A few gagdets and gizmos all computer creatives shouldn’t live without.
If you know me, then you know that it is no secret that I love gadgets – especially the shiny, new, and impressive ones that make your office look like something out of the future. Well, this post isn’t about those glamorous items. This post is about comfort and health.
People who work on computers full time, especially people who work on graphics, photography, and web, have the worst posture and generally do some serious damage to their bodies. You lean forward so you get in really close to that design you have been working on, you sit with your mouse for hours drawing lines and adjusting, and you sit with your fingers on the keyboards typing out code for hours straight.
I got the worst back pain of my life in the last months, almost to the point where I was useless on a computer because I could not sit up for more than an hour at a time. I started seeing a chiropractor which helped a lot, but I always felt like there was more I could be doing on my own, at home.
The first thing I realized that while the Mighty Mouse from Apple was sleek and pretty, it was the stupidest mouse ever invented. It was killing my hand/wrist and thus creating misalignment in my shoulder and then my back. The sleek flat design that is so appealing to us mac users is what causes a lot of wrist pain. You have almost nothing to grip and it leaves your wrist stressed and bent in a horrible direction. So gadget #1 is a new mouse! I found two that are awesome:
The Evoluent Verticle Mouse - your hand wrests in a handshake position.
Microsoft Natural 6000 - slightly less verticle but still comfortable
Both of these mice are ugly as heck, but they have made a huge difference in my wrist pain and have made it so that I can work for many hours in a row on my computer. These mice, paired with a nice little bean bag pillow to rest my wrist on is the perfect solution. They are both very responsive and the Microsoft one ever scrolls left to right (something mac users love). The only pitfall is that they are not bluetooth they are wireless. I had no idea there was a difference, but the wireless ones need to have a base station plugged into a USB port which sucks because it takes up a port.
Tens 3000 muscle stimulator
The other gadget that I recent purchased (with the help of my chiropractor) is a Tens machine. Oh my god I love this thing. Its a little 9volt powered muscle stimulator. They use these machines on people who have had surgery and end up with muscle atrophy, but they can also be used as a muscle relaxer or massage. They don’t shock you so bad that it hurts, but it tingles and makes your muscles contract in a way that when you are done they feel so loose and relaxed. If you work on a computer for long hours and get that neck/upper back pain along the side of your spine, this will do wonders for you. You don’t need to be seeing a chiropractor to get one of these, but you should consult with a doctor before sticking electrodes on yourself.
I just had to share these things with you because I feel like I finally have my health back! I sleep better, get more done during the day, and enjoy sitting at the computer working. I have had the mouse for 1 week now and the Tens machine for 2 days (but have used one at my doc for months) and I am seeing a major improvement.So this is me preaching to you that keeping yourself healthy while working a million hours a week and focusing on every detail.
What have you done to try and adjust your workspace to make it healthier and more “ergonomic” ?
move forward or bust
Woah, this has been the shortest summer of my life! I wish I was able to blog about it and really chornicle this experience, but it was such a ride that if I tried to stop and get off I probably would have lost a limb or something. So our BSC Photo & Design is at the point in our lives where we need to move forward or bust (I choose ‘move forward’ for the record. Our designs and our web work has been so well received that a friend tells a friend and it turns into a seriously sustainable and happy ecosystem of clientele. Our motto is to always try and go above and beyond and make our clients happier than they ever thought they could be with our work, and this business model is proven to be very kind to us.
So here we are, with loads of work and a team of four and half. A half? How can I have a half of person? Well, I count any contractors as a half because they are just a per-job team member which means they aren’t entirely full on members. We need to grow, and fast!
In my mind, the first step in growing this graphic design, marketing, and web development business is to separate from our photography and really stand alone. Sure, photography melds into graphic design really well, and we will likely still include photography packages with some of our marketing and design packages, but overall, this end of our business needs a little umph. The first thing that has to go is the name. I just started getting comfortable with BSC Photo & Design, but comfort breeds fatigue, and I don’t want that. We need to keep our creative side fresh, and I think our name needs to communicate that.
BSC Photo will always remain BSC Photo. We are quickly garnering a name for ourselves in the wedding industry as well as fashion and product photography and to change that now would suicide, not to mention unnecessary.
Lots of people ask me where the name BSC Photo & Design came from and it’s not really en exciting story. When my husband and I met, and before we were actually married, Matt owned his own tractor trailer truck. Yep, Matt was a truck driver, traveling the states and living mostly out of his truck. It was his break from the art and creative world and his chance to get away and just work for money and get out there. His trucking company was called Branscombe Supply Company, a company name that has been in his family for a long time. Matt’s grandfather was actaully in the “logistics” business and owned Branscombe Supply Company back in the 50′s and when Matt officially owned his own truck, he took on that name.
yes, this is the actual truck.
We finally decided it was time to call the truck driving quits and choose a career that he was more passionate about. The choice was pretty simple seeing as he attended art school and basically sculpted his life around doing photography and design. We also knew that it would be great if we could work for ourselves and there was no better time to try it than now.
The business licenses for the trucking company were all Branscombe Supply Company, and with the help of our accountants, we were able to kind of add photography to that while we just tested the waters. Because we were operating under what was essentially a dual business license, we decided it would be easiest to just call the photography company BSC (Branscombe Supply Company) rather than file more paper work.
Months later we officially sold the truck and closed the trucking business and went full force into photography, then following design and web.
So here we are.. again, move forward or bust!
I have some company names in the working, but little time to actually work on them.. So don’t be surprised if you come back here and see an entirely different look and a new name. We will keep the domain forever, because BSC Photo will always be around.. Just keep an eye out, because we have some great things in the works, and we are dying to get them out to the public!!!
coming up next.. vacation in pictures! matt and I went on a quick vacation to south carolina – it probably wasn’t the best idea though.
I like new businesses
I really do enjoy being the idea person behind a new business. A lot of our clients are up and coming businesses, generally owned by one or two people, and really trying to get the most out of their money. Our clients are the people who really want to make their business work for them and they understand the value of certain things and understand where to save and where to splurge money. As a design firm, generally we get hired to design identities, stationary, advertisements, and apparel to help market their brand.
As creative individuals, we do so much more than that. Because we get overly involved in a company when we create a design or brand, we end up with all of these ideas bouncing around in our heads that could help the business owners really market their business and get their products or services out to the masses. Clearly there are professional consultants in the industry that get paid big money to do what I am talking about, and I am not knocking them, but they are definitely not a necessary part of starting a business if you have someone with ideas on board.
Generally when a client hires me to design a website, I include in our price a 2 day crash course on how to use social media to get your brand recognized. The reality is, the entire time I am designing their website, I am talking with the client about these things. So while they end up with a 2 day crash coarse, they get months of my “valuable” consultation for free as well.
I am not trying to toot my own horn… Well, I guess I am! But I am trying to say that if you have the ideas, share them! Don’t hold out waiting for your client to pay you for them. Don’t try to up sell them on buying you to give them ideas.. While it seems like a good idea at the begining (don’t think I didn’t consider adding ‘marketing consultant’ to my list of services) it really isn’t because if you do favors for people like this, and it does really come naturally to you, then you will generate more good will than you know what to do with.
Like with any business, the happier the customer is at the end of the process, the better.
Oh, and don’t forget.. You are a designer, NOT a consultant.. while you do have good ideas, you probably aren’t at the level of some of the good consulting firms anyways.. So share your gift of ideas to your clients, they will thank you for it!
The internet just got a little more local
I never thought I would be the type of person to go to “networking” events. I had tried the chamber of commerce and the BNA but they just seemed too… sales pitchy. I was definitely determined to not really have a great time at this thing from the begining. I envisioned many “online professionals” with zero real world business knowledge and loads of ways to turn you into a real live “guru”
This was not the case. I could talk your ear off all day about these events I attended, but the basic concept was to bring people of all types together who may or may not have previously connected online. The idea is to create communities and bring people together to build the economy and small business environment, and i totally dig it. If you want to learn a LOT more, you can checkout their website or head over twitter and search #swCT.
So the first day I went alone because Matt had a photoshoot to do in New Haven. It’s a good thing I went alone because Matt would have been bored out of his mind. The entire meeting involved business owners and developers. I met some insanely talented coders there that really put me to shame. I was, however, the only designer there which actually turned the group on their heads a little. The focus of that group was to connect start up companies with developers, but they completely forgot an integral part of starting a business – GRAPHIC DESIGN! Luckily I was there to point out the err of their ways (sarcasm). So we spoke about geek stuff and design stuff tossed with a little info on our photography business and I think I got some new team members out of the group!
Today was a different kind of day. There were members for all types of organizations there to meet, mingle, and listen to the wrap up about googleHaven. Honestly, I didn’t even know what google fiber was before this *bad geek lindsay BAD BAD*
So here are the pictures from the day.. Feel free to embed them on your pages if you are also writing about Social Web CT (please attribute if you can).
Want to see the ENTIRE set of 71 pictures from the event?? Check out the flickr page! and checkout more of Matt’s photography at bscphoto.com and on facebook
When are you a professional?
I have been asked this question a few times and have seen the same question posted even more times on various forums and discussion boards.
When can you actually call yourself a professional?
This question is generally easily answered by those who attended college and received a degree. You have officially entered the work force as a professional when you obtain your degree, it is from there where you start to shape the direction of your career.
But what about the people who did not attend or finish college. In the design world, there are many top notch designers who are most definitely professionals who do not have that definite milestone of obtaining a degree and graduating.
There are two basic types of designers whom I have met that did not attend a university or secondary education institution that ended up in the design field.
One type is the person who was almost pushed into the industry and caught the bug and decided to run with it. These people usually work in some type of office related capacity at their jobs and end up working closely with an in house design firm or have proven themselves creative and end up with some design overflow work. These people generally start at the bottom rung of an in house design team or even the bottom rung of an independent design firm. They spend time learning from seasoned professionals while getting a hands on experience.
The other is a person who just knew ended up doing design one way or another and is entirely self taught. This individual generally ended up here because they had a passion for creating. These people do tend to fall into sub categories though. Because they have never worked with other designers and did not experience a class room, they have never experienced work critique and thus loose out on a major aspect of design – the viewer feedback. Some self taught designers can be phenomenal and have a nice balance of natural talent and educated skill to create awesome solutions to an otherwise bland design project. The others end up in the hole of the individual. They design for what they feel looks good and never make it out of their own personal likes and dislikes. They also generally do not take honest criticism well or just never seek it out.
So in looking at all of the different ways that people end up in the design world, you can see why it is so difficult to pin point the time in someone’s career where they can call their self a professional. My personal opinion as to what makes someone a professional designer as opposed to a hobbyist or “mac rat” hinges on the following criteria.
The graphic designer must have a solid understanding of typography. They do not have to be typographical geniuses, but they need to understand the importance of choosing a font, the details in adjusting type in a text area, and terms used in the industry.
A grasp of color theory and color psychology is also a must if the individual is designing logos. You can not possibly say that your logos are of a professional value if you do not even understand what your color choices are communicating to the viewer. Creating a specific color palette for a project is a job in itself and requires a good deal of knowledge in order to make an educated and informed decision.
Keeping yourself on top of current trends and markets is yet another way you can gauge a professional designer. Not all designs require going with the trends, but being aware of current trends and why they are what they are means that you can make decisions based on your target audience as they are now as opposed to how they were the last time you looked. This definitely does not mean churning out piece by piece of trendy design.
Another quality of a professional designer that I find separates them from the amateur is the paperwork. I’m not saying that having a book keeping system, a nicely designed contracts and invoices makes you a professional, but you rarely meet a professional who does not have these things. This part of being a professional has absolutely nothing to do with design but everything to do with presenting yourself to your client as a professional in your industry. If you are working with businesses as a freelancer, you must deal with these businesses professionally. Creating a solid contract drawn up by a lawyer and making sure that you always have a contract in place before working is a good indicator that the designer is a professional. Being able to bill accordingly, answer client questions easily about billing, and manage your time are all aspects of presenting yourself professionally to a client and your peers.
And finally – seek out and accept other professional’s critique of your work. While I absolutely do not recommend you basing your skill set on the opinions of other designers, I do suggest that you take to heart things that are said to you by other professional designers. If you seek critique of some of what you consider your best projects, you will only grow as a designer and learn more about your personal style and your individual short comings. Be careful with this one, as people on the internet can come off extremely harsh, so do not let it stifle you. Instead, go into getting a designer’s opinion with an open mind and ready to give a reason for your design and get a response as to why that reason is bogus. Take the time to learn from everyone who offers their opinions and take a honest look at your own skill. If many designers tell you that your font choice seems forced or not thought out, or the color choice is jarring, then you should reconsider spending more time on those specific aspects and come back for more feedback when you feel you have improved.
To me, the most professional designer knows that they have never stopped learning and that there are a million things to draw inspiration from. They are open minded and creative but also detail oriented and good business managers. I guess what I seem to be saying is, a good designer is a little bit of everything, and you should strive to get yourself to the top of every point made on this list and always stop to take a good, honest look at yourself.
What has the world come to?
I have already written a post about spec work, and I regularly speak out about designers charging their worth and not buying into these lame crowd-sourcing, contest based “projects”. While more and more crappy websites that deface and devalue the work of designers crop up, there is a new industry of people attempting to take advantage of the devaluation of this industry. These people are what I call the “resellers”. They are generally website designers or “left brainers” who have this great idea to resell logos. No, not like a clip art factory.. more like a broker. These industrious people have a some what busy little individual-based web design company that probably churns out more feature heavy than design rich websites.
These people are in a very similar industry as us graphic designers. They are in an industry that people are trying to automate and large corporations are trying to mass product. You would think that these business owners who understand what it is like to have a large corporation create a mass produced Wal-Mart version of their service and tell the world it’s value based on this. Unfortunately this is not the case.
I am finding that more and more web developer entrepreneurs are trying to find “logo designers” to design logos for their clients at $75 a pop (if you’re lucky). Just have a look at this ad
This is the one that threw me over the edge. It’s definitely not the first ad of its kind that I have come across, but this is by far the worse. Just look at the verbiage. “on par with the best logo designers in the country” followed by $35 – $50 per logo! I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to scream!
I am all for expanding your business and trying to offer your customers a complete experience. I am not for people looking for a skilled individual for peanuts!
I just wanted to post and rant. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I’m open.
When you need work
Freelancers are always looking for new ways to get work in order to sustain their business. A lot of freelancers rely on referrals or word of mouth and definitely one of the best ways to get new business, but it’s not the only way. When you put yourself put there for hire you have to be prepared to work hard just to get work.
One of the things that is seriously over looked is cold calling. I definitely understand why it is overlooked, most people shutter at the thought of cold calling to get clients. The truth is, however, you can get results from it but your need to have a plan. You can not just call up a company and say “Hi I’m a graphic designer and you need to hire me”.
So what constitutes a cold call? In my mind cold calling isn’t just done on the phone anymore. You can contact people in so many ways now that I really consider any unsolicited connection to a possible client “cold calling.” So emails, phone calls, connections on social networks, etc. All of those things fall under the realm of cold calling.
Who do you decide who to cold call? This is the most important tid bit I can give you. I guess you might call it “warm” calling because you will know a little bit about the business before you call them. You first must decide what types of businesses you want to target. If you have experience with a certain industry, you would be best off sticking in that industry. Now you research. Start googling for local businesses in your target market, for instance T-shirt printers. You google local t-shirt printers and you will see a list of people in the google business listing. Right from there you will be able to do most of the research you will need. Go through the list and see who has a website, who doesn’t, who has a logo and who has a home-made one, and so on. While you are doing that, get a feel for who the “big dogs” are in the business and who are the new guys. Choose the business that looks like it values their presence but needs an update, or someone who seems to lack on entirely.
WAIT! Don’t call yet! You need a game plan! You need to know what you are going to say and how you are going to approach each client. You can not call with a prewritten script. People have been so bombarded with advertising and telemarketers that they are numb to this and can spot it a mile away. Instead you should tailor your contact for each possible new client.
Be careful how you word your first connection with the business owner. Remember that they do not know you from a hole in the wall, and you do not know them. If you are contacting a possible new client about offering them website design because you noticed that their website is dated and messy, word your contact wisely. You need to be very careful not to come off like you are telling them that what they have sucks (even if it does). A lot of people make the mistake of listing everything that is wrong with the business owners website and then listing how they can make it better. By doing this you are starting off with negativity by listing everything that the owner did wrong. No owner will enjoy reading about what is wrong with his business and will likely leave him/her with a sour taste in their mouth, no matter how well-meaning you might be.
Write your email with a positive tone. Talk to the business owner as if he/she already asked you what you do for a living. By doing this you are already moving away from the “sales person” and more into a friendly local business owner looking to network. Start off by saying who you are and what you do for a living. Explain how you have helped other businesses in a similar situation to them and what you did to help these other businesses. Explain your experience and expertise and leave it at that. Make sure to leave them behind with something to look at! If it is a phone call, get their address and mail them a follow up item be it a postcard, a pamphlet, or a printed portfolio. If it is an email, give them a downloadable version of your portfolio and a link to your website.
Do not follow up right away. Let it stay with them for some time, because following up too soon makes you look desperate and needy, but not following up at all can leave some possible clients twisting in the wind. Instead, gauge your follow up time and method based on the interest of the client. If the client seems very interested, a shorter follow up phone call would be nice. Its personal and it shows that you took time out of your day to check up on them. If they didn’t not show a lot of interest a phone call could actually look too pushy. Someone who did not show interest right away would much rather receive something in the mail or email. This is much less obtrusive and something that they can choose to deal with on their own time.
So when it gets to that point where you have a gap in work and would like to pick up some new little projects, feel your way around calling people. Get to know your friendly local business owners and get your name out there. In the age of the internet, too few people spend time trying to connect face to face. Staying local with this type of thing can really help your business build a reputation.
Let me know if you tried this or have done it in the past. What were your results?
New Year, new projects and more!
Everyone who’s blog I visited had a wonderfully written “new years” post that gave all of their resolutions for the new year paired with their reflections on the past year. This post will probably be no different than the millions of other new years posts out there, and I’m fine with that. My 2009 was pretty nuts, similar to a roller coaster with the ups and downs and unexpected turns (yes, cheesy analogy, but it works). I started off the year the same as every other year – sitting in my office watching the ball drop with my husband, our cats and our dog. As soon as the ball dropped and we watched Dick Clark’s very sad and depressing New Year’s speech and then went right back to work.
We started this business officially in 2008 as a photography business with my husband as the lead photographer and me as the everything else person. I had my experience in web design and graphic design on the back burners and used my knowledge in business management to my advantage to get the business rolling and us making some money. The year 2009 was when we officially started as a design business by adding web design and graphic design to our arsenal of treasures. We hopping right into the field by taking on a very large job as art directors and lead graphic artists for a soon to be multinational corporation. Keeping ourselves busy doing that paired with our own little projects and other clients, we had a VERY busy year in 2009. We purchased our own web servers to maintain our client’s websites on and our own massive photography website. The biggest learning curve for myself was learning the ins and outs of owning my own server – luckily I had a great tutor and wonderful maintenance guy to help me along.
Moving along from there our photography business quickly became the most sought after wedding photography in Connecticut and we are slowly branching outwards with ties to NY, RI, MA, and more. We traveled to Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Boston, and Newport and will hopefully be traveling even more in the year to come. We photographed everything from major fashion shows to top lawyers as a part of our graphic design projects for a major advertising and identity campaign. We worked with celebrities and mom and pop owned businesses and barreled our way through some of the most difficult tasks in both photography and design.
And when all is said and done, we have a lot LOT more growing to do. My goal for the year 2010 is to do more art – to be more artistic. I love the technical and detailed oriented skill that comes with graphic design and more specifically, web design. However, I would love to spend a portion of my time doing personal art projects, maybe enter into a competition, or create a collection that can be displayed at one of our many local art galleries. Another goal of mine is to have our own dedicated studio space where the whole team can meet and have long and exciting brainstorm sessions. At the moment we have an office/studio in Milford, CT which we share with a few other non-design oriented businesses. Its great and we could not have done it any other way, but our own studio, with our own sign outside and our own interior decor we will be unstoppable!
So now with all of the reflections and hopes and dreams out of the way, time for some party pictures!!! Originally we were not going to go out for New Years, but we figured since we didn’t do anything the two or three years prior, maybe we should. We went to my mom’s condo to hang out with her and her friends and family which is always a good time because she totally knows how to party. Its funny because my whole life I had never seen my parents party or even really drink. Then as soon as my youngest sister was “old enough” to be on her own (age 20) they turned into “Parents gone Wild” I’m glad that she has fun, and I’m happy to go along for the ride.
Me and my mom. I know, I look like my dad
and I just had to put this one in for good puppy measure
And I have one more thing to say.. BSC Design is officially growing!! We have been looking into expanding out web development department and now we officially are! Had a meeting today with a new developer that we are EXCITED to add to our team, and as soon as I can I will have a new profile for our new guy! It’s definitely shaping up to be an exciting new year!
The business of business
Before I officially started my business as a graphic and web designer, I was very deep in the word of business management and book keeping. My working experience revolved around running businesses or at least running one aspect of a large business. I started my official job in the administration industry back in 2006 when my dad asked me to come and work for him at his engineering business. I jumped at the chance because I knew it would give me the experience I needed – plus I really looked forward to working for my dad. There I learned all about doing payroll, taxes, and book keeping. They were probably some of the most valuable lessons that I learned during my life.
Watching my father build his business from a computer in the basement of our house to a large manufacturing and engineering business with a warehouse, employees and everything made me know that I wanted my own business one day.
So here I am, cursing the day I choose to go out on my own! Well, not exactly, but I sure do not enjoy doing taxes and book keeping. I am sitting here surrounded by papers, receipts, and forms and I feel like my head is going to explode. Half of it is that I am so anal that I really work hard to make sure that everything is oraganized, stapled together, and filed properly that I tend to create more work for myself than needed and the other half is fighting with my husband to make sure that he keeps his stuff organized like I need it to be.
So every quarter I sit down and try and figure out what in the world needs to be done, where all the money went, and who owes what. Generally I try and keep up to date with this stuff on a weekly basis, but when the design work gets busy, the book keeping gets slacked. Piles of paper start to build on my desk and I am left with what you see here in this picture. A lot of stuff that needs organizing.
I can tell you that book keeping, as frustrating as it might be, could be essential to your freelance business’ future. Without proper book keeping, you could end up getting yourself in way over your head, especially at the end of the year when you need to pay your taxes. Lots of new freelancers forget that when they get paid by their clients, or when they take a paycheck from themselves, they need to claim that is income. Most people are used to having money taken out each week from their paycheck by their employers. As freelancers, we have to remember that this is not how it is. This makes it extremely important to track your real profits and understand how much you might have to pay at the end of the year.
When you first start out, you will be going blindly, but in your second year you should have a good understanding as to what your taxes will be and you can start paying estimated quarterly taxes. It really lifts the burden of that huge bill staring you in the eyes at the end of the year.
An essential tool for any freelancer or business owner has got to be Quickbooks. Quickbooks is a very easy to use program that lets you track your expenses and profits, as well as track accounts receivable. I have been using this program for years and I know that it is pretty flexible and can work for medium sized businesses down to individuals. I just upgraded my version of Quickbooks 6 (from 2003!) for mac to the brand new and shiny Quickbooks 2010 for mac. This newer version seems like it integrates into the mac’s user interface more nicely, and definitely has a lot more features than my original version of Quickbooks for mac. I am not entirely sure why, but the previous Quickbooks for mac were so horribly under whelming that it was really hard to work on it and I almost bought a PC just to run PC version. Thank god that didn’t happen!
If you are freaking out about spending more money on yet another piece of software, you can use the free version which is used online. If you decide you like it, you don’t have to start over. You can download your company file and upload it to the software that you chose to purchase.
So my advice to you.. get organized and stay on it! Contact an accountant that can help you understand what you can write off for your taxes and what you need to claim. You also should know that different states have different rules on sales tax. You might think “I’m not selling an item, why would I collect sales tax?” Well, here where I live, the only service that is taxable is photography. Yep, we have to collect sales tax on photography – can you believe it?!
So what do you think? Do you get all glossy eyed when it comes to doing paperwork and book keeping? Are there any tools that you use that you could not possibly live without?