You’ve decided to start your business and need a website.
Or maybe you’ve had a business for a while and have been using Etsy, Facebook, or Instagram to sell your products or services but have decided it is time to create your own website.
First, relax. You aren’t alone. This is a common issue and stumbling block for many.
Second, yes, the options can seem overwhelming.
So let’s look at the question “Which platform should I use to build my website?” and realize it may not be the best question to ask first.
Instead, ask yourself:
What is your website’s job?
Do you want it to bring you customers or be there as more of an online brochure where you can send people?
Do you need it to easily integrate with other marketing and online business tools? If so, which tools?
How much customization to you want your website to have? Are you ok with a basic template where colors, fonts, and layout are generally already decided for you with just a few options to change, or do you need your website to be more custom to reflect your brand and your business?
Where do you want your business to be in five years? Be realistic. If you have semi-secret plans to add e-commerce or a membership level with passwords, plan for those changes now.
How comfortable am I with tech things? Does the idea of being responsible for keeping plug-ins updated freak you out? Do you feel comfortable searching for answers online if something stops working on your site?
Do you want to add a blog? Ok, this is actually a trick question – you can have a blog on any of the builders I’m talking about below.
Do you plan to add an e-commerce aspect to your site? Ever? If so, what kinds of things will you need your e-commerce pages to do?
How important is SEO to your website? For some businesses, SEO is a vital component of their overall marketing strategy. For others, it isn’t as much of a consideration.
Speaking of SEO, do you know how to optimize your site for SEO? Some website builders make SEO a little harder, but it all starts with what you are capable of doing or are willing to hire out for. If can be easy to bypass a website builder because you hear it isn’t great for SEO, but if SEO isn’t that important to you it shouldn’t matter. (Read more about SEO at the end of this blog post. I’m trying not to get sidetracked, but there are some overall SEO things I want to mention).
And, possibly the most important question, how much time do you have to learn how a website builder works? How easy do you need it to be?
Now that we’ve explored some questions, let’s look at how the different platforms answer those questions.
You are likely familiar with some of the names I’m going to list and may have already played around with one or two. I highly encourage you to play with the free versions of different sites. In my experience, I’ve noticed that some people really “get” some site builders and clash with others. For example, lots of people love WordPress and couldn’t imagine working with anything else - but it tends to frustrate me.
On the other hand, I know more than a few who have moved from SquareSpace to WordPress because they felt as if they were always fighting with Squarespace.
Whatever you choose, know that you can move to another site builder, if necessary (although it may be a challenge).
I want you to love your website builder. Why? If you don’t like it or don’t feel comfortable using it, you will put off updating your site or adding to it.
The four biggest options are Wix, Squarespace, Wordpress, and Weebly. Those are the ones I’m going to mention here.
If your business is purely ecommerce, then Shopify or Big Cartel may be a better option for you.
This is pick your template, drag and drop builder.
Wix has a history of being a not great option, but has worked hard to overcome that in the past couple of years. The biggest criticism I hear about Wix is that it isn’t great for SEO – which can be true, but they’ve come a long way – even adding an SEO Wizard to their platform – but you still need to know what to do with it.
There are plenty of templates and options – but if you want to go more custom, you may run into issues.
If you think you might outgrow what Wix can do, be aware that you can’t easily move your site to another builder. You’d need to copy/paste everything piece by piece. If your site isn’t large, it won’t be an issue, but it is something to think about.
This is pick your template, drag and drop builder.
Weebly is what this site is built on. I’m generally happy with it, but if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d probably go with Squarespace. I won’t lie – I picked Weebly because I was seeing a lot of Weebly ads around the time I needed to create a site and what they offered was a huge improvement over what I had been using.
Like Wix, Weebly has worked hard to make their platform flexible and user friendly. In the past, I needed to go into the coding of my site to tweak things that can now be done via a drop-down menu. Yay for progress!
Also like Wix, moving your site from Weebly isn’t an easy task.
This is a pick your template, figure out where things are and how they work builder. It makes sense once you understand how they’ve organized it, but it isn’t necessarily super intuitive.
Squarespace is fast, flexible, easy to use, and has lots of options. One of my favorite things about Squarespace is exactly how much you can customize it – which can also be a downside.
If you aren’t a designer, just go with a template you like. One of the benefits of these kinds of website templates is that nearly anyone can have a clean, beautiful site. The downside is that everyone’s sites tend to look the same. If you are tempted to start changing fonts and colors, be aware that your lovely site can get ugly fast if you don’t know what you are doing.
Squarespace is a great middle ground between easy and secure site builders like Wix or Weebly and the more feature-rich, but also more hands-on option of WordPress.
WordPress is considered the absolute best website builder by many – but I believe there can be an element of snobbery hidden in that opinion that overlooks the fact that not everyone needs a Cadillac . Some are perfectly happy with a trusty mini-van that gets them where they need to go.
There is probably nothing you can’t do with a WordPress site. It is incredibly powerful, flexible, and highly customizable.
Depending on how your brain works, you’ll either love it or find there is a steep learning curve.
One of the great things about WordPress is how many “extras” you can add to your site to make it more functional and amazing. Just be aware that those extras (called plug-ins) can become outdated and put your site at risk. WordPress also has a history of being hacked through outdated plugins. The solution is easy – just make sure you keep it updated or hire someone to do this for you.
In the end, there is no one absolute right or wrong answer among these four choices. It really depends on what you need and what you want your website to do for your business.
A couple of notes about SEO:
I’m an SEO nerd, but I also realize that the people I work with, by and large, are not techy so these recommendations are focused on the do-it yourself person who may struggle with updating a site or troubleshooting website issues. I’d rather someone create a website they aren’t scared to touch over something that has all the bells and whistles and is never updated.
If you are choosing a website builder using SEO as the MOST crucial factor, then WordPress is likely the best choice because of Yoast and other SEO plugins you can use. They won’t do the work of adding SEO to your site, but they do act as a handy on-board checklist & guide.
A lot of the SEO issues with Wix & Weebly come from how fast their websites load (something Google considers important and something you can help by optimizing your site) and how mobile friendly they are (something Google considers extremely important and something you can help by making sure any template you use has a good mobile version. If your template doesn’t have a mobile version, switch).
However, if basic on-site SEO is a part of your strategy, you’ll be fine with Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, or WordPress. There are many elements of SEO that make your website more user friendly and can attract more traffic to your site – which is a win all around, so don’t be scared of SEO…it doesn’t bite.
I'm a huge fan of Canva, SparkPost, WordSwag, and other image creation options, They are fantastic tools for busy entrepreneurs looking for easy ways to improve their branding.
However, they aren't the perfect solution for everyone.
First, you may have noticed similar images and layouts used over and over across different social media platforms - which makes your images less unique. Maybe you're ready to explore fresh templates and elements. Many of the fonts, graphics, and elements you'll find at the links below can be used in Canva and other platforms and some can only be used with Adobe Photoshop.
Second, you simply may not have time to learn, tweak, and deal with your own images. It would be faster and easier for you to outsource your image creation to someone else so you can focus on other parts of your business.
This collection of resources will give you more options for your own images as well as some pre-made, yet still customizable, templates for social media and more.
Before you fall in love with a font, background, or other item, be sure to review the license. Attribution may be required, and some may only be available for personal use.
You may be tempted to download everything once you start browsing. But before you get too carried away, create folders for the different items and clearly label (or otherwise track) what item came from which site and when. It gives you a "paper" trail, helps keep you organized, and if you want to go back to look for something similar in the future you'll know where to start!
The Hungrey Jpeg - Sign up for the weekly design freebie, but check out the huge selection of social media templates, presentation templates, fonts, graphics, illustrations, and more. You can unlock a bundle of fonts by sharing the link on social media. They also offer a selection of items for $1 each month.
Design Bundles - There is a nice selection of freebies here. You'll also find bundles and deals for all kinds of templates including ebook covers.
Vecteezy - You can search by license, orientation, and type of element. There is even an editor that allows you to edit before you download.
Deal Jumbo - Wow. There is a lot here! You'll find pages of freebies of all types in addition to paid and discounted options.
Creative Fabrica - Another good selection of freebies from this membership site. Several membership levels are available starting at $19/month.
Font Bundles - If you are on the hunt for the perfect font, you may find it here. Free and paid options.
Original Mock Ups - Although most of the other sites offer some mock ups, this site is nothing but mock ups - including a nice selection of freebies.
Creative Market - One of my favorite emails to open every week! There are SIX freebies each week and an opportunity to unlock more.
Ready for more resources?
Lists of places to find free photos here and here.
Free audio resources here.
Free stock video here.
Whether you are looking for background music for your videos or adding intro and outro music to your podcast, you'll need high quality audio options.
The most important thing to be aware of as you browse stock audio is the licensing. Just like stock photo or stock video, stock audio has licensing that will determine when, where, how, and how often you can use it. For example, some stock audio can be used for video, but not podcasts.
Most of the sources listed below require attribution - that usually means crediting the artist in the credits and/or linking to the artist from your site, video, or podcast. Read over the attribution requirements since some are different than others.
To help you remember where you found the audio clips, when, who the artist was, and what kind of attribution is required, I suggest putting that information as the file name. You can also keep a document in Google Drive or on your computer to reference.
Videvo - In addition to stock images and stock video, you'll also find stock audio that you can use for any project as long as you include attribution.
Free Stock Music - You can search by mood, type of music, and tempo. Music is free with attribution.
YouTube Audio Library - Here you'll find music as well as free sound effects. The music can be sorted by attribution required or no attribution required as well as genre, mood, instrument, and length.
Free Music Archive - Curated music of all kinds. Attribution required.
Audionautix - Select from mood, type of music, and tempo. Attribution required.
CC Mixter - Both paid and free audio resources are available.
Looking for other resources?
Check out my posts about free stock images here and here.
You'll find free stock video resources here.
Ready to make your graphics and presentations stand out? I've got you covered!
Pretty much everyone in the marketing world agrees videos are hot. But not every small business owner has access to an in-house videographer or wants to appear on camera. This doesn't mean video is always the right choice for you, but if you'd like to explore your options stock video may be useful to you.
You can use stock videos mixed with your own product photos or interviews to give viewers a richer experience and help your brand appear more polished.
Before we get to the free stock video resources, let’s look at some tools you can use to create your videos.
iMovie – free, for iPhones
Power Director – free for iPhones and Android
FilmoraGo – free Android and iPhones
Androvid – free for Android
Video Maker Pro – free for iPhone and Android
Video Show - iPhone and Android. One of my favorites. TONS of functionality. Free and paid versions.
Adobe Spark Video – free and paid versions. You can also use this on a computer.
Filmora – I liked this one so much I bought it. (not an affiliate, I actually like it)
Lumen 5 – a quick and easy way to make simple videos with lots of text overlay. Free and paid levels.
Windows Movie Maker – Windows
iMovie – Mac
Animatron Studio - If you've wanted to play around with created a little animated video - this is a good place to start. Free and paid levels.
Now that you know which tools you can use, let’s get to the stock videos!
As always, when using this kind of stock, please pay attention to licensing. Just like stock photography options, some videos will be completely free, some will require attribution, and some will need to be purchased before use. You should also be aware of where and now often you can use a video clip – some can only be used for a single project, not reused over and over.
Pexels – In addition to stock photography, you’ll also find stock video.
Pixabay - Just like Pexels, you'll find stock video along with stock photography.
Cute Stock Footage - In addition to stock video, you'll also find video for transitions and other effects.
Vidsplay - All videos on the site are free with attribution.
Coverr - Videos for your home page.
Motion Places - Stock video from around the world.
Some Free, Some Paid
Clip Canvas - You'll find both paid options and a page full of free stock video.
Videvo - Free videos as well as a two-tiered subscription plan that starts at $14.99/month.
Videezy - The search option lets you choose from several different licenses.
ClipStill - This one is a little different because the videos are short with just a little movement. There are free videos to download each month.
Motion Elements - Lots of search options to make it easy to find what you are looking for!
Video Blocks - This is a subscription service. Plans start at $19 if billed monthly or $99/year if billed annually. The basic plan ($19/month) allows 5 downloads each month, and the other tiers allow unlimited downloads as well as other options.
If all of this seems like way too much and you’d rather hire a pro to create videos for your website and social media, check out my interview with RedFred Pro owner, Jessica Clark. She shares tips and insight about when, why, and how to hire someone to do your videos.
Need other resource guides? Check out my two posts about where to find stock photos – here and here.
View my guide to free audio resources for your podcast.
And, finally, a fun collection of freebies you can collect regularly to help your brand stand out!
One of my most popular blog posts was 8 Places to Find Free Images. I’ve intended to update it for longer than I’m going to admit.
I’m especially excited to revisit this topic for a couple of reasons. The rise of stock photography and the desire for quality images means there are more options now than there were then. There are also more options for diverse photos that go beyond the standard slim white lady doing yoga in her light filled home studio. Although there is still so much room for improvement, I’m excited to share these new free stock photo resources!
Before you jump to the list
Let’s get some common issues out of the way before we dive into the list.
First, just because a photo is on the internet, doesn’t mean it is ok for you to use. That means you can’t do a google search and save images you like to use on your own blog or website. You also can’t go to someone else’s website and take their photos.
Second, because there are so many stock photo sites, you may see the same photo on multiple sites. Let’s assume positive intent and say the photographer who owns the rights to the images uploaded the images to the different sites. But let’s also protect ourselves and make a note of which site you found which image on and when. The easiest way to do this is to make the photo site and the date as part of the image file name you save on your computer.
Third, be aware of licenses and what you can and can’t do with the photos you download. Stock image websites clearly layout the licensing and restrictions – either on the individual photos themselves or on a “Terms and Conditions” page.
You can learn a little more about different licenses here.
Fourth, when I compiled the first list of free stock photo sites, I excluded any that charged money for photos. This time, I’m including a few paid sites because the popular sites are so popular, I’m seeing the same photos used by different businesses. I’d like to encourage you to look at different sites and consider purchasing photos to reduce the risk of choosing an over-used photo, and support the image creators.
This guide is organized into sections of All Free, Some Free, and All Paid. Some sites, even the paid sites, offer free photo packs in exchange for your email address and I’ve made a note about that where applicable.
Unsplash – In addition to a standard search feature, you can also browse “Collections” of topics curated by users.
Pexels – Modify searches in both Pexels and Unsplash by adding a color or other term to your search.
Stock Up – This is a neat newer option. Instead of searching sites individually, you can search over 30 stock photo sites at once from Stock Up. All photos should be free and usable, but always check the licensing.
Nappy – Their tagline is “Beautiful, high-res photos of black and brown people” and they deliver. The photos cover a range of topics and ages.
Public Domain Review - You won't find glossy fashion photos, but you will find thousands of images from across the centuries that are now in the public domain. Side note: 2019 is a big year for items coming into the public domain after a 20 year pause (yes, 20 years!) - read more here and here.
Foodies Feed - If food is your game, then you'll want to check out these free food photos.
Inspired by all these photo options, but stuck about what to write?
Get my 30 blog post prompts delivered to your email!
Some Free, Some Pay to Use
Pic Jumbo – Plenty of free photos as well as a premium membership option starting at $10/month.
Every Pixel – Similar to Stock Up, Every Pixel searches multiple stock photo sites for you. Over 51 sites are searched and results are both free and paid photos (or modify the search to just free or just paid images). Image results can be streamlined by color and image orientation (vertical or horizontal) as well as by photo, vector, or graphic.
Death to the Stock Photo – There is a $12/month annual membership or a $15/month membership. You can join their email list to get occasional free photo packs via email.
Envato Elements – Offers stock photos, stock video, music, templates, and fonts. $33/month or $98/year. You can find monthly freebies on their freebie page.
Stocksy – I love the search features here. You can search by location, ages of people in the photo, number of people in the photo, gender, and ethnicity. You can also search by photo orientation. Images start at $15.
Diversity Photo – The photos feature a variety of people in different situations. Photos start around $25
Eye for Ebony – Photos are sold in very reasonable bundles focused on a single topic. Prices start at $10 for 25 images. Sign up for their email list to receive a pack of stock photos.
Representation Matters – This site offers body and ability diversity as well as ethnic diversity. Photos start at $5. You can sign up for their email to get monthly packs of photos.
Tonl – You can search by topic or browse categories. Photos start at $20 or a monthly plan of $29 for 15 images.
Create Her Stock – Focusing on women of color. Membership starts at $10 month. You can sign up for the email list to get access to previous collections of photos.
SC Stock Shop – Highly stylized flatlays and object photos. Prices start around $19/pair of photos or join the membership for $25/month. You can get a pack of free images by signing up for the email list. I love the option to shop by color or collection.
If you have a favorite place to get diverse and unique stock photos, please let me know!
And if you are looking for free stock video resources, free stock music resources, or a collection of resources to make your brand stand out - follow the links to check out those blog posts!
I have a kid who is an artist and creator. Like many humans, she is hard on herself. She judges her own work against others who have more practice, more experience – oftentimes forgetting about the extra practice and experience part. She has high expectations. You could even say she is a bit of a perfectionist.
As a non-artist and observer, I see her get excited about projects, create detailed plans, collect pieces for projects….and then not start them. It took me awhile to understand the way this process worked for her.
I’ll be honest, I got frustrated with the seemingly endless enthusiasm for new projects that came to a dead stop after the supplies were bought. Over and over again, no matter how enthusiastic she was and no matter how much detail and thought she put into finding items for her projects – they never made it past the initial burst of interest.
After some casual, yet deep, conversations about what she really wanted to do and how she envisioned her art looking and I realized her desire to make something perfectly (or her version of perfect) was getting in the way of her creating anything at all. At some point, on some level, she decided that not ever starting, even if she had a burning desire to create, was less painful and frustrating than creating something that didn’t live up to her expectations.
I realized that my role in this situation wasn’t to make her complete projects or promise her everything would be ok, and she’d always be happy with the outcome. Instead, my role was to introduce her to some different ways of thinking. So, I started to talk the artistic process more. I shared examples of where I got stuck when creating and how unhelpful it is, for me, to compare what I create to someone else’s creation. We watched videos of artists creating (thank you, YouTube), we watched TED Talks on failure and trying and other topics that I hope will plant a little seed that whispers “Your art doesn’t have to be perfect. Just create.”
Of course, it is easy for me to look at her and see why she is stuck. So, I turned my reflection on myself and saw the same tendencies (yeah, yeah, like mother, like daughter). How many great ideas have I had that I didn’t go forward with because I was worried I couldn’t keep up with them? Or execute them to my standards? How many things haven’t I written because I was worried they wouldn’t be good enough or original enough?
I realized my clients often had similar hang ups. They get stuck on perfection before they even start – and then they can’t move forward.
This is a common scenario:
A new business owner is excited about her business.
But first she needs business cards.
But before she can make business cards, she needs a website so she has a URL to put on the business card.
Before she can make a website, she has to pick a template.
But first she has to pick a website platform.
But before she can create a website she needs a logo.
Before she can pick a logo she needs brand colors and a font.
And maybe she should create an email list, but before she can create an email list she needs social media pages to link to.
And before she can create social media pages she needs a logo and a website.
And maybe she should get business cards.
At the end of the day, instead of moving forward on her business, she has run herself into exhaustion on a mental hamster wheel. Not only that, the initial enthusiasm has been lost and the momentum that could have carried them through the creation process has wandered off.
This is the advice I give these clients who are stuck in that loop of thinking:
Stop circling and freaking yourself out. No part of your new business will be perfect. It will always be evolving. Pick options that you don’t hate and move on with growing your business.
And you know what? That applies to most aspects of what we do. Yes, work hard. Yes, put in your best possible effort. And then let go so that your focus is on moving forward.
Several years ago, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. This is a mad dash to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It is doable, but not if you are constantly second-guessing and re-writing. There is a weird freedom in knowing that your first draft would be bad and not ready to be published. I found myself jumping in to the middle of the story during one writing sprint and jumping to the end at another – because order didn’t matter, lead-in sentences didn’t matter, not even grammar mattered – just getting the words out.
Obviously, anything we share under our business should be spell-checked and read over for errors, but if perfection is keeping you from sharing anything – how is that any worse than if you have an extra space between sentences or mix up “your” and “you’re” once?
Your website? After six months you’ll want to move things around and maybe change your template.
Your logo? Same.
Your business cards? Order the smallest amount possible because you WILL be changing them up a little the next time you order.
Perfection and getting it absolutely right the first time isn’t an attainable goal. Nor should it be. Your business will change from year to year. You grow, you learn, and your business will reflect that.
Step away from perfectionism and embrace “acceptable for now because I have more important things to work on” and then get on with the business of being amazing at what you do.
If your to-do list looks like mine it is long, varied, and never-ending.
In fact, I recently spent the better part of a week completely stuck because I had so many items on my to-do list I couldn’t even start.
I’d try to start one task but be unable to focus because of the other tasks not-so-quietly muttering in the background. So, I’d put aside the task I was working on and pick up another. And, you guessed it, more muttering and grumbling from the rest of my to-do list.
Let me tell you, it is hard to concentrate with an overstuffed task list full of cranky items impatiently waiting their turn! I felt as if I was trying to go in eight directions at once, absolutely everything was distracting, and I ended up just vibrating in place. Which, as you can guess, isn’t super effective for getting work done!
It finally occurred to me that one of my blocks was expecting myself to do too many tasks in a single day.
If I have six blog posts I need to write is it reasonable for me to expect that I can accomplish all six on a single day? Possibly. If things go well, nothing topples unexpectedly, and I am left alone for the entire day with no other expectations, I could make six blog posts happen on a single day. Maybe.
However, being left alone all day is not my life – is it any one’s, really?
So, no. It is not reasonable to expect myself to write six blog posts by the end of the day. Maybe one per day if I pushed it, but I’d also need to consider what else was on my to-do list.
But do you know what I’ve done more than once? Yup. I’ve put “write six blog posts” or something equally unattainable on my to-do list more than once. I even, routinely, put multiple huge tasks on my to-do list and then wonder why I can’t ever seem to get to the end of my list!
So, let’s look at "reasonable goals" and define them as “Stuff you'll actually get done” because writing down big goals feels good, but actually getting something done feels better, right?
What does your time and schedule look like. Your REAL time and schedule, not the imaginary, ideal one you’d like to have.
Where can you fit marketing tasks into that schedule?
If you say you don’t have any marketing time at all in your schedule…do you truly not have any time, are you stuck around how much time you need, or do you not want to do any marketing tasks for some reason.
Why make the distinction? If there is absolutely no time, then you may need to re-evaluate how important your business is to you. If I can get botanical for a moment – your business is a flower and you have to water it (at a minimum) or it will die.
If you don’t know how much time to allot for marketing, let’s look at how long an average task takes you and build some time expectations from that. If it takes you five minutes to schedule a Facebook post and you need to do five in a week, then you’ll need around 30 minutes to schedule your Facebook posts. If, however, it takes you 30 minutes to schedule a Facebook post, consider why it is taking you so long – sometimes nerves, self doubt, and other gremlins can pop up during these tasks. Or maybe it takes you a long time because you’re starting from scratch each time and don’t have an overall plan. Creating even a loose content calendar can help you streamline tasks because you’ve already done some of the work.
If, on the other hand, you don’t want to do any marketing tasks at all, let’s look at why. What is scary, hard, confusing, frustrating, or any of the other emotions I hear when people talk about their marketing? Yes, you have to answer that question. Maybe it is several things, maybe it is one thing – but whatever is holding you back, you must address it.
Does it mean you’ll love marketing your business? That you’ll jump out of bed every morning eager do your marketing? Probably not. But knowing and naming what is stopping you gives you a chance to make peace with it and, hopefully, move past it.
I make marketing not scary – that’s the core of what I do. Whatever your hang up around marketing is, I’ve heard it and likely helped someone move past it to grow their business.
And speaking of growing your business, if you’re stuck around what task to cross off your to-do list next, look at what will bring you money. Whether that is outreach, sending out an email, sharing information about what you do, going to a networking event, or sharing a new product – staying focused on your next income opportunity keeps your business’ needs at the front of your to-do list.
If you feel a little weird about focusing on money, that is normal – especially for women business owners. But I’ll point out that at least some part of the reason you’re in business is to make money. Otherwise, you’d do what do you for free and not have to worry about marketing yourself!
Finally, look at what you are actually willing to do. If you absolutely hate writing blog posts but want to use blogging as a part of your marketing strategy it may be time to look at outsourcing. If grocery shopping is something you dread, look at something like Instacart or Click List to remove grocery shopping from your to-do list.
You may be at a point where you can’t (or won’t) outsource anything. In those situations, look at how to make your most hated tasks less awful. Shop without kids and at an unusual hour to avoid lines. When my oldest was a baby, I’d shop at 11pm and enjoy the quiet! Break blogging tasks into segments instead of trying to do it all at once. Use voice to text if you hate to type.
The next time you are feeling stuck around what to do next, pick the three tasks, JUST three, that are likely to bring you the best return on your time investment – usually that means “do something that will bring you money” but it can also mean doing something that will bring you exposure, increase your reach, or help you connect with your audience.
When you are done with those three tasks, pick another three. Think consistency and baby steps.
Stuck on blogging? Check out my blog post guide.
Need help with overall marketing strategy so you know what to work on when? Get in touch!
Comparing ourselves to others is generally useless. It makes us feel bad, distracts from things we could do, and gets in the way.
One of the questions I’m often asked is “How do you do it all?”
I never know how to answer because all I can think of is the ways I’m failing:
The laundry that sits unfolded.
The takeout we eat because executing marketing strategy is easy but sticking to meal planning is hard.
The times I’m not as present as I’d like to be.
The dust bunny colony that lives under my couch.
The number of times I lose my keys in a week.
The constant push and pull of work and family life.
The number of times I misplace my phone in a day.
The things I want to do and don’t have time for.
So, the reality is that I’m not doing it all.
I’d like to do it all. Some days I even get close, but I’ve found if I zoom through my life “doing it all” and ticking off all those boxes I’m supposed to tick off – at some point I lose myself and become too caught up in living that perfect expectation of my life – and, for me, that’s not much better than being a giant hot mess all the time.
So, here are some things that help me keep my messy, but generally happy, life in order:
Basic Notebook (aka My Brain)
I prefer Wired by Top Flight because I like thicker paper and a strong notebook that will hold together. I bought a cute one from Barnes and Noble that I loved the look of, but it pretty much tries to fall apart every time I use it.
My notebook is my brain. It sounds funny, but it is 100% true. I’ve been using this method since high school and it works for me.
Anything I need to remember or want to learn more about goes in my notebook so I can find it later. Of course, the irony is that once I’ve written it down, I can usually remember it – but my brain (the one in my head) is a busy place, so my paper brain helps keep things from getting lost.
Work Planning Notebook
This is new for me this year, and I’ll likely keep it going because it is handy. All of my work planning and ideas go in this notebook. When I scheduled out 12 months of blog posts, freebies, and emails to my list? I did it in this notebook. Teasing out new pricing and new offers? Yup. In this notebook. It is nice to have everything in one place instead of scattered across my other notebook.
A basic paper calendar. I’ve used the Uncalendar for years, but since I’ve started using a bullet journal I’m not using the Uncalendar planning pages – so I’ll likely switch to a plain, undated month-at-a-time calendar once this one is used up – it will be slightly less expensive and use less paper.
My brain and digital calendars are like oil & water and no amount of emulsification is going to make my brain and a digital calendar work together.
I use my paper calendar to get an overview of my month. Some things are always on my calendar – the day we volunteer at the cat shelter, gym days, and my kids’ D&D game nights, for example. Appointments, client meetings, work commitments, days out with friends, and adventure days (road trips to cool places) are added in as they are scheduled.
Does this mean I carry my calendar everywhere? Sometimes. It also means I can legitimately say “Let me check my calendar and get back to you” instead of overscheduling myself.
I’m kind of new to the whole bullet journal system. It works for me because the set up is a prettier version of what I’ve been doing in basic notebook for years – which means it was easy to adapt.
If you’ve never heard of a bullet journal, you can go here to learn the basics.
I opted not to learn the shorthand and to stick with what works for me.
If you’re familiar with the gorgeous bullet journals – I hate to disappoint you, but mine is not pretty. It is functional and I like to dress with up with washi tape (I may have developed a slight washi tape obsession doing this) and pretty pens (I already had the pretty pen obsession), but at the heart – it is a place for my brain to organize things.
I do love looking at artistic bullet journals before going back to my plain one and drawing a sad lonely flower in the margin…
That is the paper side of how I keep it all together.
What about the digital side? After all, I’m a digital marketing person….
Apps on My Phone
Mile IQ to track mileage.
Pandora for music – I have a Sara Bareilles channel and a Presuntos Implicados channel for working, a Pistol Annie’s channel for when I’m cooking, and a Meghan Trainor channel for hula hooping.
Waze because I have no sense of direction. At all.
DramaFever because I love Korean dramas.
WTForecast for snarky weather updates.
Social media apps – yeah, all of them. No shame here.
iMovie, Spark Video, and FilmoraGo for making videos on my phone – Although I prefer the desktop version of Filmora for videos because the screen is bigger.
WordSwag, Spark Post, Canva, and Rhonna for image creation – I prefer desktop Canva, but the mobile version works for quick edits. Spark Post is a nice alternative to Canva (and fewer people use it, so it is a little more unique). WordSwag is great for quick text-based graphics, and I need to spend more time with Rhonna.
Snapseed, VSCO, and eight others for photo editing – I need to spend more time with them, because I usually default to a filter, and these give you far more control.
MOB Nation – an app to find mom-owned businesses near you. I know where most of the ones near me are, but it is nice to know where they are when I travel. #theresaMOBforthat
Skyview Lite – Have you ever been outside at night and wondered what that star was or if that bright star was a planet? This app tells you what is where in the night sky.
Audible – The kids and I are working through Harry Potter right now and loving it. I’m trying to get my podcasts under control, so I haven’t downloaded any books for me to listen to yet.
Podcasts – So many podcasts, so little time.
AllTrails – For finding nearby hiking options and planning adventure days
Chinook Book – Local (Portland) coupon book supporting local businesses.
Instacart – Sometimes I don’t have time to go grocery shopping but, as it turns out, we still need to eat. This solves that problem.
Pokemon Go, Words with Friends, Splendor, Trivia Crack, and Block Hexa – I have a lot of games on my phone – most of them are for my kid (or clients’ kids as needed). The ones I listed are the ones I play with varying degrees of regularity. The kids and I play Pokemon Go together (ok, I play it solo, too), so that’s the most frequently played game.
I also screen shot or take pictures a ton of things I want to be able to remember later. I tried Evernote at one point to organize things but, for me, the simpler the better is what works.
I'm not ever going to be someone who says "We have to get away from tech and then we'll be happy," but I am someone who enjoys going places where there is no cell phone service (as long as I'm not on a deadline!) and doing the whole appreciating nature thing. Forests, mountains, lakes, and places that smell fresh, crisp, and clear are where I like to recharge.
So that’s the way I keep things together – I work with my brain and do things I know work. If digital calendars and storage work for you, then my method probably won’t (and that’s cool, too!)
I work with women to untangle how to manage their marketing and their business in a way that feels right to them as business owners, mothers, and humans.
I’ve worked with women just starting businesses and ones who have run businesses for years. With women who make no income to those making a lot of money (yes, six-figures, but I deeply dislike the way that number has become short-hand for successful). But there are some issues I see over and over again.
Being Afraid to Take Up Space
Fear of taking up space means different things to dfferent people. For some, it is talking about their business on Facebook – I’m not talking about being spammy and making every post about the business. I’m talking about never mentioning it. If you own a business, it takes up a signifigant amount of your life – why wouldn’t you mention it?
For others, fear of taking up space means not even saying “Yes, I do this thing” even when they see someone is looking for their exact service.
Or it might look like winning an award or recognition and being reluctant to tell others about it.
Not Setting Goals Because You're Afraid You Won't Reach Them
Yeah, goals are scary. But goals are direction and your business needs a direction or it will spin around in circles.
The fun part is that YOU get to set your goals. Whether that means income, new connections, items shipped, appointments booked, or maybe something entirely different – you’re the boss of your business so set goals you’re excited to reach not just the ones everyone else is setting.
Not charging the prices you need to charge
Look, I can’t tell you what your price should be. But I can tell you that if you are charging too little you are setting yourself up for frustration and burn out. Been there, done that (more than once because sometimes lessons take time to sink in).
What does it look like to charge the price you need?
It means having time to do your work well rather than constantly rushing. It means having space to build good relationships with your clients. It means covering BOTH your expenses and your time, not just one or the other. It means not negotiating (unless that’s your thing) or finding imaginary discounts to give to potential clients because you’re worried someone will say no.
Not asking for what you want
Yes, having those hard conversations is difficult. Do you know what else is difficult? Putting up with things because it feels easier than speaking out.
As women, we have so much cultural baggage telling us to quietly carry the load and keep things running smoothly – even if it is detrimental to us. Not to mention the part where asking for help is seen as a failure or inability to handle everything we’re trying to do.
When we overlay that lifelong training with running a business, we can find ourselves doing all the work of our business and then some instead of reaching out for help. Be brave – ask for what you want.
Being afraid of being “salesy” to the point of never promoting yourself
This is likely the one I hear most often. There is something so fundamentally frustrating to me about the fear women have around being considered “salesy” – especially when I fall into it myself (I’m not even going to pretend to be perfect here).
Picture yourself as an average white dude named Chad – would he have any hesitation to tell someone about his new project or offer? No. He wouldn’t.
Channel your inner Chad and go for it.
Worrying you aren’t hustling enough
This is another Chad issue. There is a “hustle til it hurts” mentality that works for some (and if that’s you – awesome, own it).
Do you know what makes it hard to hustle in your business? A baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, working alternate shifts with your partner to make your dreams happen, caring for a loved one on top of everything else you do, health issues others may not see, and so many other things that Chad “I live on Red Bull and 3 hours of sleep so I can hustle harder” may never have to deal with.
If you’re feeling bad because you’re not hustling as hard as your Instagram feed tells you everyone else is hustling, just remember how many filters there are on Instagram and how much planning goes into those perfect grids. That’s their “best of” reel – you’re not even seeing the outtakes, let alone the whole picture.
Want to be inspired by someone? Great. But don’t let their life keep you from focusing on yours.
Not wanting to admit that you want success and money
Repeat after me “Money is awesome.” Did you feel a little weird? That’s ok. Money can bring up all kinds of issues and baggage – even stuff we didn’t know we had buried!
Expecting to be paid for doing work, even work you love and enjoy is not a bad thing. Having money doesn’t make you a bad or selfish person. It makes you someone who can cover your bills and handle your responsibilities. In no way is that a bad thing. Hint: Its actually a really good thing!
Success and the recognition of your peers, friends, and family? Being proud of what you’ve created and how you run your business? Also not bad things.
Side note: If you are looking at other women and mentally tearing them down for having success, money, or recognition? Stop it. Stay in your own lane. We need women who build each other up and celebrate each other – be that woman for the next person you encounter and see what happens.
Getting Stuck in Your Comfort Zone
I’m a Taurus, so I’m basically terrible at getting outside my comfort zone. I like to dig in and get comfy, but that doesn’t serve me, my business, or the people I want to help.
If you find yourself pulling back from trying new things or putting yourself “out there” – try the smallest step you can take.
Or don’t think about it, and do it anyway. That’s what I did recently when I needed to walk into a new space where I wouldn’t know anyone. I just didn’t think about it until I was there (which is when I thought I was going to throw up in the elevator…but I didn’t, I had a great time, and I got outside my own comfort zone!)
Last week, I gave a presentation about Instagram Stories to the Salem, Oregon chapter of The MOB Nation. Although the talk was designed to be brief, I realized how much I had to share and how little I could cover in the time I had.
When I got home, I decided to put together a quick blog post covering the topics in my talk. But more and more features kept creeping in, and this blog post ended up being much longer than originally intended (which, to be honest, is how most of my blog posts happen)!
So you can look at this as my "everything and the kitchen sink, ultimate Instagram guide for small businesses" or "Gwen hates to leave anything out and wanted to create a complete walk through of Instagram Stories features" - you choice.
First, some background on Instagram Stories - the Stories feature was added in late 2016 and modeled after Snapchat’s Stories (which are now less popular in general because so many have migrated to Instagram's version).
Just like your normal Instagram posts, a photo you want to use for your Story must be on your phone. You can tag other businesses, use hashtags, and mark your location in Stories as well. You can also share your Instagram Story to your Facebook Story - either by sharing each story individually or having it as your default setting.
Unlike your regular Instagram posts, Stories aren’t seen on your normal Instagram feed and disappear after 24 hours. After that 24 hour mark, unless you share the Stories in your Highlights (which I cover at the end of this blog post), only you can see your archived Stories.
The process of adding and creating Instagram Stories is different than your regular Instagram feed. It is also a good idea to think of them as separate entities, that support each other. Your Instagram stories can be more fun, less staged, and more spontaneous than your regular feed. They can also be highly styled and branded using the tools in Stores. It is your brand, you get to decide what it looks like!
You can use Instagram Stories to share videos up to 15 seconds, and photos share best if they have a 9:16 aspect ratio (think tall rectangle instead of the square you typically see on Instagram). If your photo isn't properly sized it will either be stretched out and distorted or you can use a pinching motion to force it to be smaller to fit the screen. If you force it to fit the screen, your photo will have black bars on the top and bottom to fill up the blank space.
Since Instagram first rolled out Stories they have added more features and are adding even more options. Why? Stories are incredibly popular and have over 400 million daily users.
How to Post an Instagram Story
Let’s dive into the step-by-step of how to post an Instagram Story and some of the cool features available.
Open your Instagram app. It will open to your Instagram feed.
You can add a Story by tap on the camera icon in the upper left corner or by tapping on your profile photo. It will automatically open your camera so you can grab a quick photo or video.
Let’s look at the options available on this screen:
Normal is the default starting place and this is the basic camera function. To the right of the camera button you’ll see the option to flip the camera and also the option for adding masks and camera effects.
The next option to the right is Boomerang. You can also have this as a separate app on your phone. It takes a series of photos over a couple of seconds to create a short, looped video.
Then you’ll see Focus. This is specifically for taking photos of faces. You’ll get a great photo where the person is the focus!
Superzoom is a fun surprise. Tap on the square to set your focal point. Then tap on the music symbol to select what kind of Superzoom you want. Yes, each type of Superzoom has its own music! Dramatic, Beats, TV Show, and Bounce.
Rewind will play any video you film in reverse – this doesn’t apply to videos you’ve already created and are posting from your phone.
Hands Free lets you record your 15 second videos without having to hold down the record button the whole time.
Going Live On Instagram
To the left of the “Normal” default is where you’ll find your Live video option. You can add face masks here, too. You don’t have a 15 second limit with a live video, so don't feel rushed.
When you go live your avatar in the Stories feed will have a little “LIVE” icon on it to let your followers know you are live. You can also invite someone to join you as a guest on your live video. When you are done, you can save your video to your phone (although you’ll lose your comments and reactions), post it, or delete it.
You can invite someone to join your Live video if they are watching - just like Facebook Live.
Adding Music to Instagram Story
Music lets you add up to 15 seconds of curated music to your Story.
You can search by specific song, mood, or genre. Although there are lots of songs to choose from, you still may not find your favorite quite yet.
Solid Color + Text
Finally, to the far left, is the Type option which allows you to type on a solid color background using several fonts and options.
This is a great option for making announcements or directing followers to your newest blog post. If you have over 10,000 followers you can add a link right in your Story. If not, you'll have to put the link in your bio and direct viewers there.
If you don't like these fonts or color choices, you can use Canva or other graphics app to create your own (I share some app options at the end of this blog post). If you save a template, you'll be able to easily go back and create something new.
Adding Photo Already on Your Phone to Instagram Stories
If you prefer to use a photo already on your camera, tap on the photo square in the bottom left corner (this takes you to the photos you have on your phone).
Once you’ve added a Story, you’ll need to tap on the “home” icon on the bottom left corner to go back to "home" and then tap on the camera icon in the upper left corner if you want to add another Story.
When you add a Story you now have access to several neat functions and options.
Instagram Stories Filters
First, swipe left to add a filter. Keep swiping as there are several options and eventually you’ll be back to the no filter option if you prefer your photo as it is.
You can also take your photo into a photo editing app like Snapseed, VSCO, or Color Story to perfect your photo before sharing.
Ready to add text and effects? Let's go left to right.
Adding Text to Your Instagram Story
.On the far upper left, you’ll see “Aa” – this is where you access the keyboard to add text over your photo.
When you tap “Aa”, you’ll see a screen with a cursor and several colored circles underneath. The circles are your font color options. On the left side is a slider bar - this is where you can adjust your text to be larger or smaller. You can also do this with your fingers using a pinching motion (this pinching motion works for text, gifts, polls, etc - you have a lot of freedom to move things around in Stories!)
You'll also notice the center oval makes another appearance. This is where you can change the text font - Classic, Modern, Strong, Neon, or Typewriter - just like the text only option we covered above.
Depending on which font you choose, you’ll also see a few other options to the left for aligning or highlighting your text. To change the highlight color, just tap on the colored circles (or tap and hold to get access to the color wheel to really customize your highlight color!)
Yes, you can use multiple fonts and colors on the same photo, and you can also edit text after you’ve created it (but before you publish it). You can even highlight text and select a new color just for that word!
If you press and hold a colored circle, more color options will appear, and you can adjust your text color even more.
But what if you want to color match a specific item in your photo?
Yes, you can do that, too!
Tap on your photo and then tap on the dropper on the far left. Then long press and release on the screen and a color drop will appear. You can drag it around the screen until you find the color you want to use for text. Then release (or tap on the color drop) to bring up the keyboard.
This is perfect when you want a specific branding color or want to really color coordinate your text and image!
This is a fun little trick to give your text a special look.
Highlight the text you want to turn into a rainbow. Then place one finger on the far right of your text and another finger on the far right of the color options and then slowly drag your fingers left.
This one takes a couple of tries to get right.
Instagram Pen Tools
Going back up to the top – the middle option is a pen (or pencil, if you prefer). When you tap on that, you’ll open a new list of options.
Again, going right to left -
The Heart symbol is a crayon-like line.
The eraser is the eraser.
The pen with the stars above it is the neon pen.
The marker is the marker.
The pen is the pen.
On the far left you’ll see a sliding bar – slide it up to make your lines thicker, slide it down to make them thinner.
If you think all you can do with the pen tools is write, you’d be mistaken! There are some neat options hidden here!
You can use the marker or pen to draw a solid box or circle or heart or whatever you like and then place text over the top of that. This is a great option to draw attention to specific text or if plain text just doesn't look right no matter which color you select.
Tap the Pen tool (far left), select a color, and press down anywhere on the screen. This is one of the ways you can make an entire screen one color. The other is using the Type function discussed above. This option gives you more freedom to match you branding colors or do something unique.
Tap the Marker tool (next to the Pen tool) and press down anywhere on the screen and you’ll get a see-through color overlay.
Colors for both can be managed with the color options at the bottom of the screen.
You might be thinking, that’s neat, but why would I want to cover my entire photo?
This is where the eraser tool gets to show off what it can do.
Erase some of the color covering your image to play peek-a-boo with what is underneath!
This would be great for new product teasers or highlighting a specific part of your photo.
Stickers, Tags, and GIFs
On the far left of the main page you’ll see a square with a face. This is where all the stickers and GIFs live.
Tap it to open the menu.
You’ll see several options to choose from and more as you scroll down.
If you swipe right from this screen, you’ll see your recently used tags, stickers, GIFs.
If you swipe all the way to the left, you’ll find some hats and glasses to play with.
Remember that no matter which GIF, sticker, or accessory you choose, you can drag it around your screen, reposition it (even upside down), and make it larger or smaller by using a pinching motion.
You can further customize many of them by selecting them and then tapping on them once they are on your photo. GIFs will typically switch direction and/or show an alternate color.
Location, Mention, and Hashtag stickers have three color options - just tap on the text to make it change color.
Let's dig a little deeper into what the stickers do:
The location can be either a specific place (like a restaurant, park, or business), a city (or county, etc), or even an event (assuming the organizers have set it up). Adding a location hashtag can increase your visibility by putting you in that location's Story for the day.
Location Stories are chosen by algorithm and feature public accounts that have used a hashtag or location. To see what these look like search for a city or hashtag, tap on the result you want, and if there is a Story you'll see a red ring around the avatar. Tap on that to view. It is a neat way to peek into what others are doing - and especially interesting to see a city Story like New York City!
The hashtag sticker is just one hashtag option you have. You can also just type a hashtag (or three) using the keyboard.
The tag sticker lets you tag another Instagram user - they'll get a notification they were tagged in your Story in their messages and can repost the Story they were tagged in into their own Story.
You can also tag someone by typing "@" and their user name - this lets you tag multiple people at once.
Again, these stickers can be make smaller or moved around the screen. You can even make them very small so you still get the benefit of visibility without ruining your photo in the process.
The Music sticker will open the same music option I described at the beginning of the post.
The Time sticker is a quick way to put a time on your Story - tap the sticker once it is on your Story to reveal some other clock options.
Poll - Give your viewers something to interact with - a "yes" or "no" or "this" or "that" poll works best because it is short and easy. Swipe up to see the results of your poll while it is live or look for it in your Story archive after it has expired.
Sliding bar - Ask your followers how they feel about something with a sliding bar. You can see who answered and how by tapping on your Story's viewers in the bottom left corner.
Questions - Yes, your viewers can ask you their own questions when you use this option, and you can answer them right in Stories.
Camera - the camera sticker in the stickers section allows you to take a selfie and put it in your picture. If you've ever wanted to superimpose your face over a tree, your dog, or a magazine cover this is your chance!
GIFs and emojis offer a ton of fun options to punctuate and add personality to your Stories.
Deleting a Sticker, GIF, text, etc
What if you realize you are getting carried away with stickers and GIFs and emojis? Or you decide you don't want that text after all? Easy! Just drag it straight down and a little trash can will appear.
Building a Instagram Story
One way to create more interesting Stories is by saving a modified image to your phone and then using that as a base to create the next image. It is a great way to add a little more information on each screen in a fun and creative way.
The save option is on the bottom left right next to the post option.
If you accidentally post before you are ready, you can delete the post by tapping the three dots on the bottom right hand side of your Story image.
This is also where you can post your Story as a post, send it to an Instagram friend, and adjust your Story settings.
This is my Instagram account under my bio you see three circles. These circles are my Story Highlights. Clearly, my Story Highlights are not pretty or well-branded. Check out this account and this account for some spot on branding when it comes to Stories.
As I mentioned waaaay back at the beginning of this post, your Stories are only visible to everyone else for 24 hours. With Instagram's Stories Archive, you can view all of your Stories and put them in a neat little Highlights collection. The two accounts I linked to just above do it in two very different, but effective ways.
Apps That Take You Further
Check out these apps for more options to customize your Stories (no affiliate links, I just like these apps) because they have Story-specific sizes that you can use as a base. It does take extra steps and time, but the benefit is that your Stories can be uniquely you and really stand out!
A Design Kit for a paid alternative ($1.99 with additional in-app purchases, iOS).
Rhonna Designs ($1.99 with additional in-app purchases, iOS)
Word Swag ($4.99, iOS)
Adobe Spark (free) - Similar to Canva and I think it is easier to use on a mobile device
Videos can only be up to 15 seconds in Stories, so you'll need an app like Storeo (iOS, free + paid version) to break longer videos up into 15 second chunks.
We've reached the end of this Instagram Stories guide (thank you to those who are still with me!).
I've probably missed something, but I hope I've given you a good foundation for how to use Stories, and I hope I've sparked some creative ideas. There is so much possibility with Stories and making it what you want.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.