The Impact of Small Actions | Some thoughts on Starfish Casters and making positive impact through small acts | Jenn Wells Design

“…And this is my way of dealing with all the sh*t going on that is our world.”

This is how a friend explained his sudden desire to give blood. Here in the US, I think it’s an understatement to say our current administration is a bit chaotic and controversial. It’s hard to know what to do or where to focus our efforts or whether we even matter. My friend has chosen to donate blood. It may have nothing to do with politics, but there’s always a need, and hey! At least it’s something.

My first reaction to his explanation was to note the seeming unrelatedness of this action to the things that were upsetting him. But after thinking it over, maybe that doesn’t matter.

I went to Tapp’s Social Summit last week and the theme was social change. Scott Michaels, founder of Starfish Casters and The C.A.U.S.E., told us the story that inspired his organization. Quick recap:

Dead Starfish Beach

There’s a beach that is known as “Dead Starfish Beach” because every year, hundreds and hundreds of starfishes wash up and die. It smells, it’s unattractive, and can’t be used for anything but everyone ignores it because “that’s the way it is.”

One day a little girl is out on the beach, picking up starfish one by one and tossing them back into the water. A passerby asks her, “Why are you throwing the starfish back? This is the way it is. You won’t make a difference to the world.” And she, precocious youth that she is, holds up a starfish and says, “Maybe not, but I can make a world of difference to this starfish.”

Making a Difference in Our Sphere

Michaels went on to talk about how our actions do matter, even if our sphere is small. We impact each of the people we come into contact with, and those impacts ripple out as they impact their circles and so on. We can choose to share our negativity or we can share positivity, even if it’s something as little as a smile.

So with that context to it, I feel like my friend’s chosen solution is as valid as any other solution. We can’t all be the ones making world-changing decisions. But we can all make small choices that spread something positive.

I’ve been helping out a bit with the League of Women Voters, I occasionally donate to charities or political organizations, and I went to March for Our Lives. But in my head it wasn’t enough. None of it was enough. What was the point? My actions won’t change anything.

But maybe I’m looking too much at the big picture. Maybe I should be looking more at the small impacts in my local sphere.

Small Actions I Can Take

As a business owner, I can feature and work with and support other businesses who are doing good things. As an individual, I can speak up when I hear statements that I believe to be wrong and immoral. As a friend, and even more as a mom, I can role model integrity and a loving attitude. And for my poor, poor dogs, whose lives are so short and who live solely for my approval, I can get off the computer and go for walks a little bit more often.

Starfish Casting

At the end of the speech, the speaker had us write the name of a loved one on a circle of paper. He then took all the pieces of paper and pressed them into buttons with a magnet on the back. We didn’t get them back because we had to “cast our starfish into the ocean.” Instead, we picked a random button and got someone else’s starfish.

Starfish button created by Starfish Casters to represent someone's loved one

This exercise is supposed to give us a tangible reminder that everyone is someone’s starfish, and if we expect other people to be good to our starfish, we need to be good to theirs. It’s cheesy, but I think it was a good reminder of how often I let my negativity run away with me in public. It’s small things, like getting angry in traffic, or being mentally judgy to people I haven’t even talked to after someone else was rude to me.

But their things that can ruin my entire day, and those small ripples might be spreading to other people. And why? What’s the point? If I get to choose the impact that I have on the world, do I really want it to be one of frustrated impotence in the political world, and actively rage-y driving?

Probably not.

So my takeaway is to look for the small acts I can do, and to take better care of my own mental health so I can leave a more positive impact on everyone else.

What small actions do you take to make the world a better place? Do you have a way to remind yourself that small actions matter?

Business Ethics Interview with Olivia Brinton | An interview with the owner of Little Goat Coffee Roasting to talk about business ethics and the challenges of running an ethical business | Jenn Wells Design

“Capitalism isn’t ethics based.”

– Olivia Brinton, co-founder of Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co.

I interviewed Olivia because I wanted to get to know ethical business owners, and learn how they incorporate their personal values into their business models. Besides being insanely quotable, Olivia was knowledgeable, insightful, and had some tips for other entrepreneurs who want to build ethical foundations for their businesses.

Like our conversation, I’d like to start this post at the very beginning…

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Job Hunting Tips for Graphic Design Graduates | Strategies for new graduates to find graphic design jobs and improve their chances of landing interviews | Jenn Wells Design

This blog post is coming in from way out of left field. I know it’s not all that relevant for my usual readers, and if you don’t need job hunting tips, feel free to skip this one.

Sometimes you get an idea, and it’s not necessarily the best idea you’ve ever had, but it burrows its way into your brain and refuses to leave. This is one of those.

7 years ago I was a recent graduate. After some initial success snagging contract positions, it felt like all the opportunities fizzled out. I moved back home to Delaware from the exciting, potential-filled DC area to save money and concluded almost immediately that there were “no jobs” in DE.

This overly hasty conclusion ended up being a fantastic thing for me, because it spurred me to start my own business. But somehow, now that I’m not looking for design jobs, I see them popping up all over the place. Ironic, right?

Not really. It just so happens that a lot of the actions I’ve taken to find clients and referral partners are also helpful in finding job opportunities. And since I’m not going to be making use of this knowledge, I want to pass it along to someone who can use it!

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s my job hunting tips…

1. Network

Maybe freelancing isn’t your thing. But getting out to networking events and meeting people is never a waste of time. Even if you don’t book any projects, the more contacts you have, the more likely someone is to bring up your name when a job opens up at their friend’s company. Or that they’ll pass along a job listing to you. However, I’d urge you to be open-minded to freelance work as well, because it establishes you within your field AND it gives you something concrete to put in your portfolio. Oh, AND networking will force you to become comfortable with small talk and delivering an elevator pitch, both of which will come in handy during interviews. Like I said, networking is never a waste of time even if the benefits aren’t as direct as meet people => people buy your services.

2. Use Social Media!

Recruiters cost money, job listings cost money, everything costs money. But you know what’s free? Posting a job on social media. So where do you think companies will post their job openings first? I was foolish and it never occurred to me to follow design companies until I started running my own company and wanted to check out the competition. Since following all the local designers, I’ve seen at least 3 jobs within the last 6 months. Instagram is where I’ve seen the most, but if you hang out more on Twitter or LinkedIn, check out which designers are on there. Follow them and interact. The more often they see your name, the more likely they’ll feel some sort of connection to you when it comes to interview time.

3. Put Your Portfolio Online

I know it can seem daunting as a new graduate to pay to host your own website. But there are tons of other options for having an online portfolio. You can use Behance or Coroflot. Throw some samples up on LinkedIn! And who said websites have to cost money? Try one of the many free website builders like Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com. The point is, you need to have a way for potential employers to view your work that doesn’t involve them trusting your email attachment or putting forth any more effort than a single click. People are lazy and employers are busy. They have no incentive whatsoever to go to extra effort for you.

4. Be a Student of Your Industry

Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you’re done learning. None of us are! The only way to stay relevant is to keep up with industry trends and constantly hone your craft. The easiest way to do this is to immerse yourself in that world. Follow blogs, get magazines, listen to podcasts, read books. Whatever your preferred intake method, keep learning and keep finding ways to use those new ideas. Every time you learn a new skill, you make yourself more hire-able. Bonus points for looking at job postings and using those to help you decide what new skills to learn!

5. Improve Your Job Hunting Skills

It is a skill, just like editing photos or creating logos is a skill. And schools don’t necessarily set you up for success here, because they’ll give you outdated or just plain bad advice. Ask a Manager has some fantastic job hunting advice, along with advice for regular office scenarios. I recommend browsing through the articles on interviews, resumes, and cover letters. Here’s my quick summary of things to know:

Resumes

  • Name, email, phone number, qualifications summary, experience, education, and maybe a skills or volunteer section if your resume is a little light. That’s it!
  • You do NOT need an objective, your address, or any clubs or volunteer work unrelated to your field. Oh, and no soft skills like communication or organization. Sorry.
  • Keep it to one page unless you’ve been in the field for a long time.
  • Designers: we get to be a little more creative than most fields in our resume design. Make it unique but don’t sacrifice readability just to be creative. Infographic resumes are risky – a lot of people really hate them and some bigger companies use automated scanning systems to pick out keywords, which won’t work with a graphic.

Cover Letters

  • Use the job description to write it. Pull out 2 or 3 requirements and then describe how your experiences or work samples fulfill those requirements.
  • There’s a fine line between boring and bizarre. Try to find it. I’ve strayed too far to both sides, so I won’t try to give too much advice here.
  • Try to avoid bullshit and repeating too much of what’s on your resume. Don’t waste anyone’s time.
  • SPELLCHECK!!! This goes for your resume and especially any initial contact emails, as well.

Interviews

  • A lot of this is common sense and experience. Dress slightly nicer than you think the position requires, arrive early, be polite, etc.
  • Practice common interview questions ahead of time, especially if you’re someone who has trouble coming up with answers on the spot.
  • Always follow up to thank the interviewers for their time. Never argue with their decision. Don’t burn bridges.
  • You don’t have to take a job just because it’s offered. Don’t ghost, because that’s a burned bridge, but you can very politely say that you’re going in another direction or whatever.

And don’t just take my word for it. Research online. Here’s a starting point for resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

6. Be Open to Non-Job Opportunities

I have lost track of the number of aspiring designers who have emailed me hoping for a job. I almost always respond to let them know that I’m a one-woman show, so there’s no opening at present, but would they like a portfolio review? No one ever takes me up on this or even responds. Guys. A portfolio review is ALWAYS a good thing! A) You get eyes on your work and if you make a good impression just maybe that person will pass along your information to someone who IS hiring and B) You get feedback that you can use to keep improving, which you’ll need to do to eventually get hired. It’s also good practice for interviewing and a chance to pick a designer’s brain for job hunting tips. Not responding is a huge waste and, like I said in the last point, burns a bridge.

If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this: You are responsible for your own continuing education. School doesn’t teach you everything and the best way to keep improving is to actively seek out learning opportunities. Read, watch, listen, and seek out connections with people who can give you advice. You never know where any one particular opportunity will lead.

That’s it! Good luck out in the field!!!

For the more experienced job-seekers among us, what has worked for you? Or if you’re in a position to hire, what do you look for in candidates?

My 3 Biggest Business Mistakes | The top 3 things I did wrong in my business and how to avoid them | Jenn Wells Design

It’s easy to forget that success is all relative. Sometimes I feel like my business is so tiny it barely counts as a business. I compare myself to the business owners whose blogs I read or podcasts I listen to, with their 6 figure income and 7 figure goals. It sounds impossibly distant and unreachable.

But then a friend or acquaintance will offhandedly say something about how impressive my business is. They congratulate me for taking the leap and quitting my part time job. They’re impressed when I host a class or speak on a panel. Somehow, in my head, each of those achievements is a one-off. It’s a stroke of luck, or a fluke, or not really THAT big of a deal. But I think we all think that about ourselves and it helps me stay grounded to hear from business owners who are still in the side-gig phase. I’ve come a long way.

My business has gone from 2 or 3 side projects per year, to several projects a week. From a tiny trickle of revenue that the IRS didn’t care about to headaches at tax time. From 3 total clients to 3 monthly clients, a handful of annual or sporadic clients, and too many one-offs to count. In the past couple years, it’s grown a TON and I can tell you why. But it’s more fun to talk about failures, so instead I’ll tell you the biggest mistakes I made and how overcoming them led to where I am now.

Mistake #1: Inactivity

Starting out, I was thrilled whenever I did get a new client. But I didn’t know how to get more. I tried networking – once. I had a website. Magnets on my car. And then…

I read a lot of books. I made a list of marketing things to try maybe one day. I waited. People would find me, right?

After 3 months of inactivity, I finally realized this was a losing strategy. I started poking around to see what opportunities there might be. I applied for a mentorship. Learned how to code responsive websites. Researched marketing and decided to give networking another go.

I didn’t always pick the right action. But doing something is always better than doing nothing. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you aren’t making any, and by doing nothing, you sure as heck aren’t doing anything right either. Inactivity is the surest way to stagnate.

Lesson: Do something. Even if you don’t know what to do. Research, ask peers for suggestions, try new things.

Mistake #2: Inexperience

What? But everyone’s inexperienced until they get some practice in. True. My mistake wasn’t just that I was inexperienced, it was that I didn’t take steps to rectify that.

When I said I read a lot of books up above, I’m talking fantasy. Fluff books. I didn’t read anything related to business, or research, or follow experts in my field. I tried to just work with what I had and learn the rest on the fly.

This is a huuuuge mistake! Think about the number of small businesses that fail. 80%. Each of those businesses failed for a reason and that’s a lesson you could learn and avoid. The much smaller number of small businesses that succeeded have even more important lessons to share. By learning things secondhand, we can save ourselves massive amounts of time and effort.

Lesson: Be a sponge! Read business books, listen to podcasts, follow blogs. There’s so much free information available.

Mistake #3: Introversion

You can be an introvert and run a business! But you’ll have to do a lot of things that push your comfort zone.

The book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (see? reading) taught me that fear of “being pushy” or “annoying people” is an introvert trait. We try to respect other people’s space because we don’t like having our own space invaded.

But introverts can take this too far. If you’re going to run a successful business, you will have to do some form of sales. It can be cold calls, or content marketing, but you’ll need to be comfortable telling people who you are and what you can do for them. You’ll need to be comfortable leaving humility behind to elaborate on your strengths. And you’ll need to talk to people. Probably a lot more often than you want to.

You don’t have to network. It works for me, after a lot of practice and forcing myself to get comfortable small talking strangers. But you have to do something. I hated networking the first several times I did it. It made me feel stressed and anxious and I felt like we all just traded business cards and accomplished nothing. It is now my 2nd biggest generator of new clients, after referrals.

Lesson: Sell, sell, sell! Pick the sales tactic that makes you feel least uncomfortable, and then become an expert at it. True introverts will probably be more comfortable with soft selling.

What mistakes have you made in your business and how did you overcome them?

Operations Manuals: a How To | Creating clarity and efficiency in your business by creating an operations manual | Jenn Wells Design

 

Full disclosure, Kelli is my BBF (business best friend). I would be sharing her stuff with you regardless but this post I specifically requested because Kelli’s video on setting up your operations manual made a huge difference to the way I organize and run my business.

Here’s Kelli…

Your business is starting to gain traction, and you’re stoked. You’ve learned all about business finances, email marketing, and sales funnels. You’re hitting your business goals each month, and you can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Client Spotlight: On N Up Coaching Website | Header graphic | Jenn Wells Design

The Client: On N Up Coaching

If I had to do an elevator pitch for Paul, I would say, “Running a business, working with a team, and finding a new job are all drastically different segments of professional life. But they have one thing in common: transition. Business owners, coworkers, and job seekers all need to be able to adapt to change. If they want to make the most of their lives, they need to take it a step further and optimize change. Paul helps professional people to do just that – adapt to and optimize times of transition in their lives.”

In other words, Paul is a business coach. And he needed his coaching website to reflect the reassurance and encouragement his clients seek from him.

Initial Concepts: Website Redesign

I’m already kicking myself for not taking a screenshot of Paul’s previous site. Since I didn’t I’ll have to describe it and hope you get the picture. Aesthetically, the old site wasn’t bad, but it had some issues with mobile responsiveness and the navigation was unclear. A big part of Paul’s social strategy involves blogging and his blog posts weren’t emphasized, nor were they easy to access. Stylistically, I decided to stick with the color and style since they matched Pauls’ logo and the company feel he wanted, but we decided to modernize it a bit and really overhaul the user experience.

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Social Media: Why You Need It | Social media is a tool that can benefit your business in many ways: marketing, branding, sales, networking, and so on. Are you getting all the benefits from your social accounts? | Jenn Wells Design

 

I was reading an article that said the term “social media” is outdated because users don’t think of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a collective. People don’t say, “I use social media” they say, “I like Twitter.” Or Snapchat or Vimeo or whatever.

I don’t fully agree – I think the term “social media” is out there often enough that it’s not confusing anyone. BUT it is true that no one needs to use every social media network there is. Nor is that possible.

While we can’t be present everywhere, we do all need to be present somewhere. Rather like networking, your target market is probably not at conferences, marathons, volunteer events, AND the bar. But they’ll be at one or two, so it makes sense to visit once in a while and get to know them.

Let’s talk a little more about that.

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Does Race Have a Place in Marketing? | Pros and cons of using traditional demographics | Jenn Wells Design

I recently read an article from ProPublica explaining why they “had to” buy racist ads. After my initial reaction, it ended up being a really eye-opening look at the marketing segmentation options on Facebook.

Did you know Facebook allows you to select custom audiences for ads and promoted posts? Makes sense – an ad for baby shower cupcakes isn’t going to be very effective if it’s sent to people who aren’t expecting. But the fact that these selectors include things like religion and ethnicity is a little disturbing.

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ETOS Consultant Branding | Design process for a business consultant logo and website | Jenn Wells Design

The Client: ETOS Consulting

I met Olivier, the founder of ETOS Consulting, at a networking event a little while back. (See? Networking does pay off!) This relationship has been amazing for me, because without even intending to, Olivier has given me ideas for better structuring and organizing my business from day 1.

Also from the beginning, Olivier was very clear and consistent about what he wanted: a clean, modern design for his consulting brand. Professional but unique enough to be eye-catching. Quite frequently professionalism is associated with the tried-and-true, so we had to toe a fine line between creative and traditional.

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Setting Goals for Your Brand | How do you measure your brand's effectiveness? Learn how to set goals and create metrics for your brand | Jenn Wells Design

 

Happy New Year, everyone!  Naturally, my first post of 2018 is a goals post, but I’ll be covering something that too few people discuss.  How to set goals for, and assess the effectiveness of, your brand.

As a graphic designer, I know exactly how hard it can be to set concrete goals for something as intangible as your brand. After all, ask 100 different people what branding is and you’ll have 100 different answers. Well… maybe 95 different answers and 5 people will say “your logo.” But we do all want an effective brand, don’t we?

So What IS Your Brand?

Here’s my quick and dirty summary: a brand starts with its target market. You think about who you want to appeal to, what they need, and what they like. Then you think about what differentiates you from the competition. What special personality quirks can you bring to your brand? Only then, after deciding how you want your business/organization to “feel” to your target market, do you start talking color swatches and fonts.

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