.

If there’s an option to come thirty minutes early to mingle and drink tea or coffee, do it. If there is a meet and greet the evening before, attend it. During the breaks, take care of business and then connect with attendees and speakers.

Take notes and stay 100% present during the presentations. Put your cell phone on silent (cause that’s good manners) and stay off of it (so you don’t get distracted).

Move during the breaks so that you can focus during the talks. Ask another attendee to walk around the block with you. Stand up and stretch a bit. Go into the bathroom and have a one-minute dance party. Do what you need to do to stay comfortable and attentive.

4. Follow up within a week.

You know those really great, meaningful relationships that you worked so hard to build during the conference or retreat? Don’t drop them. Use the person’s business card to find her website and follow her on social media.

Send her an email saying how you enjoyed meeting her. Follow up with something she said or brought up while you were chatting. Maybe she mentioned a fun restaurant that you tried out before you left? Thank her for the suggestion. Maybe she talked about how she was struggling with social media? Send her a link to a blog post that you found helpful for dealing with social media overwhelm.

Show her that you were listening and your relationship will grow. Then, suggest that you catch up on Skype next week. You can both share things you did after returning from the conference and give each other feedback.

5. Act right away.

One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs making after they attend a retreat, conference or course in person is that they wait and wait and wait to start acting on what they learned. They make excuses for why they’re not ready or why they can’t possibly start for at least two months.

When you get home from an in-person event you should be inspired and energized. Use that inspiration to make big changes to your business in a short amount of time. Then, you’ll have developed some amazing relationships and possibly paid for your trip through the growth in your business.

I hope this helps you have more success when you attend an event. Have a tip that I didn’t mention? Leave it in the comments below. 

And, if you want to join us for The Movers and Makers Summit coming up at the end of February, you can get more details and reserve your spot right here. There are only a few left!

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The Trendy Lie You Shouldn’t Believe

Truth about Marketing

Lately I’ve noticed a trend among entrepreneurs slightly bragging about how they’re successful without marketing.

And, every time I read one of those blog posts or hear someone say it in an interview, it makes me really uncomfortable.

Because it isn’t true. (At least 99% of the time it isn’t true.)

Most of these entrepreneurs who are telling you that you shouldn’t have to promote your business in order to be successful do the exact opposite of the advice they’re giving you.

They are writing and publishing blog posts every week. They are emailing their lists. They are growing their lists through interviews and speaking engagements. They are updating their social media accounts regularly.

That’s marketing, people.

Just because you don’t have to spend lots of time promoting every single product or service you offer doesn’t negate all of the time you’ve spent blogging, emailing your list and updating social media. Those people who are following you and reading your blog didn’t just appear out of thin air.

It’s extremely frustrating to see successful (or at least seemingly successful) entrepreneurs pretend that you can sit back, produce good products and earn a full-time or six figure income without marketing.

As if they didn’t spend a lot of time, at least in the beginning, spreading the word about their businesses and products.

When I sat down to write today’s blog post, I wasn’t planning to write about this.

But I got sidetracked, like we all tend to do online, and stumbled across more than one post on more than one blog in which marketing was bashed.

Normally when I see something that I don’t agree with, I just move on to another blog that I gel with more but I couldn’t this time. Especially since I’d heard more than one entrepreneur gloating about their lack of marketing in interviews in the past couple months and this trend is irking me to no end.

I feel like I have to clarify that I’m not at all into the “look at me, look at me” marketing where it feels like the person is yelling at you to buy their stuff.

You know the kind of marketing where you can imagine the person standing on the curb with a poster screaming to come and get your $5 pizza?

That’s what my mind conjures up when I see those blogs where post after post is a picture of a product with a link to buy it online and not much else. Or those Facebook walls that are filled with the same thing: here’s my product—go buy it.

That type of marketing doesn’t work and it gives marketing a bad name.

Good marketing makes you feel excited to buy a product. And, great marketing doesn’t feel like marketing at all.

But for entrepreneurs to claim that they’re successful without spending a good chunk of time promoting their businesses is confusing and deceptive to new entrepreneurs looking to them for advice and guidance.

It encourages the “if your products and services are really good, you shouldn’t have to spend time on marketing” fallacy.

One such blog post I recently read was written by someone that spends a great deal of time on marketing: writing and publishing blog posts that sell products, emailing one’s list regularly, using social media to connect with one’s target market, etc.

So, the next time someone says that you can succeed without marketing, take a look at how much marketing that person does.

Once you get to a certain stage in your business, marketing should become easier.

At least, it has for me and many entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with.

Instead of having to pitch interviews and speaking engagements, people come to you asking to interview you and requesting you to speak at their events.

Instead of crossing your fingers and wishing upon a star that twenty people will sign up for your next online course, your course sells out within two weeks due to the amazing testimonials on your sales page and the three well-written blog posts you wrote to get your readers excited about it.

Instead of having to tweet about your latest blog post ten different times, you tweet about it once or twice and twenty-four of your followers retweet it, helping you gain lots of new readers.

Sometimes, something big will happen that completely changes the game for you.

You get featured on a blog with hundreds of thousands of readers and make more money in a week than you did all of last year. Or, you land a speaking engagement that gets you in front of the right market and helps you fill up your consulting spots for the entire year.

It doesn’t mean that you never have to work on marketing again, but it does make things easier.

However, for most of us, the beginning looks like this: one comment on the blog post you spent six hours writing and editing, twelve likes on your business Facebook page, and one sale within the first week of your product launch (that may or may not be from a friend who felt bad when you told her how upset you were that your launch didn’t go as expected).

That’s normal.

And if we pretend that it isn’t and that you don’t have to work hard to get your products in front of the right people, especially in the beginning, we’re doing a disservice to all those passionate entrepreneurs who are just getting started or have been at it for six months and are still struggling.

Most of the time, success doesn’t fall at your fingertips.

It’s okay want to learn about and spend time on marketing. It’s more than okay—it’s necessary.

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Discover Your Super Power + Clarify Your Vision

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I truly believe that business should be fun.

When you’re enjoying yourself, you power through the hard moments (like your website crashing and refund requests), you feel energized–not drained–after working really long hours and your customers feed off of your enthusiasm.

It’s obvious that my friend and business partner, Mayi Carles believes this, too (example: these dollar sign glasses)  She makes learning about business and working on your business feel like play–not work.

Mayi has this gift of engaging people by turning boring business topics into something intriguing.

The reason I’m telling you this is because Mayi has put together a free, five-day series: Life is Messy Challenge, and it’s filled with ways to improve your business while having a really good time.

It includes free printables (her printables are the best!), stories from her own business and life and really cute visuals. I’m hooked and it’s only the third day.

I’m not sharing this because I get anything out of it. I’m not using any affiliate links and this series is FREE. Mayi is launching Life is Messy Bootcamp soon and this in celebration of that…but you can get so much out of participating in the challenge without spending any money. You don’t even have to fork over your email address for access. There aren’t any strings.

This is a great way to start your year:

Day 1: Discover Your Super Power

Day 2: Clarify Your Vision

Day 3: Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Day 4: Get It All Out of Your Head

Day 5: A Trusted Calendar System

There is a lot involved in this series, so brew a cup of tea or coffee, grab a snack and enjoy.

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5 Things You Can Do This Month to Make More Money with Your Business

Five Ways to Start Making Money with Your Business

I have a love-dislike relationship with the beginning of the year.

I love that most people are in a positive, goal-oriented state of mind. I love that my favorite stores have amazing sales (hello, Anthropologie!). And, I love the ‘I get to start fresh’ feeling floating through the air.

I dislike going out to lunch with friends and feeling a tad bit guilty that I’m the only one not ordering a salad consisting of iceberg lettuce, two cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of carrot shreds and two pieces of congealing grilled chicken with low-fat, no taste dressing on the side.

I dislike that yoga classes fill up a week in advance with people who won’t be there in a couple months cause they’ve given up on fitting into their skinny jeans. Who needs skinny jeans when you’ve got Friends on Netflix, right?

And, I really dislike when dreaming gets in the way of action.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for dreaming BIG.

But, it can turn into a cycle of procrastination uglier than your great aunt’s extra large baby pink silk granny panties that are riddled with unidentified stains and have a hole in the crotch as large as your fist.

You know what I mean.

The people who dream and plan and research for hours upon hours, leaving no time to actually do anything they plan or dream about.

I groan every time I read an email or social media update that says something like, “I’m going to start my business in six months after I finish my research” or “I’m going to create my first digital product in three months after I finish taking an Illustrator course, researching the competition and planning it out.”

Yes, there is absolutely a need for planning and research. But, don’t use it to procrastinate.

Dreaming and researching isn’t going to pay for a new Macbook Pro or medical bills or the ticket to that retreat you really want to attend to hang out with other creative entrepreneurs.

In the beginning of your business, it’s important to start making money for a few reasons: 1) It gives you a boost of confidence that you can do this. 2) You can pay your bills and invest in your business. 3) You can send that blogger who gives you great advice an Anthropologie gift card. Insert diabolical laugh here. (Just kidding.)

But seriously. You’re running a business, so money is an important factor.

With today’s post, I’m going against the grain of the normal “how to achieve your goals in 2015” or “my dreams for this year” blog posts you see at the beginning of every year.

Instead, I’m going to give you five actionable tasks you can do this month to start making money from your business.

Make Money This Month

You ready to stop dreaming about earning money from your passion and actually do it?

Did you say yes or just grumble?

Once more with enthusiasm?

Okay! Here we go:

1. Ask for the sale.

Before you give me the ‘but I don’t want to come across as too salesy’ excuse, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Business is about selling things. You provide a product or service and in return you get money. Fancy concept, right?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with creative entrepreneurs who have NEVER really sold their stuff to their blog readers, email list, or social media following for fear of sounding too pushy.

These people fall into the ‘I hope they find me and fall in love and buy my products’ business death trap. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it doesn’t work.

Depending on the size of your email list, blog readership and social media following, you can probably get at least a handful of sales if you…yep, you guessed it…sell to them.

Mark a day in your calendar right now to send an email to your list and publish a blog post in which you highlight and sell your best-selling product from last year. People want what’s popular, so letting your audience know what your best-selling product is can boost your sales.

(If you didn’t have any products to sell last year, you can still do this step. Just pick the product you’re the most proud of right now and highlight it.)

Tip to make this work for your business:

Don’t JUST sell. Tell a story. Write with charisma and personality. Spend time on the email/blog post, carefully choosing each word. Entertain or educate and then sell.

2. Launch your next product or service.

Instead of simply adding your next product to your offerings or Etsy shop, launch it. Build up anticipation through social media updates, blog posts, emails, guest posts, videos, and interviews.

When you release your next product, you’ll have a group of people ready to buy. Cha-ching!

Don’t let the word “launch” intimidate you. You’re the boss which means you decide how big or small your launch will be. It could be as simple as posting on your Facebook wall three times, sending out five tweets, publishing two blog posts and sending one email newsletter.

If you work on your launch material for twenty to thirty minutes a day, you can get all of the above done in a couple weeks.

Tip to make this work for your business:

When planning your launch content always keep in mind that: 1) You want everything related to the launch to prime to your audience to buy. 2) You want to attract your ideal customer to your product which means you need to “know” her really well and speak to her.

3. Consider what worked last year.

When it comes to marketing, you want to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Jot down the things that you did to market your business last year. What worked the best? Do that again (or something similar) this month.

My top marketing strategies last year were (in no particular order): speaking engagements, boosted Facebook posts, well-written emails/blog posts that contained a link and brief introduction to a product, frequently asked questions emails and blog posts, blog tours, and interviews.

If I ever want to boost my income, I know I can pick one (or more) of those things and I’ll most likely see an increase in sales.

Make Money with Your Creative Business this Month

4. Strategically use social media.

We both know that social media can either help or hinder a business. If you’re always wasting time on social media, it’s a hindrance but if you have a plan and stick to it, social media can absolutely help you increase your income.

For this month, pick one social media platform to focus on (preferably the one that your target market frequents and that you enjoy using), spend thirty minutes developing your plan for the next thirty days focusing on building your following and selling your products, and spend ten to fifteen minutes a day implementing your plan.

Example: Let’s say you’re a jewelry designer and you want to focus on Pinterest for the month. The beginning of your plan might look like this: establish boards that your target market will want to follow, pin 20-50 pins a day including one of your jewelry items each day (that links to where people can buy it), and write a blog post about why your blog readers should follow you on Pinterest.

You’d want to get even more specific but that’s a pretty good direction to start. By the end of the month, if your strategic plan worked, you’ll have made sales from people who found you and/or follow you on Pinterest.

Whenever I do this, it works for me. If I’m focusing on Facebook, I’ll notice more traffic and sales coming from Facebook. If I’m focusing on Pinterest, I’ll see that more traffic and sales are coming from Pinterest. It’s all about making a plan and sticking to it.

5. Collect and use testimonials.

Most of us have been burned from buying online (shame on you ebay seller who sold me a Vera Bradley purse ten years ago, took my money and never sent me the purse) and we don’t want a repeat of that experience.

One of the best (and easiest) ways to build trust is to share the lovely things your customers say about your products and business.

When people see that others have bought from you, received what they expected to get, and really enjoyed their experience with your business and products, there’s a level of comfort that helps them hand over their credit cards.

Think about your online purchases.

Do you read reviews? Do they sway your buying habits?

Aren’t you more likely to buy that gel nail polish when you read that other women love it and don’t mind paying more because they only have to paint their nails once a week or less because their nails don’t chip and always look shiny and newly polished?

It’s human nature.

Collect five testimonials for one of your products. Add them to the product description or sales page. Then, highlight the best testimonial in your next email newsletter or blog post.

Tip for making this work for your business:

Ask specific questions to get quality testimonials. (Examples: What is your favorite feature of ________________? Why? Would you recommend this to a friend? If so, why?)

There you have it: five ways to start making real money from your business this month. If you can only do one, that’s totally fine. If you can do them all, you’ll see that they build upon themselves. Get ready for an influx of cash!

Share in the comments below an action that you’re taking in the next thirty days to make money from your business. I’d love to hear your plans for making 2015 a profitable year.

Reminder:

If you want to join myself, Bonnie Christine, Lisa Jacobs, Kerry Burki, and Paige French at the Movers and Makers Summit February 27th to March 1st, secure your spot here. The early bird price ends in four days and almost half of the spots are already claimed. It’s going to be an amazing weekend.

You can find all the details here.

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20 Questions to Answer for Your Yearly Review

20 Questions for Your Yearly Review

At the end of every year, I cozy up by the fire with a soy chai tea latte to look at what worked for my business and what didn’t.

Before I set concrete goals and map out my marketing plan for the next year, it’s important to know what I should do more of and less of.

It might seem like one of those “well duh” concepts but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with creative entrepreneurs who do the opposite. They spend more time on the stuff that isn’t working, trying to figure out how to make it work and stop doing the stuff that worked so well for them. And, they want to know why their businesses aren’t doing so hot.

If you’ve never done a yearly review of your business, now’s the time to start a new tradition.

Here are 20 questions to get you started:

1. What was your best-selling product? What do you think made it so successful?

2. What was your least successful product? Why do you think it didn’t sell well?

3. What marketing strategies worked best? (Examples: blog tour, video series, giveaway, guest post, interview)

4. What marketing strategies failed? Why do you think they failed?

5. In what month did you make the most money? What did you do differently in that month?

6. In what month did you make the least amount of money? What did you do differently in that month?

7. What blog post got the most comments? What do you think connected so well with your readers? Did you encourage comments in some way?

8. What blog post got the least comments? Why do you think your readers didn’t connect to it? Did you encourage readers to leave comments?

9. What blog post had the most shares on social media? Why do you think so many readers shared it?

10. What blog post had the least shares on social media? Why do you think your readers weren’t excited to share it?

11. What social media platform worked best for your business? Why?

12. What social media platform didn’t work well for your business? Why?

13. What was the subject line of your most opened email newsletter? Why do you think so many subscribers opened it?

14. What was the subject line of your least opened email newsletter? Why do you think your subscribers didn’t open it?

15. What did you enjoy working on the most?

16. What did you least enjoy working on?

17. Who did you enjoy working with the most? (Write up an ideal customer profile based on this person!)

18. Who did you least enjoy working with? What characteristics should you look out for in prospects so that you avoid working with that type of person in the future? (If you’re still working with this person, it might be time to refer him/her to someone else.)

19. Make a list of what you spent your biz money on. (Examples: website hosting, advertisements, boosted Facebook posts, new computer, Adobe suite, CreativeLive course) Beside each one, place a ‘checkmark’ if it truly moved your business forward and a ‘x’ if it didn’t.

20. How much money did you make total for the year (profit)? How do you feel about that number? How much do you want to make next year?

Once you answer these questions, you’ll be in a better place to set goals and create a marketing plan for 2015.

Have a question that we should add to the list? Leave it in the comments below.

I’d also love to know your answers to one or two of the questions. You pick and share below!

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How to Have Your Best Year Yet + A Big Announcement!

CL Work Bed Tea

I recently had a conversation with a jewelry artist that went a little something like this:

Her: My business didn’t grow this year. I made less money than I did in 2013 and I’m feeling really discouraged.

Me: Did you take any steps to grow your business?

Her: Well, I watched a few CreativeLive courses. I read a couple business books and I read a bunch of blog posts.

Me: What I’m hearing is that you took in information, but did you take action on what you learned?

Her: A little bit but I could’ve and should’ve done a lot more. I did a few things like sprucing up my website here and there and I blogged twice a month.

Me: What did you do to connect to other creative entrepreneurs during the year?

Her: Not much. I commented on some blog posts and I got on social media some each week. I kept meaning to send emails and there was even a conference that I thought about attending but then I decided to try to go the next time.

Me: From what you’re saying, it seems like you weren’t really committed this year—like you weren’t invested in growing your business.

Her: I kept telling myself things like, “I’ll do that next month,” and “I don’t have time for that right now but I’ll do it next week.” And, then it never got done. I love my business but for some reason, I kept putting everything on the back burner.

Me: You’ve got to want it. And, I mean really want it. Do you?

Her: Yes. I do. I’m miserable in my day job and I love creating jewelry. My dream is to support my family with my business. I really want to do things differently next year.

Me: Okay. Then, you’ve got to make a firm commitment for 2015. You’ve got to start taking regular action, not just learning what you need to do but actually doing it, and you’ve got to invest in and prioritize your business. If you don’t, then you’re probably going to be in the same position at the end of next year.

Her: I’m ready. 2015 is going to be my year.

I’m sharing this interaction with you because I hear this kind of thing waaaaaaay too much.

There will always be excuses. There will always be reasons to procrastinate: to start the blog next month, to go to the conference the next time, to set up an email newsletter opt-in later, to invest in the Adobe suite next quarter, to learn how to host a webinar in a few months.

If you want to be successful, you have to prioritize your business regardless of the excuses. You have to commit. You have to make time.

Of course, that’s much easier said than done, right?

You can set goals for 2015. You can tell yourself that you’re going to blog every week. You can promise that you’ll finally set up an email newsletter opt-in. You can decide to design a new line of jewelry for the summer. You can set out to do one interview a month.

But it’s easy to let life get in the way, to put it off for another week or month or year.

It’s a horrible feeling to look at the past year and know that you should’ve done more—that you didn’t reach your goals and that you wasted so much time.

That awful feeling can be avoided.

My hope for you is that at this time next year when you’re taking stock of what you accomplished in 2015, you feel amazing. You reached your monetary goals. And you finally did what you set out to do whether that was write and launch an ebook, sell your first watercolor painting and then many more, teach an online course (that sold out within days of opening up registration), or quit your day job because you’re making a full-time income from your creative business.

Think of a big goal you’d like to reach in 2015 and then imagine how you’ll feel at the end of the year if you reach it.

Come on…close your eyes for a minute and imagine that feeling.

Accomplished. Confident. Thriving. Successful. Smart. Relieved. Stress-free. Excited.

So, how are you going to make sure that you reach your goals instead of procrastinating and telling yourself that you’ll do it later?

Here are the two main strategies I used in the beginning that helped me reach my goals, including earning a full-time income, selling out my courses and landing high-profile speaking engagements.

1. I invested in my business.

When you get serious about your business and invest in it financially, you’re more committed to succeeding. This does NOT mean that you have to spend thousands of dollars. Staying lean in the beginning is so much better than going into debt.

But, investing here or there can really make a difference to your excitement, productivity and commitment.

For example, I registered for a course that cost $997 within the first few months of starting my business and it lit a match under my little bum to make that money back. Instead of making excuses, I did the work and it paid off when I sold out my very first group-coaching program.

Some of the information in the course was stuff I already knew that I needed to do (like pitching guest posts and interviews and making my opt-in visually attractive) but I hadn’t done it yet. That course gave me the push to do the stuff I’d been ‘saving for later.’

I hired a web designer to design an email newsletter opt-in for $75. She designed it, added it to my website, and made sure all the tech pieces were taken care of. It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made for my business because I make about 90% of my income from my email list.

I also spent money to go to a conference within the first year of business and I came home feeling extremely energized and confident. I did the best work I’d ever done the month after that conference. And, I connected with entrepreneurs like Marie Forleo and Laura Roeder which definitely skyrocketed my business.

Every time I invested in my business, there was a spike in my productivity and profit. Even though it was scary, it was worth it each time.

TAKE ACTION NOW:

Make a list of five to ten things you’d like to invest in during 2015. Pick one of those things, price it out (example: contact three web designers to see how much it would cost to design a header for you), and start saving for it.

You can do this by saving money from your paychecks from your day job, saving a percentage of each sale, or giving up something and putting that money towards the investment (examples: instead of getting Starbucks twice a week, put that $8 in savings; cut back on going out to eat from four to two times a month and put that $70 in savings).

2. I focused on connections.

It’s silly and unwise to stay in your little bubble, at home by yourself, when your business will grow so much faster if you regularly spend time on connections.

I left thoughtful comments on other blogs, emailed other entrepreneurs, connected on social media, went to conferences, asked others to chat on Skype, hosted a blog tour, set up an affiliate program, interacted in private Facebook groups and more during my first year of business.

The more I spent time strengthening connections with other entrepreneurs, the less time I had to spend on marketing and the more money I made. 

I met one of my best friends, Mayi Carles, through a blog series that I hosted and we became each others’ accountability partners. We went through B-School together, told each other what we were working on, and checked in with each other every week to make sure we were staying on track.

One of the best things I did was invest the time and money to meet others in person. Meeting Mayi in person changed everything for me. She has helped my business more than any other person through feedback, support, encouragement and promoting my stuff to her audience.

TAKE ACTION NOW:

Write up a ‘connection plan’ for 2015. What are you going to do daily, weekly, and monthly to strengthen connections with other entrepreneurs who have similar values and goals?

Find an accountability partner: someone who you can check in with once a week (via email, Skype, or Google+) to share your goals, give each other feedback and hold each other accountable.

And, pick at least one event to attend in person. It could be a retreat, conference, course, or trade show. You can stay local or you can take a leap of faith and pick something that you really want to go to—something that you know will give you the energy and confidence to do the hard work it takes to succeed in business.

If you’re interested in attending a women’s retreat for creative entrepreneurs, I’m soooooooooo excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Movers and Makers Summit this upcoming February!

away-with-us

Along with Lisa Jacobs, Bonnie Christine, Paige French, and Kerry Burki, I’m co-hosting this amazing weekend retreat for twenty creatives in South Carolina.

This retreat is all about connecting and learning. If you decide to join us, you’ll learn how each of us has built our businesses while getting lots of practical advice on how you can improve your business, have access to ask us about any and all business secrets during lots of Q&A and discussion time and leave with professional headshots by the talented Paige French.

And, it’s all happening in a serene, coastal view location in Charleston.

It’ll be the perfect time to step away from the hustle and day-to-day drudgery while brainstorming new ideas, getting a clear focus on where you want to take your business in 2015 and connect with like-minded mentors and entrepreneurs.

ocean

You can find more details here as well as sign up to be the first to know when registration opens on December 29th.

If you’re at all interested, I highly recommend that you sign up for the wait list because there are only 20 spots and they could sell out fast.

I’d love to know how you’re going to invest in your business and strengthen your connections in 2015. Leave some of your action plans in the comments below!

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Behind the Scenes: My CreativeLive Playlist (Plus, a Sale!)

I turn into a crazier version of Martha Stewart when December hits: knitting, wrapping paper making, embroidery designing, Christmas day meal planning…

Yesterday, I finished painting 15 yards of wrapping paper and 8 gift bags. I love the holidays!

While I’m crafting and decorating, I listen to music and audio books or I watch reruns of my favorite shows on Netflix (Parenthood is my jam). Usually, it starts off with Christmas music, but I can only take an hour or two before I’m ready for something else.

I have lots of different playlists, so that I’ve always got something to listen to, depending on the mood I’m in.

I created a playlist to rock to while I was in hair and makeup at CreativeLive–something that would pump me up and give me an energy boost. And, some of you asked if I’d share that playlist.

So, today I’m sharing it. Warning: it includes explicit language so don’t listen to it around the kiddos.

And, while we’re on the topic of CreativeLive, they’re having a huge sale this month so you can get access to my courses at a discount:

Build a Successful Creative Blog

Create Digital Products that Sell While You Sleep

Make Your Creative Business Uniquely Irresistible

You can give yourself an early Christmas present that’ll help you have an awesome 2015.

P.S. In order to create a tight, supportive community, I’ve decided to cap Six Weeks to a More Passion-Filled and Profitable Business at 75 students, so there are only 12 spots left! If you absolutely know that you want to join the course, make sure you do so sooner rather than later, because I will be closing registration once we hit 75 students.

What’s your favorite PUMP UP song? Share in the comments below!

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