Chasing Dreams Interview: Cristina's Journey from PT Etsy Shop Owner to FT Graphic Designer

This interview is part of the Chasing Dreams interview series. I’ve interviewed a variety of entrepreneurs and small business owners who have chosen a different path in life in order to go after his or her dream career. Have an entrepreneur in mind you’d like to learn more about? Let me know!

Today's interview is with Cristina, founder and designer behind Sombras Blancas Art & Design. Cris started her business about four years ago as a part-time occupation and after a few years was able to make it her full-time job. She markets her services through her website and Etsy.

I know many of you have side hustles with the hopes of one day going full-time, so I was excited to share Cris's journey of getting started by selling her services on Etsy.

[Read more about Etsy shops: Chasing Dreams Interview with Amanda Heslinga, Owner of the Popular Rocks With Sass Etsy Shop]


At what point did you know you wanted to follow this career path? How did you know this was the right direction?

This adventure started some years ago when a friend of mine asked me to create a logo for a fair trade campaign he was preparing on our university. It was then when I realized I wanted to take it seriously. I had always gravitated towards creative and artsy activities so this came as a great opportunity.

I started selling my pre-made logos and graphic design services on Etsy as a part-time occupation back in 2012.

I’m now working as a full-time freelance designer and I’m so glad I took this route.

What are the biggest struggles you've faced while trying to achieve your dreams?

I can say I have been pretty lucky during this whole journey.

Normally, the most difficult aspect of starting a business is precisely that: starting it. 

In my case, I was a college student when I decided to try, and I was still receiving economic support from my parents. This made it possible for me to go through the early stages of the process without having to worry about my income or balancing multiple jobs.

Apart from that, I think the biggest struggle I’ve faced has been learning to manage all the different aspects of the business by myself. During my regular day I am a graphic designer but also a customer support agent, an accountant, a postwoman and a social media manager.

Owning your own business can be tough on the body and mind, between long days, instability and really putting yourself out there to reach your goals. How do you stay healthy? Do you have any rituals that help you stay centered?

Something every business owner should embrace in order to keep a healthy balance, especially if working from home as is my case, is maintaining a regular work-out routine. I go to the gym early in the morning 3-4 times a week, right before starting my work day, and I definitely feel the effect it has in my emotional well-being.

Speaking of putting yourself out there, overcoming rejection is a big part of chasing dreams. How do you bounce back?

For me, the best way of getting over rejection is to analyze what might have gone wrong and put in place new processes or strategies that can help in the future.

Obsessing over failure is the least productive thing you can do with your time. 

Whereas this other approach will very possibly lead to new successes and happier customers.

What do you do when you're having an off day—maybe feeling down, struggling with self-doubt, or just unmotivated?

If I had been asked this question a couple of years ago, my answer would have probably been, “I keep working non-stop until I create something good."

However, I’ve learned that this strategy is useless in most cases. When I’m feeling in a creative slump, the best thing I can do is take a day off. That doesn’t mean that I am completely unproductive. I simply turn my back on my design work (and my computer, if possible) and focus my energy on other creative fields I enjoy: illustration, music or just reading a book.

Usually, the following day I’m looking forward to get back to work with renewed ideas in mind.

What is one misconception people have about you and/or your profession?

There are plenty of misconceptions about the work of graphic designers, but the one I still find striking is that some clients see us as mere translators with the ability to convert their exact wild ideas into a digital format and won’t accept any suggestions or ideas that would certainly improve the final result.

I feel bad in those cases because they are paying for a professional service and then not allowing me to do my job. These are just a few exceptions, thankfully.

Most of my clients come to me with a general idea of what they 're looking for but are happy to see the concept evolving throughout the different revisions.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

So far, the biggest lesson I've learned through this experience is that you can't measure your success by focusing on daily numbers. I've found it better to track (at least) bimonthly stats. That way, you can use all your energy to create new products and services instead of worrying to death each time you go more than 2 days without a sale.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a path similar to what you have?

Anyone who knows me would smile when reading this answer because I always give the exact same one: start before you are ready.

It's something I’ve always believed but even more after having run this business for some years now. There is no better way to learn all those things you have no clue how to accomplish.

Researching and planning are great but they will never give you as much experience as trying by yourself.

When do you feel the most inspired, alive and the most like YOU?

When talking about my business, receiving photos from past clients that show their own businesses are thriving always inspire me to keep working like nothing else. It makes me feel like I'm a tiny part of their journey and that's the best fuel I know.

What people, books, music, etc. inspire you?

It may sound cliché but those who have inspired me the most throughout this journey are my parents. Since I was little, they impressed on me a strong set of values such as working as hard as I can and being independent. That's what has driven me to where I am now.

In terms of books, I would say ALL THE BOOKS. I am an avid reader and I try to read more and more diversely every day. I especially feel inspired by fantasy stories and South American literature.

Describe your favorite moment or accomplishment in your career so far.

When looking back to the evolution of my business, I think the most exciting moment I’ve experienced has been when I launched my own website, which was the first one I designed myself, including e-commerce functionality that gave me the ability to market my products and services independently from other marketplaces.

What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?

I'm currently planning a whole redesign for my website with a fresh look. I'm super pumped about it and looking forward to see the result!

In the Comments:

Have any questions for Cristina about selling services in an Etsy shop or getting started on Etsy? Ask them in the comments below!


About Cristina

Cristina Graphic Designer Selling on Etsy

Hi! My name is Cristina, I’m 26 years old and I am from and live in Spain. I am the designer behind Sombras Blancas Art & Design. I offer branding services for small businesses and startups at an affordable price, mostly logo and website design but also marketing graphics and custom illustrations.

Website // Etsy // Facebook // Instagram // Twitter // Pinterest

Comment

Danielle Zeigler

I'm Danielle, an SEO and Digital Marketing Strategist on a mission to help creatives and entrepreneurs harness their strengths, personality, and energy to easily + authentically market their work to exactly the people who need it.
I specialize in SEO and content marketing as ways to attract clients TO you. I'm extremely introverted, so I'm allll about the inbound marketing!

5 Easy Tips for Keeping Work-Life Balance

Lately I've been getting real and sharing how our imperfections and struggles can actually help people more. With that, I've opened up about burning out and needing to take more time for self-care.

While I don't believe a work-life balance exists in the way of a perfect 50/50, I DO believe in the ebbs and flows. I believe in pulling ourselves back to a home base and remaining self-aware.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. In fact, this is one of my favorite quotes:

"Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel." - Eleanor Brownn

Empty Vessel Quote Eleanor Brownn

And of course, my own motto is: When you feel your best, you'll do your best.

Today we have Per Wickstrom sharing his 5 favorite tips for work-life balance.

Per struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for decades. Thankfully he found help through a rehab program and began his path to recovery. He has a passion for helping others and went on to develop his own drug rehab program.

Per understands the power of helping one another. He's learned a great deal about the importance of self-care in business and entrepreneurship.

I appreciate and respect his journey, so I couldn't turn down the opportunity to have him share.

Please join the discussion and share your own self-care and balance tips in the comments!


5 Tips for Keeping Work-Life Balance

On the road to professional success, it can be easy to lose sight of your personal life. When work is your focus, seeing loved ones, pursuing hobbies, and taking time for yourself often fall to the wayside. But it’s important for your mental health and the well-being of your family to find a balance between work and home. Here are a few tips for maintaining a happy work-life balance:

1 | Meditate

Whether you do it in the morning when you wake up, or just before starting work to get you focused, set aside time to meditate each day. We’re so quick to move straight into the next activity that we rarely pause to appreciate the transitions throughout the day. Our minds should get to take a moment to relax and reboot!

2 | Focus your attention on one item at a time

You probably have a lot of different responsibilities to take care of on a daily basis, so it’s understandable that they might be on your mind. But if you can learn to focus completely on the task at hand, you’ll not only be happier, you’ll be more productive. Leave work at work and keep home off your mind as much as possible.

3 | Eliminate distractions

Emergencies can happen at any time, so it’s not fair to suggest you leave your phone completely out of reach while at work. You can, however, limit your vulnerability to false alarms and interruptions. If you work a desk job, for example, that might mean turning your personal phone on airplane mode while you finish working on a project. If you’re at home, it means turning off your phone and any alerts about work. Be in the present moment where you are.

If you work at a desk job or somewhere you can be on your phone, don’t sit on social media all day. Limit yourself to only work-related websites, and if you find yourself feeling tempted, there are even apps you can install on your browser that will block unproductive sites.

4 | Remind yourself of your motivations

You may tell yourself that it’s all for the family, but if you think you might be overworking, reexamine your motivation. Why are you working so much? If it’s to provide a better life for your family, make sure you’re not sacrificing vital time with them now. Sure, a third grade production of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” may seem like a little thing to miss if there’s a multi-million dollar deal on the table, but consider that you may be losing your family little thing by little thing.

5 | Celebrate holidays

Don’t skip the holidays. Sure, they’re a day that you could really get ahead. But it’s a free day off! Make the most of it! See your best friend, hang out with your kids, visit the local park, or even simply appreciate a few hours of extra sleep. You ever notice how holidays tend to come at times when you could really use a break? Embrace it.

Finding success in your professional life doesn’t have to mean giving up the rest of your values and hobbies. By finding the right balance, you can excel in any area and even use the different hats you wear to work in each others favor.


About Per

Per Wickstrom is the CEO ofBest Drug Rehabilitation Center. Founded on the principles of natural healing, BDR is one of the largest holistic rehabilitation centers in the country. He is a recovering addict and firm believer that everyone has the power to make healthy changes for themselves. To learn more, follow Per on Twitter and Facebook.

Getting REAL: 17 of My Not-So-Pretty Imperfect Boss Moments

A few weeks ago I received an email from a blogger friend. I was SO excited by the content of the email, but had no idea how huge and inspiring it was going to become. Ashley Beaudin asked me, along with a group of amazing online entrepreneurs, to participate in a three day event called #TheImperfectBoss Campaign.

She said, "I want to ask you (with my big wild heart) if you would join me in this project in an effort to revolt against this pressure of perfection and rise as women owning our unique calling. Because perfection is a myth we must break through."

Transparency and imperfection as a business owner are among my favorite topics.

As much as I love my career, it's not easy and it's nowhere near perfect. And you know what? We're ALL just figuring it out as we go.

That was a resounding theme in the responses to the campaign on Instagram. Along with fear, rejection, and mistakes.

Another one of my favorites was the honesty about what a real day-in-the-life can look like for a digital entrepreneur.

Some people get the idea that “working from home” means staying cozy in your PJs and working from bed. Which is TRUE…kinda…sometimes.

The reality for most of us is more like what Kelsey describes below. Things get so hectic your priorities change from getting dressed and sitting at your organized desk in a pristine office to launching right into work no matter what you’re wearing or where you are.

And I can’t write this post without including this theme: overcoming the stigma and challenges of mental health.

I urge you to change your mindset. Instead of believing you will help others “once you have it all together,” instead realize that
you will help more people when they see that you struggle but are doing it anyway.

While I planned to participate all three days, the reality was that I rushed to post something at 10pm the first day and then didn’t get around to doing any others. I did interact and learn a lot from everyone else, though.

Burn out is why I didn’t get around to the other days. Also, you’ll notice the bottom of this photo is cropped. I forgot “the” in the hashtag and couldn’t muster up the energy to retake the photo. hah!

Since there was such an amazing response, Ashley has made the campaign an ongoing thing. I’m pumped to be joining in when I can (and remember to) each Thursday.

For now, here are some of the real, imperfect boss moments that I hope help others realize that none of us live a polished-internet-ready life. I hope it inspires someone to realize that they can do it too, whatever “it” may be that they want.

17 of My Not-So-Pretty Imperfect Boss Moments:

  1. My big confession? I’ve had amazing results with clients when it comes to SEO, social media, blogging, etc. But my own content always falls to the back-burner. I have 200+ blog post drafts, my site doesn’t have the best SEO and I’m horrible at posting consistently on social media.
  2. It can take me 3 weeks to respond to emails.
  3. Client consultations on the phone still terrify me. If I schedule them late in the day it’s all I can focus on until it’s over.
  4. I would love for my Instagram account to be beautifully themed and color-coordinated, but at the same time, that restrictive rule gives me a bad feeling, and I struggle to abide by it.
  5. I commit to too many projects.
  6. I’m afraid of Reddit because criticism is hard, and I’ll obsess over the troll comments, despite knowing I shouldn’t.
  7. Sometimes I don’t leave my house for days at a time.
  8. …..or get dressed. Or remember to eat until 3pm.
  9. I completed 75% of an ebook but never finished it.
  10. I struggle to “close sales” on the phone. I need time to process the call and decide on the best plan of action for the project.
  11. I’ve never written a full business plan for my own business.
  12. On multiple occasions I’ve opened documents that were supposed to be notes from a client consultation…and the document was blank.
  13. If I have a video meeting, you might see me in a nice shirt and make-up, but you can bet that 90% of the time I still have yoga pants on. I really hate pants. The best part is, most of my clients know this and laugh about it.
  14. I have a $500 camera “for my business” that I hardly know how to use
  15. I still don’t know what to call myself for a business title or what to use for a tagline.
  16. The comparison trap is an ongoing struggle.
  17. I hold back on my own marketing because I’m afraid of becoming overwhelmed with work or having to live up to a higher expectation.

But without these long roads, mistakes and experimentation, I wouldn’t have learned as much. I wouldn’t have seen what it actually takes to create and run all of the working parts of a business.

I wouldn’t be able to teach and help from a place of experience.

7 Comments

Danielle Zeigler

I'm Danielle, an SEO and Digital Marketing Strategist on a mission to help creatives and entrepreneurs harness their strengths, personality, and energy to easily + authentically market their work to exactly the people who need it.
I specialize in SEO and content marketing as ways to attract clients TO you. I'm extremely introverted, so I'm allll about the inbound marketing!

Chasing Dreams Interview with Dana + Bridget, Founders of Crop Tops & Kale

This interview is part of the Chasing Dreams interview series. I’ve interviewed a variety of entrepreneurs and small business owners who have chosen a different path in life in order to go after his or her dream career. Have an entrepreneur in mind you’d like to learn more about? Let me know! Today’s interview is with Dana Barron and Bridget Shannon, founders of Crop Tops & Kale. CT&K helps women enhance their wellness, beauty and style in a simple, minimalist way. Their message and work are completely in-line with my values, and we hit it off right away during our first meeting.

Plus, both Bridget and Dana are graduates of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and Bridget was previously the social media director for IIN. I just love how they approach wellness and life in general from a minimalist, approachable perspective.

I had chills while reading this interview because you can feel the passion and dedication they have to their vision. They're both so honest about the fear and excitement of starting a blog and business that I promise you'll come away feeling inspired for your own path.

Let’s dig in! (and stay tuned, because you'll be hearing from them again on my blog in the future.)

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At what point did you know you wanted to follow this career path? How did you know this was the right direction?

It’s been an evolution. We've both always known the nine-to-five lifestyle wasn’t for us, but there wasn’t a single aha moment. It was the culmination of saying yes to ourselves and what we were interested in a thousand times as we went along. In shifting our own limiting beliefs as to what’s possible and committing to trusting ourselves and our intuition. The path really started to roll out when we got clear on what we actually wanted to do and not just what we thought we should be doing. Our initial concept has evolved over the past year, and we’ve pivoted a few times. Adopting a minimalist and essentialist mindset was key to gaining this clarity and direction.

There is so much noise. So much distraction, especially online. We can’t do everything—so what is it that we REALLY want to do? What is the impact we REALLY want to make? We just kept asking ourselves those questions.

What are the biggest struggles you've faced while trying to achieve your dreams?

The voices in my our own heads. A positive mental attitude is the number-one thing that decides what we can do and what we cannot do.

Dana: For me, that means staying out of my own way so I can stop doubting myself and just sit down and do the work that I know deep down is valuable. It’s a daily practice to stay on the right side of it.

Bridget: For me, this means deciding what is most essential in my life, and asking what it would take to achieve my dream (moving out of the city and leaving a comfortable job to do the work that matters most). Removing the ego from the equation has been huge.

Owning your own business can be tough on the body and mind, between long days, instability and really putting yourself out there to reach your goals. How do you stay healthy? Do you have any rituals that help you stay centered?

Dana: Sleep, abstaining from alcohol, and exercise. Sleep is number one. If I’m not sleeping well, everything goes to hell. And I actually quit drinking alcohol entirely for 90 days as a sleep and mood experiment. It’s incredible the positive impact it’s had. I'm sleeping like a champion now. And when I don’t drink at all—as opposed to a glass or two a few nights a week I was having—my mindset, which I mentioned above, is exponentially easier to control. And I’ve also been battling anxiety for most of my adult life, but when I cut alcohol out, it almost entirely evaporates. It’s mind-blowing. And exercise, specifically circuit training, helps me stay clear and energized. So nothing ground-breaking here but, getting good sleep, abstaining from the booze, and working out have been doing the trick for me. Oh, and I’ve recently been really into reading Mike Dooley and Gabby Bernstein as mental exercise—staying in my "trusting the Universe" mindset.

Bridget: I recently moved and am working rough hours, so staying healthy is a work in progress at the moment! But there are a few simple things that when overlooked can totally throw me off. Sleep and exercise are huge. When I’m sleeping seven or eight hours a night and working out regularly I have more clarity, energy and enthusiasm. Another big one for me is unplugging. Lately my tendency is to turn on the computer first thing in the morning, and I have a hard time checking out at night. When I leave zero time for disconnecting, it not only takes away from sleep and exercise, but can lead to more anxiety and frustration. I’ve learned how to say no to things I don’t want to do that may pull me out of balance. A few rituals that help are long walks with my dog, reading a good book at night and cooking healthy meals.

Speaking of putting yourself out there, overcoming rejection is a big part of chasing dreams. How do you bounce back?

Dana: One of the best ideas I’ve extracted from the hundreds of self-help and business books I’ve read is from Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. In it, Ruiz says, "Don’t take anything personally." I try to keep that in mind at all times.

Bridget: Trusting the process has been key for me and knowing that things have a way of working themselves out, regardless of what you expected or thought the outcome might look like. You have to put yourself out there if you’re going to be writing and working online, so learning to let go of other people’s opinions is important. Also, having a solid back-up plan and surrounding myself with people I love and trust has given me the confidence to go for my dream.

What do you do when you're having an off day—maybe feeling down, struggling with self-doubt, or just unmotivated?

Dana: I cry. I take a hot shower. I curl up in bed with a book. I talk it out with my husband. I find that when I’m struggling with self-doubt, the best plan is to just go do something else, take my mind off of it. And come back to the work when it’s passed.

And I always try to remind myself that just because I’m thinking something, doesn’t mean it’s true. twitter icon

Bridget: A friend once told me that when she was training for a marathon, she constantly repeated to herself “one foot in front of the other.” I apply this logic to anything I struggle with, from a long run to an awful day. I try to keep in mind that everything has an end point, so this day WILL be over and tomorrow I’ll feel a lot better. I allow myself to let it pass and tackle the next day with new energy.

What is one misconception people have about you and/or your profession?

Dana: That blogging is easy or that you just write posts and that’s all there is to it.

Bridget: Ditto.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Both: It’s so much easier (and more fun) when you have a partner who shares your mission!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a path similar to what you have?

Both: Just start. You’re not going to get it right the first time. Just get going. It will evolve. twitter icon 

And remember that it’s not about you, it’s about the value you’re creating for other people. That always helps us when we’re scared to ship something.   

When do you feel the most inspired, alive and the most like YOU?

Dana: Right after I’ve written something I’m really proud of or read something that really resonates.

Bridget: Helping someone. Whether that’s through writing, a conversation or an action. When I can do work I love and feel passionate AND it helps someone—that’s magic.

What people, books, music, etc. inspire you?

Lately Erin Boyle at Reading My Tea Leaves, Caroline at Un-Fancy, The Minimalists, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose by Gabby Bernstein, and Manifesting Change: It Couldn't Be Easier by Mike Dooley.

Describe your favorite moment or accomplishment in your career so far.

Dana: I ran a cleanse a few years ago. I had about 35 women enroll. One of them was a woman in her 60s living in Maine, a friend of my sorority sister’s aunt (I love when stuff like that happens!). When I spoke to her after the cleanse, she said her husband wanted to send me flowers. Because after doing the cleanse for just ten days, the chronic pain she’d been living in since her bout of Lyme Disease—a decade earlier—had totally vanished. She felt like she had her life back and her husband wanted to know who gave him his wife back. She cried. I cried. We all cried. I can’t remember ever feeling so professionally fulfilled. It reminded me that there is always SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE who needs what we have to offer the world. Our job is to do the work, put it out there, try to find them, and give them all we’ve got when we do.

Bridget: A big turning point in my journey was deciding to leave my full-time job to go after what I really want to do. There were a lot of factors involved and a ton of fear, and but I’m really proud of the decision because it was the first time I stood up and declared “This is what I want to do. I know it’s going to be hard and it’s risky, but it’s worth it to me.”

Another favorite moment was when we agreed on our partnership terms at a bar (after about three beers) on a cocktail napkin. Maybe not the most official process, but it meant we were both all in. I still have the napkin.

What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?

Dana: This project with Bridget. It’s basically all I think about these days. There’s so much good we can do and most of the time, it’s super fun. It’s so exciting to do the work and watch something grow.

Bridget: Starting this new chapter. I’ve never been more pumped about work and all the possibilities life has to offer. Change is scary, but it’s incredibly liberating and exciting.

About Crop Tops & Kale

Minimalist Health CoachesDana Barron and Bridget Shannon are the Co-Founders of Crop Tops & Kale, a website dedicated to living healthier and happier through the pursuit of less but better. After years of studying personal development, lots of trial & error, complicated diet protocols, and several wardrobe malfunctions, they've figured out a formula to live happier, more fulfilling lives. They write about simple wellness, safer beauty and minimalist style to help readers live their best lives and make the world a better place.

Website // Instagram // Pinterest

Top 5 Ways I Grew My Blog Traffic in 2015 (+ Quick Stats on My Growth)

It's January, which means I'm deep into reviewing stats for 2015 for clients and myself. I'm a huge believer in tracking everything you do in business and adjusting accordingly. It might sound like common sense, but many bloggers don't do this!

Quick Stats on My Blog From 2015 vs. 2014:

  • Overall Traffic: +108%
  • Pageviews: +130%
  • Bounce Rate: -6.4% (a good thing)
  • Social Traffic: +54%
  • Referral Traffic: +124%
  • Organic Search Traffic: +425% (I'd hope so, considering SEO is my specialty!)

Slowing Down to Transition + Find Clarity

If you've been following along this year, you may remember that I took a few months off from new clients, slowed down on blogging and accepted guest posts instead, and slowed down on social media.

I was going through a break up from a 7.5 year relationship and moving across the country, so naturally, things had to slow down. I gave myself time and room for the transition.

My reason for sharing that is to show that it's okay to not reach your goals.

In the end it gave me more clarity on the direction I want to take my business (and life in general, obviously).

It's okay to have slow business months - seasons - years. Success doesn't happen overnight. 

It wasn't what I had intended for this year, and I didn't reach all of my numbers-related goals, but overall everything worked out how it was supposed to.

And looking over my stats above, I guess my growth was actually pretty good.

Top 5 Ways I Grew My Blog Traffic in 2015

Pinterest

Referrals to my website from Pinterest grew 1,300%, from 1,000 in 2014 to 14,000 in 2015 (making up 61% of my social traffic this year). That number is not to be taken lightly!

The key here was improving some of my older images and trying to keep Pinterest in mind when creating new ones. Large, easy to read text is important.

I also started scheduling my pins to post in the evening when more people are on Pinterest. You can do this with a number of tools such as Buffer or Viral Woot (which were the two I used).

Stitch Fix was also a very specific reason I had so much Pinterest traffic. A few of my pins send decent traffic every day, but this one in particular has over 5350 repins.

Now, you might think posting my Stitch Fix reviews is unrelated to business, but I did get a client through a review. PLUS, I strongly believe in my client Ustyled's philosophy on the power of your presence and how you show up.

Twitter

Referrals to my website from Twitter grew 306%, from 920 in 2014 to 3,737 in 2015 (making up 16% of my social traffic this year).

I can attribute this partly to three things:

  1. Scheduling: I started scheduling at least 4 tweets per day at varying times. Some of these tweets are my own content and some are sharing content from others (and being sure to mention them with an @ when possible).
  2. Photos: I've read that including a picture with your tweet can increase engagement up to 180%. I definitely agree that it helped my click-through-rates during 2015. I had been using Hootsuite but switched to Buffer because the photos in Hootsuite would be attached as a link rather than the actual image showing up in the timeline. This may have been resolved by now, but I love Buffer and will stick with it.
  3. Twitter Chats: I love Twitter chats! I started with #ellechat earlier in the year and started branching out and attending at least one every other week. I haven't done many in the past few months, but am excited to get back into it. Chloe Social has a handy list of Twitter Chats, or click on Part 2 below to see a few of my favorites.

Not sure why or how to get started with Twitter? Check out my Beginners Guide to Twitter Part 1 and Part 2.

Link-Ups

One of my top referral traffic sources was Running with Spoons. Each Sunday she posts a Sunday Link Love similar to what I post, but she includes a link-up at the bottom where readers can add their posts.

Adding my link to her link-ups referred 1,514 people to my blog in 2015, which made up 12% of my referral traffic. I didn't post my link every Sunday because I often forgot or was trying to not work weekends, but I can see that it was worth it.

If you choose to try this method, make sure it's an appropriate match. Amanda's link up is great for me because her audience is mostly health and fitness bloggers, which makes up a large part of my target audience as well.

The posts I share with them have value, and I enjoy clicking through the other links because it's in my area of interest.

Buffer

As I mentioned above, I switched to Buffer this year. I mostly use it for Twitter, and my favorite feature is the analytics (naturally..I'm an analytics nerd).

Being able to sort tweets based on how well they performed has been a game changer for re-purposing content.

Not only does it make it easy to re-buffer them, but I also get an idea of what copy or language resonated best with my audience. It's an easy way to split-test headlines or blog post titles.

You can use Buffer for all of your main social channels excluding Instagram (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest). I had been using Viralwoot for Pinterest, so this made it much easier to have all my scheduling in one place.

Another aspect that helped my click-through-rates was setting up a pre-determined schedule so I can easily add content to my queues and they will post at my best times.

Search Engine Optimization

My organic search traffic grew 425% during 2015, which accounted for 12.6% of my total traffic. I consistently optimized each post and photo, as well as gained more back-links. Those are just a few of the on-page factors, but the longer you have your blog and consistently post quality, relevant content, the better your SEO will be overall.

If you'd like to improve your SEO for 2016, you can start by checking out my SEO Basics series.

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Danielle Zeigler

I'm Danielle, an SEO and Digital Marketing Strategist on a mission to help creatives and entrepreneurs harness their strengths, personality, and energy to easily + authentically market their work to exactly the people who need it.
I specialize in SEO and content marketing as ways to attract clients TO you. I'm extremely introverted, so I'm allll about the inbound marketing!

8 Powerful WordPress Security Tips

When you're running your own business and website, there are times when certain tasks get pushed further and further down the to-do list. I know one of those tasks for a lot of people is website security. You might find yourself saying things like, "I'll get this taken care of next week," or "I know I need to do this, but it can wait until tomorrow." Tomorrow turns into the next day. The next day turns into next week, and pretty soon it's months later, and you still haven't taken care of it. Our guest author today is Anna Bogushevskaya. She helps build and maintain websites, so part of her job is ensuring all of her clients understand and keep up with website security. Lucky for us, she's sharing 8 powerful tips for WordPress security. These are simple and quick things we can do right now. And on top of tighter website security, we'll have a greater peace of mind! Read on for her awesome tips.

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Several years ago, when I started building websites, I learned about WordPress security the hard way.

One morning, I switched my computer on, opened my site, and…Boom!

I saw a black screen
 with a brutal man carrying a couple of pistols, saying, “Your site has been hacked.”
 There was even some rock music playing in the background. Yes, the hackers went all out with background music and a graphic.

I wasn’t impressed.

The situation was terrible. The whole site was gone. I had no access to the dashboard, and moreover, I hadn’t backed anything up.

I looked for support from my hosting company, but they deleted all my databases and returned everything I had to zero because I was hacked.

“Amazing” support, right?

So I had some major damage control to work through. First, I had to rebuild the website from scratch. Second, I never wanted this to happen again, so I asked myself, “What should I do to avoid this situation in the future?”

I studied a lot of resources to get the answers, and after implementing the following tips, I haven’t had any more hacking experiences.

So, now I want to share some basic tips to keep your WordPress site secure. These 8 tips for WordPress security are quite simple. Anyone can follow them, even if you’re not technically savvy. Let’s go!

Change Your Default Admin Login Name

When you install WordPress, it uses “admin” as the default username for the administrator account. This admin username should be changed right away because most hackers know that WordPress suggests “admin” as the login name by default. Of course, hackers will try to gain access to your site by using this username. It’s the first thing hackers will try.

Here’s a great post that will walk you through changing your WordPress username if you didn’t do that when first installing.

Regularly Back Up Your Website

These days most people know the importance of backing up your site. But, just in case you haven’t thought about it yet or you haven’t taken steps to make it a regular task, I want to reiterate how important it is to never miss this task. Make sure your website and all databases are backing up to some external disk or the cloud, preferably once a week.

Many hosting companies suggest you back up services as well. But, at the very least, it’s always a good practice to back up your site and databases to external sources, like your computer, an external disk, or Dropbox.

There are some WordPress services that make this process very easy for you. Two of my favorites you can check out are VaultPress or BlogVault.

Another option is to install a backup plugin.

Here are a few great plugins I’ve tested.

1) BackupBuddy

This is a premium backup plugin for WordPress, and it’s the most popular. You can schedule your backup as a daily, weekly, or monthly task. You have the option to store the files in Dropbox, Amazon, FTP, or to email them to yourself.
 They have different payment options, as well, either a yearly subscription or a lifetime license.

2) UpdraftPlus Backup

This plugin allows you to create a complete backup of your site, as well as to store it on the cloud service or download it to your computer. This plugin is free, but it has a premium version with extra features.

3) WordPress Backup to Dropbox

This is a free plugin for WordPress that allows you to create a backup of your entire website and its database then upload it to your Dropbox account. Dropbox is also a free service, which gives you space to store files on their cloud server. Another great thing about this one is that by backing up everything to your Dropbox, you can access your files from any device. All you need is an internet connection.

The premium version of this plugin allows you to create scheduled backup tasks and get a backup status e-mail that reports copy, clone, or migrate websites.

With the free version, you’ll need to backup manually.

4) BackWPup

This free plugin is one of my favorites. I use it on almost all my websites and suggest it to my clients as well. With this plugin, you create a schedule, upload the files automatically, and store them on the cloud (Dropbox, Amazon S3), FTP, email them, or store them directly on your computer.

I like BackWPup because it’s extremely easy to set up and use.

8 Powerful Tips for WordPress Security | Danielle Zeigler

Keep Your WordPress Site Updated

Many people still think WordPress is not a secure CMS (Content Management System) because of its open source.
But the WordPress platform takes security seriously. Even some big media and government sites are using WordPress, so it’s a secure and stable platform, especially if we’re talking about a small business website.

The most important issue here is that you should keep WordPress and all plugins up to date. Because, normally, every update contains the most important security updates as well. When you see the notifications that an update is available, make time to keep everything current.

Use Strong Passwords

This is simple. Uppercases, numbers, special symbols, and long passwords work well. Never use your name, your spouse’s name, your date of birth, or any other personally identifiable number in your passwords. Make it harder for automatic tools to guess your password. The more random the better.

Use a Good and Reliable Hosting Company

I have a lot of personal experience with different hosting companies, both good and bad.
 For instance, the one I mentioned above, who deleted all my files from their account, was simply bad and not a helpful company.

Moreover, sometimes some bad hosting companies will even make your site “hacked,” and then instead of any support, they quickly suggest you use their partners’ services to clean your site from malicious code. 
Of course, this requires money and is usually not cheap!

Look for a hosting company that gives their attention to security.
 Choose hosting that:

  • Supports for the latest versions of PHP and MySQL
  • Is optimized for running WordPress
  • Has great customer support (so critical)
  • Has malware scanning built in

The best hosting companies I’ve ever dealt with are BlueHost and HostGator.

But when we’re talking about hosting, the most crucial thing I look for is how their support system works. I'll only work with a hosting company that cares about a lot of things for me. Even if I’m asking them something silly or something they’re not responsible for, I want to know that they'll help me out. Also, they must take their security system seriously.

I can’t stress this enough. Good hosting is big deal.

Make Sure You Use Correct File Permissions

Even though this is a bit on the technical side, it’s an important part of keeping your WordPress site secure.

Setting a directory with permissions of 777 could allow someone to upload or modify a file, which can ultimately cause a malicious attack. Here are a few quick and dirty tips.

  • All directories should be 755 or 750
  • All files should be 644 or 640
  • wp-config.php should be 600

For more details, check this WordPress guide about changing file permissions.

To get started, simply go to your File Manager from cPanel and check the codes there, just in case.

8 Powerful Tips for WordPress Security | Danielle Zeigler

Hide Your Login Page

This is one of my favorite things because it’s so simple but so very useful.

When you install WordPress, it gives you a default login URL for your admin dashboard. It’s either “/wp-admin/“ or “/wp-login.php.” Malicious parties know this, so they try to attack your login page. Moving your login page makes it difficult for hackers to perform a brute force attack.

Here are few good plugin solutions for this.

Hide Login+: This plugin allows you to create a custom URL for login, log out, sign up, and Admin pages.

Lockdown WP Admin: Another plugin that hides the WordPress admin.

Anything you can do to make a hacker’s task more difficult is a win for your security. They might just move on to a less secure site that will take less time and effort to get into.

A Few All-in-One Solutions

You may also want to consider an all-in-one security solution to protect your website.
 WordPress has a few good plugins that will take care of a lot of security issues for you.

If this interests you, check out iThemes Security or Wordfence Security.

Just remember to install plugins from reliable sources only. Preferably, they should be published on the Wordpress.org website.

Your website’s security is something you need to take seriously. If your site is hacked, there’s a high risk you’ll be blacklisted because your site will send spam (usually this is the main purpose of hacking your site). Even if your site is new, don't think it'll go unnoticed. Newest websites are even more likely to be hacked.

Start with these simple tips and you'll greatly reduce your risk of meeting a hacker's smile one day, like I did.

 

About Anna

Anna Bogushevskaya is a founder of "Digital Drive with Anna." She's a Digital Marketing Strategist with a focus on Search Engine Optimization. Anna helps bloggers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses to optimize their websites, get more free traffic, and achieve better positions in search results.

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1 Comment

Danielle Zeigler

I'm Danielle, an SEO and Digital Marketing Strategist on a mission to help creatives and entrepreneurs harness their strengths, personality, and energy to easily + authentically market their work to exactly the people who need it.
I specialize in SEO and content marketing as ways to attract clients TO you. I'm extremely introverted, so I'm allll about the inbound marketing!

8 Ways to Stay Focused + Stop Procrastinating (+ FREE Daily Planner)

Staying focused is one of the hardest parts of running your own business. Most days my mind is all over the place, from thinking of social posts for a client to redesigning my own website...to "why is my cat throwing up on everything I love?"

So while this is still a work-in-progress for me, I wanted to share what has worked in the past and what I'll be trying again.

PLUS I've designed a very simple daily planner worksheet for you to apply to your own business.

8 Ways to Stay Focused & Stop Procrastinating in Your Business

Use a Timer

If I find myself procrastinating on a specific project, I tell myself I only have to work on it for 10 minutes. Then I set a timer and get to work.

I either get into the groove and work on it longer, or get some work done in that 10 minutes and come back to it later. Most times it's the former. For some reason, just starting the task is the hardest part.

There are specific techniques you can use if you want to get fancy. I've tested the Pomodoro technique for time management after reading Holly's post on balancing work and blogging. But I've also used the basic E.ggtimer.

Batch Similar Tasks

You've probably heard by now that responding to email and checking social media all throughout the day is hurting your productivity.

I've heard this a million times and am still guilty of doing both, but when I DO batch similar tasks together, I get more done.

Think about everything you have to do in a given week, or even just a day, and separate the tasks into similar groups. Designate a few specific times throughout the day where you'll respond to emails, check your phone, and check social media.

If you're a health coach or life coach, lump all of your coaching sessions for the day together, if possible.

Establish a Routine

This is actually one of the hardest ones for me. I have some kind of natural inclination to hate routines, but yet I know how effective they are.

Establishing a routine helps your body and mind get into a groove. It also helps you focus on the task at hand because your day is already planned out.

Make sure to include regular self-care and exercise into your routine. If you make it a habit, you'll see better results overall.

I started writing a paragraph with "My loose routine includes..." but it just made me realize how bad of a job I'm doing lately. The past few weeks I wake up anywhere from 6-8am, get coffee, write for an hour or so if I don't get sidetracked by an email, look at my phone approximately 578 times, dig into client work for about 6 hours, then either drive an hour to Crossfit or continue working until I realize it's 9pm. Somewhere in there I remember to eat. SO, you can see I have a lot to work on myself! I've gone through periods of great discipline and focus, but we all go through these days/weeks/seasons. I promise you.

Keep Your Blood Flowing

Exercise is so important to staying focused. It keeps blood flowing and releases neurotrasmitters that help increase cognitive function.

Schedule in breaks to stretch throughout the day, as well as trying to establish a workout routine. This doesn't mean you have to do the same workout every day, or commit yourself to a specific program like I did. Just setting up any exercise routine will help.

It could be a long walk around your neighborhood or trying different classes at your local gym. Whatever keeps you interested and keeps your blood pumping.

Remove Distractions

Sometimes blocking out time for tasks isn't enough. You may need to close all open browser tabs, remove your cell phone from your office or install an app that blocks social media channels.

There was a point when I was experimenting with the Pomodoro technique mentioned above, but I still had my phone in my office. While the timer was running I didn't check my phone, but hearing it buzz or light up was still distracting and caused a lot of anxiety knowing I had to wait to look at it. When I completely removed it from sight, it was much easier to forget about.

Read Less

While I recommend reading and engaging with other bloggers, sometimes it can be distracting from doing your actual work.

Try limiting the number of blogs you read per week or limiting the amount of time you spend reading them. For example, set aside 30 minutes every morning to scroll through your RSS feed and only click on the posts that grab your attention the most. Then mark all as read and move on with your day.

It's true that I get a lot of ideas from reading other blog posts but some of that time would be better spent implementing the things I learned or ideas that were sparked. Most of us spend so much time consuming information and too little time implementing our ideas.

Prioritize Your Tasks

“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” -Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Get organized in the morning (or the night before). Plan out what you need to do that day.

One of my favorite questions is, "What 3 things can I do today that will have the biggest impact on my overall goals?"

Then I also do a brain dump of all my other ideas so I don't lose them. Having everything visually laid out helps me prioritize and gives me more time to think about the smaller ideas. They're still written down, but I have more time to process how much impact they'll really have. Don't just use the brain dump area when you're planning; use it throughout the day as you accomplish your listed tasks, then re-address the ideas later.

One thing I cannot recommend enough is to do the hardest or "worst" task first thing in the morning so it's not zapping your energy and hanging over your head all day.

Below you'll find a simple daily planner I've designed to help you stay organized in the easiest way possible.

Reflect

Lastly, pause and think about why you're procrastinating on that particular task. If it's taking up too much time (even just mental energy to avoid it), it might be time to outsource it or eliminate it completely.

Is there a deeper reason you're avoiding it? Does your gut tell you it's not the right thing to do? I love this post on how procrastination can be productive.


Ready to stay focused + procrastinate less? Download this super-simple daily planning worksheet to get started today.

 
 
3 Comments

Danielle Zeigler

I'm Danielle, an SEO and Digital Marketing Strategist on a mission to help creatives and entrepreneurs harness their strengths, personality, and energy to easily + authentically market their work to exactly the people who need it.
I specialize in SEO and content marketing as ways to attract clients TO you. I'm extremely introverted, so I'm allll about the inbound marketing!