Bootstrap Your Small Business
Bare bones essentials for a beautiful online presence
I continually hone it down, make every dollar I spent on my business work for me. I don’t want to spend time or money with apps or software unless they work really hard so I don’t have to. Here is my list of free and low-cost technology and marketing resources to help your business be productive and profitable.
For less than $100 a month you can have everything you need to market your business and plan your social media.
WordPress.org Website – $20
WordPress and Squarespace are the current top contenders for website creation. They both offer similar pricing for the necessary software to host a website and online shop. Squarespace boasts easily configurable sites made for everyone. Self-hosted WordPress sites are extremely customizable and are widely used across the web. I have worked on both and have to say I am still partial to WordPress because of the huge variety of themes available and the fact that they can be changed and tweaked easily to suit a specific need. Both types have a learning curve. I have not found one to be easier than the other.
Either way, a website is absolutely the best $20 you will spend on anything this month. Don’t rely on your Facebook page to represent your company. You need complete control of your online presence.
Learn WordPress in 90 minutes.
Dropbox – Free or $9.99 for plus
Dropbox is absolutely essential for keeping files, images, and text safe and backed up in the cloud. Perfect for sharing files with others as well. I have the plus plan which comes with 1TB of space. (Recent experience has informed me that I need my important files secured in two places off of my computer. Ideally, one would be an external hard drive and the other would be in the cloud. Dropbox syncs across all platforms on any device.) For most of us, the free version is enough. Photographers could make good use of the plus plan. Find a free tutorial here on how to use Dropbox.
Canva – Free or $12.95 ($10 for the annual plan)
You can’t beat Canva for creating beautiful graphics for just about any purpose. I use it almost every day. I have opted in to the monthly Canva for Work plan because it keeps my branding colors handy and instantly resizes graphics for all social media platforms. Upload your own images or grab one of theirs. They even have a Canva design school with free access. I used to struggle like crazy making graphics in Photoshop, now it’s a breeze.
Ulysses – $5
You can’t beat this small but powerful app for text. Create folders and text files right within the app. Copy and paste words from the web in any font or size and the app transforms it instantly to plain text. This is super important for blog posts and newsletters as importing text from a variety of places can be tricky business. Plain text prevents difficulties with formatting and revisions. I plan all my words here first; website content, blog posts, newsletter content; it then stays ready in its particular folder where I can find those words again for another purpose. Worth the 5 bucks for sure.
Adobe Photography Plan/ Lightroom CC and Photoshop – $9.99
Imagery is everything. Whatever your artistic endeavor you need a huge amount of imagery for your brand. Whether you are using a phone camera or DSLR the best way to edit your pics is with Lightroom. Worth the monthly investment for sure. And you get Photoshop to boot! I like the Lightroom Classic version that lives on your laptop or desktop. It offers complete professional editing software that can’t be beat.
Learn Lightroom in One Hour
UNUM – Free or $5
Instagram is definitely my favorite social media hangout. The feed is more curated than Facebook and has so many inspiring artists to follow. Instagram is also a great place to have an up to the minute portfolio of your work. I love UNUM for planning and editing my Instagram posts. You get a planning grid with 15 spots for free, 30 for $5 a month. Here’s a tutorial showing how I plan my posts a month in advance with the UNUM app. Takes the stress out of daily posting.
Tailwind – $15 ($10 for the annual plan)
Scheduling app for Pinterest. It took me a while to get on board with Tailwind. Honestly, I didn’t want to add another monthly fee to my list of expenses. But I just kept hearing so much about it so I gave it a go. I am hugely impressed! They have awesome tutorials that are easy to follow. In two hours I ran through all the tutorials and set up over 100 Pinterest pins that are scheduled out over a couple of weeks. Pinterest is not a social media site but a huge search engine and fabulous for getting traffic to your website. A great tool for getting your work out there in the world.
Teachable – Free or $39
Teachable is the platform I use to host all my online classes. It is easy to learn and use as an online teaching platform. The paid version gives you the option for a dot com, coupons, and a few other goodies. Beautiful sales pages come with any plan. Get started with the free version to try it out.
And on the subject of online classes, if you are going to create classes with screen share videos or slide presentations, I highly recommend Screenflow. I was completely frustrated with the entire process until I purchased this software. Made for Mac, it will help you create beautifully presented videos with great sound.
For regularly updated app and software suggestions see Essential Resources for your WordPress Website.
You can learn creative process
Much has been written about fear and creativity, how to recognize it, how to confront it, how to overcome it. I have spent the last 2 years reading every book on creativity I can get my hands on in an effort to understand how we humans go about creating art. It has been a fascinating study, one that has shaped the way I approach art-making.
But little has been said about the actual process of bringing concept to reality, creative process. Exactly how to maintain strength, determination, and the sheer will necessary to see it through to the end.
Most of us do get started it seems. Unfinished projects are a testimony to our desire to make and create. Often times, though, our projects never come to completion. Why is that the case? Do we get bored, do we give up, do we lose our way.
All of these things happen I am sure, not to mention the will to survive kicks in often enough and the desire to create takes 2nd, 3rd, or 4th place to providing for our family, caring for our loved ones, or just needing rest from the other two.
Somewhere along the line, I decided that being creative was also a matter of survival and I to give it the attention it was begging for. The desire to make meaningful, emotive, art became an integral part of me, of who I am. Life and art became inseparable.
That does not, however, mean that art-making became a comfortable process, nor is it now. But I became comfortable with not feeling comfortable if you catch my drift. Perhaps it is better said by David Bayles and Ted Orland in ‘Art and Fear.’
“Art is like beginning a sentence before you know its ending. The risks are obvious: you may never get to the end of the sentence at all – or having gotten there, you may not have said anything. This is probably not a good idea in public speaking, but it’s an excellent idea in making art. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.”
There it is, the answer to why we stop … uncertainty. These all-encompassing questions roll around in our heads until we come to a complete stop – “Isn’t this a waste of time? Will I ever manage to finish it? Will I ever get paid for my creativity? Shouldn’t I be making money instead?” I say blow right past all that and make art anyway. You will thank me later. Because art making has its own rewards apart from income and recognition. Creative process is progress, any way you go about it.
But the question still remains, how does one get from concept to reality? Are there secrets to learning creative process? Are they only available for the super talented? NO! It is a matter of logical planning. We must step out of our creative brains and think methodically. We must employ life skills to the making of art. What do I mean by that?
Brainstorm – For most of us this is not a problem. We have literally hundreds of ideas that arrive via inspiration. Pick the one that speaks the loudest and shows up numerous times in different ways. This could be anything from the type of painting you want to paint to a full blow photographic series. Settle in with it. Imagine it as a finished product. Do you love it? Then take it to the next level.
Get Real – What would it take to bring your concept to completion? Do you have the funds, the space, the tools. If you don’t have these yet, is there a way to get them. Just because they are not readily available does not make it impossible. Make a plan, be proactive, get what you need. For example, I know of a young man named Justin Kinney who loves to paint in oils but did not have studio space. He got involved in a local art community center and taught classes. The owners became aware of his need and offered him the use of their space while no classes were being held. He then partnered with a local chef to host pop-up gallery/ dinner shows. Isn’t that awesome? I must also mention here, that time should not be considered an issue. Once passion for your project takes over, you will find the time.
Plan Detailed Action Steps – Make a list of the things you need to do to accomplish your goal. Start with the big picture then break it down into detailed steps. Give that action plan due dates and a daily schedule. Give yourself steps that you can execute in 15 mins and some that take several hours. Allow flexibility. (I love using Trello for this. It allows me to move my due dates or change my daily schedule but still keeps me accountable. Paper planning and journaling are fine but in the end, you must be able to find your list!)
Execute – Get to work! With a plan that has things you can work on that take just a few minutes, you can work on your project daily. And you will never come to the work table and think “What was I supposed to do?” Even if you don’t feel energetic or particularly creative you will always have a little something on your list to keep you moving forward.
Allow for Uncertainty – Again I say, be flexible. Inspiration has a way of building upon itself. If you start out wanting to paint like Rembrandt and it’s looking more like Van Gogh, try running with it. Does it make you happy? Are you excited? It’s hard to be either of those things if your vision is too strictly constrained. Sara Tasker recently said, “… you can’t get anywhere by doing what everyone else is doing. Somewhere, at some point in the process, the people who have truly made it have done so by carving their own path, finding their own unique style and taking creative risks that they weren’t sure were going to turn out alright.”
This is where the turning point will be. If you allow for that uncertainty to find it’s own voice, amazing things will happen. Again I quote Bayles and Orland, ‘… you need to give yourself room to respond authentically, both to you and your subject matter and to your materials. Art happens between you and something – a subject, an idea, a technique – and both you and that something needs to be free to move.”
Leave a Thread – You are hard at work, you are close to completion, and before you can finish your heart is already off on another artistic adventure. And that’s as it should be! One passion feeds another and another until you can look back at a full body of work that has cohesion and purpose. That is not to say you should abandon your first project. Work at it to satisfaction, produce something tangible. Then move on. Resist the desire to leave it before you can see the reward for your hard work. Then you can confidently move forward instead of away.
Celebrate – Rejoice! You have worked hard and accomplished much! This is a crucial last step that is often forgotten. Give yourself permission to love what you have done, to smile, to share it with others. Don’t give in to the ‘it’s never good enough’ mentality. Take pride and have joy in your accomplishment!
There has been a lot of talk over the interwebs about having a cohesive feed for Instagram. Truth is, most of us follow an account if we like what we see in the first 9 posts. We have about 3 seconds to convince someone we are worth following if we have never interacted with them before.
At first, I did not take this seriously. And I really wasn’t sure how to make it happen. Then I was asked to submit images to Bella Grace Magazine for an Instagram feature. It was then that I realized how important it was that the images relate to each other in a pleasing way.
But it was really difficult to make that happen without planning my posts ahead. I started making grids in Photoshop weeks in advance. That worked but was very laborious. And what if I wanted to change it up a bit mid-stream?
Enter UNUM. Perfect! With this little app, you can load your photos, move them around anywhere you like, even do a little last minute edit. You can put in your comment in advance and set a timer to post or write your comment and enter your hashtags just before posting.
The thing is … it takes the stress out of posting daily. You can plan a month in advance, say, your autumn themed photos in October and you already know which image you will post the next morning.
I have been using UNUM for 6 or 8 months now and truly love it. So I made a little video for you by way of a tutorial. I have included my thought process, how I plan the color and intersperse a variety of aesthetics. Because, as you may know, I can’t stick with just one.
To learn how to download images from Lightroom or your laptop hard drive grab my free class – Get Organized Stay Productive here.
Shoot Your Own Brand Lifestyle Photography
I was thrilled when Zoe Bond of Heirloom House in Thorndike, Maine contacted me regarding a brand lifestyle photography shoot for her new shop. Zoe opened a Parisian style boutique in the center of her small town. She wanted imagery that spoke to her brand, a beautifully styled shop with an eclectic mix of vintage and modern – clothing, jewelry and items for the home. She envisions the shop to be a meeting place as well, offering coffee and pastries in a space meant for community and family. I see this being such an asset in her community and enjoyed meeting her so much! The place and concept is so inviting, I wanted to do my best and deliver imagery that she could use on her website and with social media.
And it’s a perfect opportunity to share my brand lifestyle photography process with you!
So here are 5 essential tips for shooting lifestyle photography for your brand, whether it be a store, product, any type of artwork, or service.
Tell Your Story with Real-Life Situations
What real-life actions and situations would your customer be engaged in? Imagine the scene as if from the movie of your ideal customer using your product or shopping at your store. Would the items be used in a luxurious home or are they for everyday use? Is your store filled with precious items or is it a welcoming place for families? If your brand is a service rather than a physical product, imagine the feeling your customer will have after using your service and set the scene depicting the feeling or emotion that relates the benefits.
Props are extremely important and should be chosen carefully. They should add to the story of your brand and relate to the words you have chosen to describe it.
Choose Your Models Carefully
Another thing that must be carefully considered is your model choice. Family and friends may work out perfectly … or they may not. You do not need professional models but they should feel comfortable behind the camera and enjoy having their picture taken. If the friends you ask to help don’t readily say “yes!” – consider putting out a call on Facebook or advertise in a local paper. You will be surprised at the response. My latest call for models was extremely successful and I live in a pretty small town. Have them email you several pictures so you can choose someone who has an aesthetic that would fit well with your brand. If you have an opportunity to meet with them beforehand, choose someone who can move gracefully and slowly.
Direct Your Models
Tell your model ahead of time that you will be bossy and be telling her how to move. You may also have to move her arm or turn her head in just the right way, so make sure she is OK with that. You can also demonstrate by standing and posing in a similar position to make your vision clear to her. Help her forget you are there and direct her to go about doing normal things in slow motion. Speak in a calm and soft tone to facilitate the process. Use words like dance, dream, imagine, to help her relax. If two persons will be interacting, make sure they relate well to one another. They may need time to get to know each other a bit if they don’t already.
Pay Attention to the Light
Of course, as with all photography, lighting is the most important element to consider. Interior shots can be challenging, especially on dark, cloudy days as it was at this shoot. Thankfully there were plenty of windows allowing light in from several directions. Even so, I was glad to have extra lighting. In the image below you can see the equipment I used to cast extra light on the scene. I also used this set-up to create balanced lighting for Zoey’s head shot. She was standing by a window to her left and the light was to her right. I was very happy with the effect, soft light with very little shadow. You can find the equipment I used here on Amazon, I loved it so much (it being quite inexpensive and pretty great!) I ordered another.
In some cases, I left the lights in the store on as well. They all had a warm glow which added another dimension to the images. I especially like the shots where we caught a mirror reflection too. Artsy, don’t you think?
For more camera setting and lighting tips head over here.
Keep on Clicking!
And last but certainly not least … click away! The only way to catch nuances of expression in your models is to continually click the shutter. There is no way around it … if your model stops and poses it will not look natural. So make like a fashion photographer and click, click, click! You might come away with hundreds of images to cull through but it will be worth it. And the easy way to do that is with Lightroom, but you probably already know that!
* Just a little heads up guys. I am now an affiliate for several companies and may link to products and services that I use and love. They will turn around and pay me a small percentage for this, which is awesome because it helps pay the bills. Thank you in advance for using my referrals.