Friday, August 31, 2012

Classic Knit Beanies

I've been knitting up a storm this week and have been focusing on building up my inventory in the main colors that always seem to be popular. It seems that no matter what the style is, these classic colors are always well liked!

Army Green: Available on Etsy

Basic Black: Available on Etsy

Gray Heather: Available on Etsy

Plum Purple: Available on Etsy
Dark Country Blue: Available on Etsy

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Helping your blog posts be found by Google

A common refrain I hear around the blogging world is, "How do I get more followers?" And while there are many ways to attract new readers, let's consider delving into the murky waters of SEO to answer this question today. Let's assume for a second that you hope to gain readership to your blog. Even if you don't want tens of thousands of readers, you probably like the idea of preaching to more than just your cat. And while I'll be the first to admit that I know far less about this topic than I should -- in fact, I'm not even entirely convinced that SEO is a real thing -- I will try to pass along a few little tricks here that seem to work just fine for me.


First things first. Pick a title that gives a little hint as to what you're writing about. This not only jogs your memory in the future when you're sifting through your archives, but it allows your blog posts to be more searchable on Google. (And unless you're blocking them, yes, your posts are searchable by Google.)

Your title should grab attention, pull someone in, and most importantly... be searchable by someone who might be interested in your topic.

I used to try to be artistic and title my posts along the lines of: "Preaching to More Than Just Your Cat" --- which tells you exactly what I'm writing about, right? Sure it's cute and pulls a line from my blog post, but it absolutely doesn't inform anyone what I'm writing about.

The cool thing about blog posts that you have to remember is that they can continue bringing in traffic to your blog long after you write them... if they're titled in a way that attracts interest to your topic. "Helping your blog posts be found by Google" is a title much more suited to being clicked on today, tomorrow, and five years from now.


Did you know your images are searchable? No? But I mean, it makes sense right? Where do you think the Google Image Search gets it's images?

So... it stands to reason then... that if you name your image files someone searchable before you upload them, you're utilizing another great form of Google search to bring traffic to your blog. Instead of naming a photo: kjo2340978023462l.jpg, name it apple-sitting-on-a-desk.jpg instead. Much more searchable.


And with that... I am at the end of my SEO knowledge. That, and along with my sleepiness and my forgetting to write this post ahead of time, mean a super short post for you today! I think the main thing to remember on this topic is to think of how you would search for your article if you hadn't written it. What is the main point? What question do you want to have answered by this post? What draws you in to wanting to read it? Use those answers to title your post and your images, throw in a few relevant tags, and call it a day.

Even though we're nearing the end of this series, it's still as good a time as any to catch up on the previous topics!

Week 1: Making a More Efficient Blog Layout
Week 2: How to Set up an RSS Feed
Week 3: Taking Better Blog Photos
Week 4: HTML Basics
Week 5: Interacting with Your Followers
Week 6: Making Friends with Other Bloggers
Week 7: Giveaways, Guest Posts, and Promotions
Week 8: Building a Grab-able Blog Button
Week 9: Sponsors & Swapping. Where to start?

Come back next week when we'll be talking about we'll talk about writing interesting and engaging blog posts. And if you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you know when the next edition of the blog series is ready!

Grab a button and spread the word!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back to the Drawing Board... Re-making Some Designs

Today I've got a few more designs to show you. These first two have been hanging out in my MacBook, half-finished for months now. They kept saying to me, "Finish me! Finish me!" so I finally listened. I think sometimes letting a design rest helps them to solidify a little better when you finally do finish them. It still blows my mind that so much of the design process is letting the idea marinate in your head. Your subconscious is more creative than you might think!

Available on Etsy: $12

Available on Etsy: $12

I've also been re-making some of my older designs. Do you ever just look at a design and go, "What was I thinking??" I suppose it's only natural that my design eye would mature the more I learn. It's kind of funny though, to look back and see where I was a few months ago and where I am now. As you can probably tell, I'm currently leaning towards the clean and minimal look these days.


Available on Etsy: $12


Available on Etsy: $12


Available on Etsy: $12


Available on Etsy: $12


Available on Etsy: $12

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A peak into what I'm working on lately.

I've been working on some Fall/Halloween/Christmas banners lately for my shop. Believe it or not, people are buying Halloween shop banners already! Here's one of my favorite new fall banners - not quite the typical colors, but I love the rainy day vibe it has.

Available on Etsy: $12

Also I got my 2nd official blog design client this past week! You'll have to wait until it's finished to see the whole thing, but here's a little sneak peak to tide you over.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Just a little housekeeping...

In case you hadn't noticed (and you probably haven't), I recently closed down my other design blog. I realize it's only been open about a month, but I got to thinking... why am I starting a new blog when I barely have time to promote this one? Lol. I initially thought maybe my readers (you!) wouldn't like me promoting my designs... which is why I split things up. But the more I thought about it, the more I was like, "Wait a minute. People most likely know I'm a graphic designer before they subscribe, so... why would it be weird for me to talk about it?" Duh.

I think sometimes because graphic design is a relatively new passion of mine, it feels a little weird to be excited about it. But I am. So... it's going to stay on this blog. Hopefully that's okay. I'll try not to sound like a used-car-salesman about it! I just get so excited when I discover a new way to design something, etc. Hopefully these sorts of things excite you too!

Anyway... so because of that, I pulled the half-dozen to a dozen posts that I had over there already and will be posting those here spread out over the next couple weeks. If you were one of the 4 people who were subscribing over there, I apologize for the duplication. For the rest of you... enjoy!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Minimalistic Etsy Banners

I've been noticing trends in design lately towards a more minimalistic, clean style, and I had some designs in the back of my shop that really needed updating, so... I cleaned them up and revamped them a little. Wow! They look so much better! I forgot to save some of the old versions, but believe me, these have a much cleaner, refined feel than before, which I think makes them much stronger designs overall. Just goes to show, when it doubt... re-design!

Available on Etsy

Available on Etsy

Available on Etsy

Friday, August 24, 2012

6 Tips to Help Your Creative Business Bloom

Hi everyone! I'm Jen from Red Parka Diaries. I'm a blogger and illustrator from Tasmania, Australia, and have been self-employed now for almost four years. My business, Red Parka Designs, has gone from a little side project to my main source of income during that time but it has not been easy, I assure you! I thought I'd write a few points here about what I've learned along the way that might help anyone else out there who has started, or wants to start, their own creative business.

1. Start Now!

Many people think they need to wait for the right time to start their own business. That they need to have saved lots of money, or have investments, or have a huge amount of qualifications and expertise. WRONG. You can start right now! And you should. Because the very best lessons in life (and business) are the ones you learn while doing things, not thinking or reading about them. Even if you have a full time job and a family to manage, there's always someway you can start. Perhaps you could dedicate two lunch breaks a week to mapping out your business in a local cafe. You could find an hour after everyone has gone to bed to make some products. Or perhaps you could get up earlier than everyone else a couple of days a week. Basically, all I'm saying is if you want to do it, then find a way, no matter how small. You'll never get there without starting first! I dreamed about my business for ages before I actually started. Take my advice and start NOW!

2. Believe anything is possible

People say things like "I wish I could work for myself", "I wish I could do what you do" or "I'd love to be self-employed" all the time. And I usually answer that you can! It's not easy, it's not glamourous and it's not all sleeping in and drawing in cafes all day (despite what people think!) but it is something anyone can do. The biggest thing holding people back in my experience is believing it's impossible, that it's a fantasy to think you can earn a living whilst doing what you love. But if you want to succeed you must believe! If you don't believe in your own ideas why should anyone else?

3. Work hard

I know this sounds obvious, but if you want success you have to work for it. It doesn't matter how brilliant you are at photography, or designing websites, or making soap, you still need to work ridiculously hard, at least at first, for your business to work. If you have an amazing service or product, that's fabulous, but you won't have a business until people start paying you for it. And that's the hard bit. Although, if you enjoy what you do and you're passionate about it, it won't always seem like work! Sure, there's always going to be boring bits (bookkeeping - the bane of my life!) but although I work 10 - 12 hour days, 6 -7 days a week sometimes, it's not hard because I LOVE what I do. Even if you're not in a position to dedicate yourself to your business full time like me, you can still make the most of whatever you do have. And if you really believe in what you're doing, you'll find time, even if it means sacrificing something else (your nightly TV fix or your Sunday morning sleep ins).

4. Write an elevator pitch

If you're new to this concept, an elevator pitch is basically how you answer the question "so what do you do" in less than a minute. It's important because you meet people all the time and have less than a minute to make an impression. This one took me forever to do. For ages I would answer with something like, "well, I draw things and, um, write a blog and (look down and shuffle feet) sometimes go to the market to sell things and... you know...". No. I don't think they did. They certainly didn't know I am a freelance designer and children's illustrator with my own stationary line, or that I write for a community of artists about living creatively. My advice to you is work out your elevator pitch so you are prepared when you next get asked that question. And don't undersell yourself! Without showing off, of course, you want people to be impressed and interested. Then they might ask you for more information or your business card, instead of politely saying, 'that's nice' as you watch another potential opportunity go by.

5. Talk to your customers

They know what they like. And if they like it, there will be plenty more who like it as well. Even if you only have three customers, talk to them, value them, and ask them which product they like best and why. Ask them how they found you. Your customers are your best source of information regarding what works and what doesn't. Don't be shy. Get to know them. Not only are they a great source of knowledge for you, they are also your best marketing technique as nothing beats positive word-of-mouth advertising.

6. Find your tribe

The internet allows us to connect in so many ways now - it's truly wonderful! One of the best things you can do for your business is build a community of like-minded people around you. This is not the time to think about your competitors, but rather to think of them as your team.... you are all in this together and can help each other grow and achieve greater success. For example, I follow a couple of hundred illustrators from all around the world on Twitter and it's fabulous! We check out each other's work, share tips and advice, help promote each other. Don't make the mistake of thinking you need to stand alone - we are stronger together! Get online and find your tribe! You can start with me - I'd love to meet you!

I hope this was helpful and inspired you to keep on following that dream! I write a lot more about such things over at Red Parka Diaries and I'd love to join your tribe! You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Etsy - let's help each other along the road to creative business success and a happy fulfilling life! Jen x

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sponsors & Swapping. Where to start?

Ahh... sponsorship. Such a confusing, controversial, wildly popular discussion topic among bloggers. There are those who only swap, those who only take paid sponsors, those who refuse to do either. Then of course there's the issue of what to do with your sponsors once you've got them... do you let them guest post? do giveaways? introduce themselves via a "Meet the Sponsor!" post?

I've run across these and so many other questions about this topic as I float around the blogosphere, so I will try to answer a bunch of them this week as part of our Build Your Blog! summer series!

Q: Shouldn't blog sponsorship be free?

It depends. If you're a small blog (let's say, for the sake of argument, that that means under 100 readers), then yes, it should be free. But remember that sponsorship is basically a fancy way of saying advertising. Think of it like an ad in a newspaper. The cost of an ad is based on the size of the ad purchased, as well as how many eyeballs will see it. You'd pay more to get an ad in the New York Times, for example. than you would for an ad in Small Town America Post (a made-up name).

If you feel, for your blog, that you'd rather not charge people for sponsorship, that's up to you. No one says you have to take sponsors. But please try not to look down on others who choose to recognize that the traffic on their blog has monetary value... because it does... and there's nothing wrong with harnessing that traffic and making a little passive income. That's actually Google's entire income model, so never discount the power of ad revenue.

Q: Okay then, what should it cost then?

Well, I read somewhere once that there's actually a standard formula for advertising that generally all the major blogs/newspapers use. Some charge a little more or a little less, but they generally all follow this guideline. Amazingly enough, this formula works no matter how small your blog is - that's the power of math!

For a button of 125x125 pixels, the average cost is around 1 CPM x $1.50. For double the space (250x125), you'd charge 2 CPM x $1.50.

Q: What's a CPM?

Good question! CPM means Cost Per Mille (Mille is Latin for 1,000). One CPM is equal to your monthly page views divided by 1000. If you have 1000 page views per month, your CPM is 1. If you have 10,000 page views per month, your CPM is 10. Basically the more traffic you are able to maintain on a monthly basis, the more valuable your ad space.

So if your blog averages 10,000 pageviews per month (or 10 CPM), here's how you'd calculate your ad space based on this formula:

For a 125x125 ad: 1 x 10 x $1.50 = $15.00
For a 250x125 ad: 2 x 10 x $1.50 = $30.00

You can always use a 50 cents per CPM or $2.00 per CPM rule. Whatever you think seems fair for your niche. Just realize that as you grow, so should your prices. And keep in mind that I'm not suggesting you charge directly per page impression, but use this more as a general monthly estimate for you to use when figuring out your ad prices for the following month. (I wouldn't suggest changing your prices more than once a month, but conversely, don't be afraid to change your prices as your traffic increases either).

Q: What if I just want to swap? How do I do that?

Swapping is an excellent option! It's great for growing your blog, getting to know other bloggers, introducing yourself to new readers, and introducing your readers to new blogs.

So... basically the easiest way I know how to do this is by using Passionfruit Ads. It's completely free if you want to just swap ads. They charge $1.00 per ad otherwise, as well as handle the credit card processing fee (2.9%). After those charges are taken out, you get paid once a week with whatever is left over (which can be quite a bit sometimes!).

All this to say... if you're merely swapping, I'd still sign up for Passionfruit. It makes it EXTREMELY EASY for potential sponsors/swappers to submit their buttons to you, and you won't have to worry about remembering to post their button on your blog &/or bugging them to email you their button in the first place. You enter one code on your blog where your ads will live and then forever after when people submit their button, it automatically places it in there for you. You always have the option to approve/disapprove a button before it goes live, so there are no surprises.

The how's of setting up an account and adding it to your blog are very well explained on the Passionfruit 101 blog, so I won't rehash it here.

Q: That all sounds great, but... where do I find people who will want to swap with me?

Ooh good question! In a nutshell, just be friendly and approachable and you'll soon have people asking you for ad/swap space. Meanwhile, don't be afraid to reach out to your favorite bloggers and ask if they want to swap with you.

Believe it or not, a lot of my sponsors/swappers have been readers first. I also have some asking about it over on Better Blogger Network, which is a free blogging forum. Sometimes I just browse through the Passionfruit Ads Directory and approach another blogger with a swap option (a lot of blogs use their cheapest ad space for swapping). Another way is by clicking on the sponsor ads on someone else's blogs and reading those blog's sponsor pages. Chances are, if they're swapping on one blog, they probably offer swaps of their own.

Q: Sponsor page? What's that?

A sponsor page is basically where you ask for money. Lol. Well, kind of...

I like to put a little bit about my blogging philosophy on this page: what I'm about, what I blog about, etc. I also put the Passionfruit Ads shop here (which is some code you get when you set up your ads through them). This way everything a potential sponsor will need is all right there in one place.

A lot of bloggers also put their CPM information here as well (although they don't usually word it that way). Just list your monthly average page views (make sure to update this number every month!), average number of subscribers, Twitter followers, etc. A potential sponsor wants to know that you are generating enough traffic to make it worth them paying you for ad space.

Q: You're starting to sound like a Passionfruit Ads commercial. Is it really necessary to use them for ads?

No, of course not. But as someone who has blogged for a long time on many different platforms, I can assure you that trying to organize 20+ sponsors a month (as well as be organized by 20+ other blog owners for whom you are sponsoring) gets chaotic and irritating very quickly. You're welcome to try doing this all manually, but I've found using an ads organizer like Passionfruit saves me hours upon hours of work every month. ;)

Q: All right, so now that I've got sponsors &/or swappers, what next?

So as the runner of your own newspaper, so to speak, it's your job to get your sponsors/advertisers noticed. There are so many different ways I've seen this done, with mixed results. As I spoke about a couple weeks ago, sometimes overly promoting things/people/blogs can backfire because readers get annoyed at constantly having their regularly scheduled programming interrupted.

You might try organizing a monthly giveaway (please no more often than this!) or allow a few guest posts, but any more than that and I find that readers really start tuning out. They probably won't tell you they're annoyed by these things, but they'll stop commenting, stop reading, and eventually stop subscribing. Even "Meet the Sponsor!" posts get old very quickly, to the point that I, and many readers that I've talked to, just skip over them. The kicker is... these types of promotions are so time-consuming that you really don't want to do all that work if it's just getting skipped over.

Honestly, I think the best possible way to promote your sponsors is to just continue driving traffic to your site. Which means... writing good quality blog posts! The more eyeballs you get on your page, the more likely someone's going to see that ad button and click on it.

Q: You have me so excited to try this! How can I swap or sponsor with you?

To be honest, with the new school year quickly approaching, I've decided to put swapping on hold indefinitely. For some reason swapping always ends up being way more work than taking sponsors. I'm not sure why. You are welcome to sponsor me though, or click through on any of my sponsors (see the upper right of my blog) to sponsor them --> a lot of them have ad options available that are free or very affordable!

Q: Great! Any other word of advice you have on this topic?

Actually yes! Be really careful that you never require a follow from a sponsor, reader, etc. There's mixed opinions on whether you should require a follow from someone to enter a giveaway on your blog, but other than that I can't think of an appropriate time to ever brow-beat someone into following you. Chances are, if you treat your sponsors, readers, and everyone else you meet, with respect, they're going to want to follow you. And even if they don't, maybe you don't write about something they're interested in, maybe they already follow 10,000 other blogs, or maybe they just don't want to. Don't take it personally and don't hunt them down and demand that they follow you (don't laugh... this actually happens).

Sponsoring and swapping is a great way to meet other bloggers, but always remember that these other bloggers have a life. Be polite, be professional, and treat them as if you are not the center of their universe, because you probably aren't.

Even though we're nearing the end of this series, it's still as good a time as any to catch up on the previous topics!

Week 1: Making a More Efficient Blog Layout
Week 2: How to Set up an RSS Feed
Week 3: Taking Better Blog Photos
Week 4: HTML Basics
Week 5: Interacting with Your Followers
Week 6: Making Friends with Other Bloggers
Week 7: Giveaways, Guest Posts, and Promotions
Week 8: Building a Grab-able Blog Button

Come back next week when we'll be talking about we'll talk about "Google-ifying" your blog posts. And if you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you know when the next edition of the blog series is ready!

Grab a button and spread the word!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rules of a Creator's Life

I ran across this in my blog reader today and just love it! It's such great advice and so true. Being creative on a daily basis is so different than pushing out daily work at an office job. It's more about how and why you live and breathe, rather than putting the wheel to the grindstone.

{via Creative Something}

Monday, August 20, 2012

In God's Timing...

The other day my cat really, really, REALLY wanted to go outside, but it was 100+ degrees and I knew she would just end up miserable and dehydrated if she went out. I kept telling her, in the sweetest voice possible, "No. You really don't want to go outside. You just don't know that you don't want to." She didn't believe me.

But it struck me that God does this with us a lot of times. We really, really, REALLY want something and He keeps saying no... or not right now... yet we pout and grumble and act like a two-year-old denied of candy in a grocery store. Could it be... that God knows it's over 100 degrees out there and we really wouldn't want to go out if we could see the big picture? Very possibly.

This post isn't really about anything in particular in my life right now - actually I've been feeling very blessed by God lately - but I really wanted to write down this revelation before I forgot it. I'm sure I'll ask God for something harmful at some point in the future, and He'll tell me no... so hopefully I'll remember this lesson then. We tend to be pretty short-sighted as humans, especially when we really, really, REALLY want something!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Kiss of Sun...

This afternoon I did something I rarely, if ever, do... I lay outside in the sun. I know what you're thinking... "You never lay out in the sun?" Actually... no. I'm a fair-skinned red-head who tends to overheat really quickly. The sun has never been my friend.

In the spirit of living French though, I had taken my laptop outside earlier to read blogs in the fresh air. I was sitting in the shade and had my toes in the sun, but it made me realize how much I was missing by sitting inside all day every day while the wonderful outside was there, ready to be enjoyed! Birds were singing, a breeze was playing with my hair... I'd completely forgotten the simple pleasure of sitting on a deck outside.

Of course soon the beckoning of the sun on my toes was too much to ignore, so I went and found a sunhat and some sunscreen (redheads can never be too careful!). I laid out for about five minutes. Soooooooo delightful! I have never really understood the appeal laying out has for some people. Sun, to me, has always equaled burnt skin and dehydration. This was something new and different though... warmth, life, softness, peace. It's amazing what a little sun can do for a person's mood! I'm definitely a fan now (in small doses, of course).

Book Review: French Women Don't Get Fat

I highly recommend this book, French Women Don't Get Fat. French women eat very differently than American women do, generally speaking. Meaning that they lay out a plate that looks good... they choose the freshest produce that tastes and smells good... they eat slowly and savor every bite... which they pair with the finest wines. Eating is something they set out to enjoy... experience... celebrate.

When was the last time you (or any typical American, for that matter) enjoyed, experienced, or celebrated your food? Thanksgiving, maybe? Definitely not every day. That would be too fattening. Wouldn't it?

Maybe not.

She says French women know the importance of drinking water, eating fresh, and enjoying life. They also know a "secret" that we Americans would almost call sacrilegious... less is more (as in... just because that first bite or two of chocolate cake was divine, that doesn't mean you should eat the whole thing).

Drinking Water

French women (and men, too, I'm sure) drink one glass of water when they first wake up, one before they go to bed, and generally a half hour before every meal (not during). She says American woman are typically very dehydrated, which is one reason why we feel hungry all the time (despite eating more than the typical Earth-dweller).

So I tried it this morning. When I first woke up... my mouth was parched... which is normal for me. Normally I don't think too much of it... I drink my cup or two of coffee and go on my merry way... often not drinking water until mid-afternoon. Today I drank a full glass straight off before I ate or drank anything else. I drank it slowly, straight from the tap (French women don't drink chilled water because it's more of a shock to the system). I let the water works it's magic... rehydrate me... and believe it or not, it was actually very delightful. Sensual, even...

Eating Fresh

French women cook fresh and in season. This seems completely smart and obvious to do... but how many of us still eat as much processed junk as we can get our hands on? I know I do. I do it without thinking. Despite my knowing better, I still treat fruits and vegetables like a sometimes food.

By buying better ingredients (as in... fresh... from the farm... purchased & used w/in a day of falling off the tree), you are actually getting a much more nutrient-dense and flavor-filled meal... which both indulges your senses and also gives you much healthier fuel for your day.

Going hand in hand with this principle... French women eat many small portions instead of one large portion. She says this is another reason American women rarely feel satisfied with a meal... it's hard to feel satisfied when our tastebuds are bored and we're eating only one or two main food groups every day.

So... this morning... after my water, I made half a cup (yes... half) of coffee (topped with a splash of soy milk), half the serving size of oatmeal that I normally make myself (which... if we're being completely honest... is usually about 2 or 3 servings worth). I topped the oatmeal with a small handful each of raisins, blueberries, and walnuts... and another dash of soy milk (which I realized upon reading the label is full of sugar... might not be as healthy as I'd been thinking it was). Then I took another small bowl and put about 3-4 TB of unsweetened applesauce in it (which is technically one portion size, but again... much less than what I would normally eat... when I eat it at all, which is rare... normally for breakfast I just gorge on way too much oatmeal).

To my amazement... I felt very satiated... not too full... definitely not too hungry. I felt content and happy... feelings I generally never associate with breakfast.

Enjoying Life

As I was reading this book and all it's healthy suggestions, I started drill-sergeant-ing myself... I'm sure you do this too. "Jennifer! From now on! That's it! You're going to walk! Every day! Twice a day even! You're going to be healthy!"

The more I read though, the more it hit me just how American I was approaching all of this. She says that French women do something active at least three times a week... but it's different things throughout the week. It's something that they enjoy and have fun at... they don't just force their way through because they've made a resolution to. We Americans tend to make exercise a chore on our to-do list, right alongside cleaning the toilet and doing dishes.

The more I thought about it, the more the French approach made sense... for exercise and for lots of other things. I mean, how many times have I just done something because I always do it? Or don't do something just because I never get around it? I spend hours on the internet every day... but I "keep meaning to" go visit an art museum. I'm not saying we should all become hedonists... but I'm beginning to wonder if zoning out on mindless things to the extent that we forget to indulge our senses on a regular basis is part of what's making us Americans fat, lazy, and depressed. It's very possible. (That... and all the processed sugar and fat we're consuming...)

I'm very intrigued to finish this book and continue implementing her suggestions. It's a very personalized approach to re-training your brain about food, exercise, and life in general. Definitely not your typical diet book.

Have any of you read French Women Don't Get Fat? What did you think?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building a "Grab-able" Blog Button

So... of course the day I had planned to show you guys the ins and outs of designing a grab-able blog button, my secret weapon site (Photobucket) goes down (at least for me... maybe it's up for you?). I was wanting to do a little video for you guys, but since I can't show you part of the process now... I'll just try to explain it.

First things first

Of course, first you need to make a button. Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop are awesome choices, if you have access to those softwares. Of course there are some other free options for creating graphics, as well.

  1. Skitch (Mac only)
  2. Gimp
  3. PicMonkey
  4. Picasa

My personal favorite of these free options is Skitch - I actually use it quite a bit for resizing/cropping photos (although that's not really the topic we're on today). It's also really good at drawing arrows on and writing on photos. If you've noticed in some of my tutorial posts, I tend to use those features to point out things.


Open up your software of choice and create a new document in the size button you're wanting. There's not really a standard sized button, but a couple common ones that I see are 200x200 pixels and 200x100 pixels, so that's probably a good place to start. If you are swapping buttons with another blogger, they may have other dimension sizes that they'll want you to comply with.

Creating the button

Once you have your new document open, add a photo, illustration, text, or whatever you feel best represents you and your blog (or shop, or whatever you're trying to advertise with this button). Keep in mind that simpler is better... don't use more than one or two fonts... keep it to one or two colors if you can... don't overthink the design too much because you only have a small amount of space to work with.

A rule of thumb, if you're adding text, is that a dark text on a light background is the easiest and clearest to read, especially at such a small size. Light text on a dark background is probably the next easiest combination to read. Try to steer clear of yellow on green or purple on blue. When colors are too close to each other, it makes it that much harder on the eyes to read quickly and efficiently.

Adding the code

So here's the step where you need to upload to Photobucket (or wherever you store random photos for use online). Photobucket will give you a URL for the photo - copy that and head over to your blog.

Here is a sample of code for one of my buttons:

<div align="”center”">
<a href="" target="”_blank”"><img src="" /></a></div>
<div align="”center”">
<textarea cols="”19″" readonly="”readonly”" rows="”6″">&lt;a href="" target="”_blank”"&gt;&lt;img src=""/&gt;&lt;/a&gt;</textarea></form>

Basically there are two parts to it: the image part (linking to the image that is living on Photobucket) and the box part (that your readers can click on to "grab" the button). You need to enter the URL for the image in both of these sections, and also the URL to where you want to the button to take people to in both of these sections (most likely, this would be your blog's URL).

So let's break it down... the image part of the code:

<div align="”center”">
<a href="YOURWEBSITEHERE" target="”_blank”"><img src="YOURIMAGEHERE" /></a></div>

And the box part of the code:

<div align="”center”">
<textarea cols="”19″" readonly="”readonly”" rows="”6″">&lt;a href="YOURWEBSITEHERE" target="”_blank”"&gt;&lt;img src="YOURIMAGEHERE"/&gt;&lt;/a&gt;</textarea></form>

Here it is all together, if you want to copy/past it into your website. Just replace the capitalized part with the appropriate URLs.

<div align="”center”">
<a href="YOURWEBSITEHERE" target="”_blank”"><img src="YOURIMAGEHERE" /></a></div>
<div align="”center”">
<textarea cols="”19″" readonly="”readonly”" rows="”6″">&lt;a href="YOURWEBSITEHERE" target="”_blank”"&gt;&lt;img src="YOURIMAGEHERE"/&gt;&lt;/a&gt;</textarea></form>

And now I will (attempt to) show you how it will look when you're done. Hopefully Photobucket it working tomorrow when this blog post goes live, or this might be a little bit confusing...

This concludes week eight of the Build Your Blog! series. Just four more sessions! Next week we'll talk about sponsors, swapping, and where to start with all of that! If you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you know when the next edition of the blog series is ready!

Questions or comments about this week's topic? Leave them below & I will try to answer them all in a follow-up post later this summer!

Grab a button and spread the word!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dahlia Soleil Collection: Hand Crocheted Hats!

I'm happy to introduce you to Paulette of Dahlia Soleil Collection. She's a creative entrepreneur who lives in NYC and I thought you might love her hand crocheted hats!

Paulette has offered one Living the Creative Life reader their own hat from her beautiful collection. Enter below for your chance to win. This contest will be open through Friday (7pm PST).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, August 10, 2012

Meet a Designer: Monina Velarde

Monina Velarde is a graphic designer based out of Chicago. She calls herself an "optimistic graphic designer" and I'd have to agree! Her specialities lie in branding, interactive, and package design. Overall, I just love Monina's work! So clean and colorful. I really could learn a lot from her about effective and minimal way of designing.

{Portfolio} {Blog}

{I'm so happy to be joined this month by Kristen Victoria, with her new Designer Spotlight series! Check back with both of us periodically to meet more designers!}

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On being a carnival... or something like that

Notice that I didn't put the words "sponsor", "giveaway", or "guest post" in the title of this blog post? That's my #1 rule for doing promotional posts on your blog.

Although I'm realizing now that even I don't always follow my rules, so take that with a grain of salt. Lol. Seriously though...

You may or may not love when bloggers have a giveaway or allow guest posters, but especially when done wrong they can be very annoying to a blog reader. Maybe it's just me, but when trying to get through hundreds of unread posts in my Google Reader, I literally just skip all the ones who's titles scream, "Hey! I'm doing something other than my normally scheduled content!!"

However... if you make it seem like you're so very excited to introduce your reader so something or someone new... they just might get excited too. Part of that starts with getting them into your post to read it, so make sure you title with either a relevant, searchable phrase (more on that in a few weeks), or a catchy, makes-you-wonder title (like I did today).


Let's be honest. I love winning free stuff. I'm sure you do too. But have you ever followed a blog that suddenly seems to have a giveaway every other week? Annoying, right?

Make sure you don't turn into a used car salesman. People read your blog because they enjoy your voice, your style, your whatever... It can be disconcerting if that voice is constantly changing.

I do think giveaways can be very effective if done sparingly (say... no more than once a month) and especially if done selectively (limiting to select sponsors or to a hand-picked Etsy shop). Make sure your readers know that you value their time and wouldn't interrupt their regularly scheduled programming unless it was important.

As for the nitty gritty of doing a giveaway... let's discuss:


Since discovering Rafflecopter, doing giveaways has been so much easier for me! Basically it lets you plug in ways that a person can enter your contest (follow you on Twitter, subscribe to the gift-giver's blog, etc), and keeps track of the number of entries. Then at the end of the contest, you just click a button and it randomly picks the winner! So easy!!

Another common way I've seen is just to have people comment on the blog post for their entry(s). Then you just have to count up the posts and use a Random Number Generator to pick the winner.

One word of caution... make sure it's not too complicated to enter! I've seen so many giveaways that REQUIRE all those entering to follow the host blog and all the blogs participating in the giveaway. Most likely I'm already following the host blog or I wouldn't have known about the giveaway, but it's really frustrating to be forced to subscribe to half a dozen other blogs that I have no interest in just to enter a contest.

Have ONE mandatory entry, at most, and make the rest optional. You want people following you who want to follow you, so requiring it of them can backfire on you quickly.


Essentially you want to make sure you have the vital information needed within the giveaway post. Make sure you have a nice, big picture of whatever you're giving away. Mention WHO is giving this item away and link to their blog or shop. Also of course, make sure you tell people quickly and simply how they can enter.

If you have a personal story to go along with the item, that's always good too, although be careful about making the post too long. Especially if you've got many items in your giveaway, you don't want people's eyes to glaze over before they get to the "Enter Contest" button.


You may or may not have gathered from my little rant the other day, but it is vitally important to be explicitly clear when you notify the hosts and winners of a contest. Make sure you let everyone involved know who won, what blog you're from, and what the prizes were. Assume that no one remembers anything. Better to be over-clear with too much information than to have a host email back with, "Wait, which blog are you from again? I've sponsored 20 giveaways last month and can't remember what I gave to your specific one."

Guest Posts

I kind of like guest posts... when done right. I enjoy the ones that give me something to think about or to try to create, etc. However there's a certain type of guest post that particularly annoys me: "Meet the Sponsor". Maybe it's just the way they're usually presented, but when I see these in my Google Reader, I click away very quickly. One way to give your sponsors value for their advertising dollar is to let them do a guest post on your blog. Let's make sure we don't scare readers away before they've read the post, though!


Like the suggestion above for giveaways, make sure you title the post with something other than "Meet the Sponsors!!" or "Guest Post!". Title your post with something relevant that makes them want to click in, and you're much more likely to grab a reader's attention. {For example}.

Also, if at all possible, try to steer your sponsors / guest-posters in the direction of a topic that you think your readers will be interested in. How do you know what they'll like? Simple --> it's whatever interests YOU! Your readers read your blog because they find what you find interesting to be interesting, so when picking guest post topics, make sure it's a topic that excites and interests you and it'll fit right in.


Now get on out there and guest post yourself! I try to do a few every month as I have time, and it generally does bring in some new traffic to my blog. Most times I guest-blog on the blogs that I sponsor, but occasionally it has just come up naturally through a conversation with someone whose blog I read.

Make sure you consider the host blog's aesthetic, as well as your own. You want the post to be BETTER but not completely different than what you normally write. You also want to mesh with the feeling and vibe that the host blog is giving off. Not that you need to change yourself - just be aware that their readers will respond more to something that matches that blog's feel (since that's what made them subscribe to that blog in the first place!)

To actually write the post, I like to write it on my own blog (without publishing it) and check it in the "Preview" window to make sure I like the formatting and that everything is spelled right. You can upload any pictures that you want in the post and make sure that you like how everything looks.

Next, click over to the "HTML" view and copy/paste that into an email to the host blog. That will transfer everything about your post to them very easily (photos and all)! Just don't forget to consider what size column their blog uses - you don't want to send a ginormous photo when they have a super skinny blog, for example.


Last but not least... promotions.

A promotion is anything that fits into the category of non-regularly-scheduled-content, but isn't specifically a guest post or a giveaway. You probably know them when you see them: book reviews, product reviews, Etsy shout-outs, etc.

There's nothing wrong with these types of posts, in particular, but just make sure that you are always aware of the need to bring something of value to your readers. Tell them WHY you love this product, person, or shop. Don't just spam them with information that has nothing to do with your blog. Speak in your own voice - your lovely, blogger voice, not your I'm-trying-to-sell-you-something voice.

And again... try really hard to limit these types of posts, especially if it's clear that you stand to benefit by someone reading &/or clicking through on this post (such as is the case on affiliate sponsorships/links). If you're a book-lover, and you genuinely want to share with us what new book you've just read, that's awesome! But if you're just trying to force in a post to try to get clicks... realize that people can see through that and will be put off by that.

This concludes week seven of the Build Your Blog! series. Next week we'll talk about designing a "grabbable" blog button! If you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you know when the next edition of the blog series is ready!

Questions or comments about this week's topic? Leave them below & I will try to answer them all in a follow-up post later this summer!

Grab a button and spread the word!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How flabby is your brain?

Oh I love this! I really need to implement this advice more. Sometimes I'm working so hard and so long that I look up and the sun's gone down already! Symptom of a work-at-home creative-entrepreneur, maybe? Lol.

Image via: Wendy McNaughton

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alpaca Wool Hats

The alpaca wool yarn I got the other day is soooo nice! I absolutely love it and wish I could let you feel it through the computer screen. It really works perfectly for the new luxury line of beanies that I'm preparing for my shop. All the colors are just so deep and luscious and the knitted fabric comes out thick, soft, and warm. I can't wait for it to start snowing again so I can steal one of these hats to wear myself!

Avocado Green: $65

Espresso Roast Brown: $65

Lavender Purple: $65

Dark Cloudy Gray: $65

Pumpkin Spice Orange: $65

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