Outgrowing My Own Graphic Design Skills

Design Wordart

I’ve been working on a post about e-commerce business models. It’s over 4,000 words so it definitely needs some graphics to break up all of that text.

And after looking through a few different stock image sites for over an hour here are the images I could come up with.

While these are all relevant they’re all vastly different styles. And as much as I tried to find graphics with a similar style I couldn’t. Finding similar graphics for one post is one thing. I also want my graphics to be consistent across my entire blog.

So what are my options?

Spend Time Finding More / Better Stock Photography

I could certainly spend more time looking for stock photography. I could use multiple websites or look large sets of photography so it’s all the same style. And when I don’t find something in that style I could spend time customizing the art.

Instead of spending an hour looking for stock photography it might be 4 hours to find art and then customize it.

A Part Time Designer

I’ve hired freelance designers in the past and they do amazing work. I had a project earlier this year that cost me about $2,000 and the work was phenomenal. Unfortunately my business doesn’t generate enough revenue that I can drop $2,000 on all of my projects.

I can probably do one project like that a year and have a few smaller projects.

Hiring a freelance designer – or if you have enough work hiring a full time designer is definitely the way to get the best quality work that matches your brand perfectly. Of course it’s expensive but that’s what it costs for high quality.

A Design Service

I’ve seen ads for a service called Design Pickle. They’re one of those businesses where you pay a fee every month and then you get unlimited work from them. There are plenty of places where you get unlimited tweaks to your website for $80/month. This is similar but for design.

In this case it’s $370/month. That’s a lot of money and if I don’t use it in a particular month I’d feel like I wasted a lot of money. And they do have a list of things that are out of scope (ex. no logo concepts)

$370 per month is $4,440 per year. So if I use it consistently it’s just a little more hiring a freelancer for one big project and a few small projects per year. And I’d feel like I can use them to tackle these small problems – like getting consistent graphics on my blog posts. Something that nags at me but I don’t have the skills or time to solve.

In Between

As businesses grow it can be awkward to move from a do-it-yourself mentality to using professional services to hiring full time professionals. There isn’t a perfect time. You just have to take your best guess and then move forward.

I’m going to try this service for a few months. I should have enough work to make it feel like it’s worth my while. The biggest unknown is what is their bandwidth? How fast can they turn projects around?

If I can get a small task (ex. make a header image for this blog post) back in 1-2 days I think it might be worth it.

Starting is Intimidating

Two weeks ago I attended one of my favorite conferences. I’ve been doing marketing & e-commerce for years and I’ve been to dozens of conferences so I’m pretty familiar with the topics and what can be done so when I go to an event it’s easy to jump in. And I have lots of friends in the industry so I'll usually run into someone I know which makes the conference much more comfortable.

Out of my Depth

Last week was a different story. I attended a workshop for pops.

Pops are a technique in acroyoga where you work with a partner to throw them in the air and then (hopefully) catch them.

I’ve dabbled with acroyoga but I’ve only tried pops once. And everyone else at this event have done pops numerous times. And when I walked in I realized how out of my depth I was.

  • I didn’t know a single person
  • Two people started talking about an acroyoga event I’ve never heard of and it sounds like they’ve gone to it 5 years in a row.
  • I’m asked how much experience I’ve had with “Icarian”. I didn’t know what that word even means – and I found out it’s a specific type of pops.

Here I am trying to learn the basics about pops and I accidentally signed up for a specific type of pops and I’m with people who seem to know each other and have been doing this for years. I feel completely out of place and the workshop hasn't even started.

The Workshop

When the workshop starts we form groups of 3-4 people and it’s clear I’m the person with the least experience.

  • I was asked to “receive more”. I had no idea what that phrase even means. It turns out it means you need to decelerate your partner when they land.
  • There were prerequisites which I barely grasped. For a pop from reverse bird to reverse throne we had to start with foot to hand. And I’ve only done that once so I had to spend time covering the basics.

Foot to hand:

I also realized I might have been one of the least fit people in the room. And in a physical practice that’s important. There were 7 people in the workshop and 3 of them had six packs. VISIBLE SIX PACKS. Who are these people that have time to develop 6 packs!?

My group was amazingly kind despite my novice status.

  • They helped me cover the pre-reqs
  • They trusted me to catch them when I popped
  • They were patient with me and never rushed me to finish

Starting is Hard

The point of this article is that I’m reminded how hard it is to join a new community. There’s jargon you don’t know, pre-reqs that you didn’t know about, and humans tend to cluster with people they know. And that’s all after you sign up. You have to first decide to join the community which is a whole different journey.

Having gone to the workshop and feeling completely out of my depth I now feel confident I can handle anything. I already faced being the newbie and I did fine. In fact I did great. I learned a lot and by the end of the workshop I completed almost all of the poses the more experienced members did.

Help Others Starting

If you notice someone is new help them out. It's scary to join a new community where you don't know anyone and don't know what you're doing there. You don't have to learn their life story but chat with them.

I'm pretty confident in the WordPress, marketing, and ecommerce worlds. I'm still new in the acroyoga world and I know I'd appreciate someone approaching me and chatting with me instead of feeling live I have to invade an established circle of people.

Here's how our workshop ended with a reverse throne to bird.

Liquid Web – Managed WooCommerce Hosting Review

Quite often in the WooCommerce world you'll hear “make sure you use a good host” which sounds helpful but when you don't define what a good host is it becomes meaningless. And for many first time store owners how are you supposed to know what you need and if a host has those features?

I've heard a lot about Liquid Web but I hadn't actually seen the backend until recently, when they gave me an account to play around with. So I'm going to show you how to create a brand new WooCommerce site using Liquid Web's Managed WooCommerce Hosting plan.

A friend of mine runs a WooCommerce store selling sunglasses so let's recreate that site using Liquid Web's infrastructure.

Note: Liquid Web paid me for a few hours of my time to review their hosting.

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Combining WooCommerce & Gutenberg

Printing Press from Gutenberg

With Gutenberg getting closer and closer to being merged into WordPress core lots of plugins are thinking about ways they can take advantage of the new interface.

WooCommerce has been preparing for Gutenberg since last year. They're replacing the old [products] shortcode with a Gutenberg block and overall it looks great. If you want to display a specific set of products on a page the interface is phenomenal.

This is a great place to start and store owners can play with that functionality the day Gutenberg comes out. While this is a great place to start it's no where near where it's going to end. Gutenberg gives site builders so much control over their blog posts & pages. And eventually I'd like to see that same control applied to product pages.

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Retail is Changing (Not Dying)

flower-blooming

Working in e-commerce is being a part of two worlds. The retail world & the online marketing world.

In the online marketing world every few months you see an article about how SEO is dying or already dead. After a few years of this you realize it's not dying it's just changing.

In the retail world we have the exact same thing. Every few months you see a big brand close some stores and everyone screams that retail is dead. And just like with online marketing – it isn't actually dead it's just changing.

Experiences Over Stuff

One of the biggest factors is how millennials spend their money. Millennials by and large prefer experiences over stuff. They're far more likely to spend their money on travel, good food, and unique experiences:

* Air travel has increased every year in the past decade (except 2009)

* US consumers spend $144 per month on food prepared outside the home. Millennials spend $202.

* US & Canadian Millenials spend 62 billion on media

As our demographics change our retail industry should change to reflect that. And it's a hard change for stores. They have to throw away everything that worked for the previous generations and start experimenting all over again.

And our current retail industry is all about stuff. Most brands can't offer an experience so millennials spend their money elsewhere. We buy stuff on Amazon. Sell us something different or unique in a store.

Retail Can Be Advantageous

You don't know the advantages of retail until you work in e-commerce. Retail let's you chat with your customers. You can learn about customers & more importantly solve any problem they have instantly. They don't have to spend 30 minutes searching for the right product (what's the name again???) they can ask someone in store and they'll direct them to the right place.

It's also a richer medium. Online stores have live chat at best. A face to face chat gives you 90% more information just from reading body language, tone, and facial expressions. We inherently trust those conversations more than a text chat.

If you want an example of who is doing it right look no further than Apple. Apple makes a killing in their retail stores (more than $5,000+ per square foot). And they do this by employing people who actually use & love the products they sell. Any question you have they likely had the same question and they can help you find that solution because they're genuine fans of the product.

You can also go in for minor troubleshooting at any point and they'll usually help you for free. Anecdotally – I went in with a charging issue and they cleaned the lint out of my charging port and sent me on my way in about 5 minutes. That builds a lot of trust for them.

And lastly, many Apple products are an experience. I went into an Apple store just to look at the Apple Watches when they came out. It was fun to look at them even if I don't want to spend the money on them right now.

Why Retail Is Struggling

Toys R Us announced they're closing their stores and while it's sad this really isn't surprising to me.

They're a store that sells stuff. And you get get that stuff on Amazon or eBay for the same price if not cheaper.

You don't get any special care when you go into the store. The employees are minimum wage workers just trying to get a paycheck so they rarely know anything about the products. And if something breaks you probably just order a new product online you don't take it back to the store.

They didn't offer any compelling reason to go to the store instead of buying the toy online. So people did just that. They stopped going to the store and they started ordering online.

Have Experiences

My friend Joe Casabona said something interesting about Toys R Us:

If they evolved from a place to buy toys to a place to play with toys. They already had a video games section. Why not make a mini arcade where kids could pick a game and console, play it, and then buy it?

And this is something that could have moved the needle. Be a place where parents could bring their kids to play. And everything the kids play with can also be purchased to take home. This could be done with video games or even regular toys.

I'd charge $4 per kid. And that entry fee can be used as a deposit towards a toy at the end of the day. So you'd make money whether the kids just played or if they used that downpayment to buy a toy.

This is something Amazon or any other online retailer can't compete with. They might beat you on price. But you provide an experience parents & children love and a unique advantage in that kids can play with the toy before they buy it.

We've Invested Too Much In Stores

I want to bring up one last point. More retailers will close. Don't be afraid by it. It's what happens when you over invest. Which is precisely what the US did.

The U.S. has 7.3 square feet of retail space per capita, versus 1.7 square feet per capita in Japan and France.

We've spent so much money on stores and all of that retail space takes money to operate. Unless we spend 3-4X as much as Japan & France there's no way we can maintain that square footage. We'll either have to up our spending or more likely let stores fail and recalibrate after that.

In the meantime if you're in retail make sure you offer value. If you just sell stuff and it's not the cheapest price you're probably not going to last long.

Building My Own Product

Jenga Board Game
  1. Building My Own Product
  2. Pricing & Manufacturing My Product
  3. The Difference Between a Game and a Product
  4. Make Something Remarkable
  5. Respect The Process
  6. Making a Product: One Year In

I've been thinking a lot about how we learn. And more and more I find value in experiential knowledge (things you learn by doing) over academic knowledge (things you learn by reading). For example…

  • I learned how to skydive from someone who has skydived thousands of times.
  • I've talked with parents about their experience raising their kids – rather than reading a book about raising kids.
  • While preparing for a marathon I read a ton of blog posts about running and the advice I really appreciated was from people who actually ran marathons.
  • I want to learn computer science from someone who has participated in computer science projects. Not someone who just repeats what their professor told them.
  • I practice acro yoga and when I want to learn a new pose I do so with people who have done those poses before – not with people who just read about them.
  • When I moved to Denver I decided to move and live in the city for a year and see how it went. Worst case scenario I would move back to Wisconsin. I looked up all of the stats before moving (crime rate, weather, cost of living, etc.) but ultimately I just couldn't understand that information until I actually experienced it.

You can consume a thousand articles, blog posts, books, videos, and conversations with people about a topic. But some topics are so big that you really can't understand it until you live it – like moving to Denver. I could pull up every metric about Denver (and I did make a spreadsheet), but I could never imagine what it's like living downtown in a big city versus living in Green Bay, Wisconsin (a much smaller city with very different values).

Mountains

Denver is surrounded by gorgeous mountains

This isn't to say academic knowledge is useless. It's incredibly useful. Using academic knowledge I realized the Denver has way more sunny days than Portland & Seattle which is why Denver made it to the top of the list. Now, I can't fully imagine what it's like living in Denver surrounded by mountains but I was at least able to narrow down the list of cities based on some really useful data. And from there I had to experience Denver to know if it was the right choice for me.

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Schedule a USPS Pickup At Your House or Business

Learn how to schedule a USPS pickup at your house or business.

When I'm talking about WooCommerce, Shopify, or some other eCommerce platform one of the most challenging aspects is fulfillment. Store owners always want to know how you can efficiently and affordably ship products.

USPS is one of cheaper options, and with both WooCommerce & Shopify you can get live shipping rates during checkout. And you can print out the shipping labels on your home printer. This automates a lot of the boring work.

The last step is scheduling USPS to come by to your house (or business) to pickup the packages. And the best news is that it's easy, free, & you don't even have to get out of your PJs.

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WooCommerce Security

Airport Security

I talk about the features about eCommerce platforms all the time. But I don't often talk about related but important concepts. Every store owner has thought about security and how to keep their store safe both for their customers and so they don't get sued. When it comes to security there are two things you need to worry about.

  1. The security of your site
  2. The security of payment information

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What I Learned Organizing Three Events This Year

Female Speaker in Front of Crowd

Now that the wrap up post for WooConf is out the door I can finally relax. WooConf was the latest event I worked on this year and by far the most intense. Working on three different events – all at different levels of complexity – taught me a few things about running events.

I'm going to share some lessons but first let me give a little context:

1. Lift Off Summit – I designed this summit to help people develop a marketing strategy for their online store. It's a virtual summit so you can tune in and watch ~20 hours of content for free and you can pay to watch the sessions whenever you want.

Event cost: free to stream / $97 for recordings

2. WordCamp Denver – I've always loved helping my local WordPress scene. I've helped organize several meetups and WordCamps in the past. This is my third year organizing this particular conference and it was one of the best we've done.

Event cost: $40

3. WooConf – I've been heavily involved with WooCommerce for years as a customer, developer, product manager, and now educator. So when they asked me to help them plan the content I couldn't say no.

Event cost: $500 early bird / $700 regular

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