Stay Focused On Your Work With a Zero Based Schedule

Stay Focused On Your Work With a Zero Based Schedule

You have two computer monitors, 75 chrome tabs open, your cell phone in your hand and your children are beating down the door to your home office... no? Ok maybe that's just me...

Regardless, I bet your day is filled with distractions.

Between meetings and phone calls, Project management software, emails, text messages.... the persistent "ding" of new social media notifications, not to mention people dropping by to talk to you and the unending fires that need to be put out.... it's a miracle you get anything done honestly.

Ok.. what about this...

Do you find that your work life unfairly encroaches on your personal life? It's the end of the day and you didn't get everything done and you think "I'll just work for a little longer..." or maybe you sneak in an hour or two of work on a Saturday just to catch up...

I've just (re)discovered the most effective (and enjoyable!) method of eliminating most of these problems and I want to share exactly what it is and how I do it...

Have No Free Time (on purpose)

It's called zero based scheduling (ZBS). I used it very successfully for a few years and then when I transitioned from working for someone else to working for myself I forgot about it...

Then recently.. as I was having an anxiety attack because I had so much shit to do that I decided to just mindlessly browse Facebook for 30 minutes... I remembered how awesome it is.

Use Zero Based Scheduling to stay ontop of your important tasks and bring zen to your life

The premise of ZBS is that you schedule every single moment of your day so that there is no "free" time left over - sounds tedious I know. It's not!

Here's how using ZBS will transform your life...

  • Instead of impulsively checking emails, texts and notifications you can ignore them because the time to check them is on your schedule
  • Instead of panicking because you didn't get everything done today, you can relax knowing that you've got it worked into your plan for tomorrow
  • Instead of listlessly moving from one task to another without rhyme or reason, you take 10 minutes of your day to prioritize your tasks
  • Instead of feeling guilty for working late because you let work take over your day, you'll be home and spending your time the way you want to spend it - because that's how you planned it...
Zero Based Scheduling seems like a lot of work - it's not. Just 15 minutes per day can lower anxiety levels

Sound exciting? It is!

This process only takes about 10 minutes every morning using a free (and beautiful) app. It DOES require consistency, so you'll have to get yourself in the habit of doing it, but it gets easier the more you do it...

How To Create a Zero Based Schedule

Important things - "Stuff" collects in various places in our life... here's where my stuff collects...

  • Email
  • Facebook Messages
  • Internal company chat (we use workplace.. maybe you use Slack)
  • Project Management Software (We use Asana)
  • HelpDesk software (where we manage our design requests)
  • Text messages (Honey-do lists)
  • Physical mail (bills!)
  • Google Calendar
  • My children or other people popping in to make requests
  • My kids school folders

etc... you get the point. Stuff collects in these locations and then we as humans basically just spend all day trying to keep those locations from overflowing and prevent important things from getting missed while also trying to not go insane from the process.

It's very important to understand from the beginning that ZBS does not replace any of these collection places and if you try to make it do that it will stop working.

This is not your new calendar, or project management process or email replacement tool or grocery list...

The Basics

Every morning at a time that is convenient for you (ideally before you start working, but if you're super ambitious it can be right when you wake up... don't make too many rules for yourself) you'll spend 10-15 minutes creating your schedule for the day.

To do this, you review all of the locations where stuff collects. In the beginning keep it simple - emails, projects, messages from customers etc.

Then you'll start plugging these things into your day, scheduling not only what you'll do, but at what time you'll do it and how long it will take.

Make sure to include things like: Meals, Play Time, Gym Time

So a potential schedule may look like this

8 AM - Drop Kids off at School

8:30 AM - Gym

9:30 AM - Breakfast

10 AM - Phone call with John

10:30 AM - Write blog post about ZBS

11 AM - Follow up on that lead

11:20 AM - Generate reports for Mary

12 PM - Lunch

(Fast forward)

5:30 PM Dinner

7 PM Play with the kids

8:30 PM Movie Night with Spouse

10:30 PM Bed Time

The whole point of ZBS is to schedule every moment so that you don't have idle "In-between" time where you mindlessly browse Facebook or have nothing to do or you spend time doing something you didn't intend to and wreck your productivity.

Your schedule is not set in stone - it's going to get derailed, things are going to take longer than you expected. That's all fine, just adjust it, add to it, remove things etc. The goal is just to know what is happening today.

Take it to the next level with software

When I originally implemented ZBS it was in conjunction with Bullet Journaling. And while that was really cool and a lot of fun, I am a tech guy at the end of the day and I am most effective when I can use an app to get it done.

For ZBS I highly suggest you use one of my favorite apps in the world: To-doist. You can use any checklist or task management app that supports adding time to the tasks (Google Tasks does this) but To-doist is my favorite for a few reasons...

Karma

Todoist has a gamification system called "Karma" essentially the more productive you are, the more the app rewards you with "karma". For me it's a lot of fun to level up my karma (currently I'm a Grand Master - I know you were wondering)

Design

HELLO - We're a design company and I am a design nerd and the fact that Todoist is one of the most aesthetically pleasing software companies I've ever seen plays a HUGE role in my enjoyment.. I meant just LOOK at their BLOG!

Shortcuts

Clunky software is the worst! Todist solves a lot of the problems of clunky software with hotkeys and shortcuts. For instance if you type " at 2pm today" into a task name it will just schedule the task for 2 PM today!

It's everywhere that you work

Todist supports basically every platform you work on including desktop, chrome extensions, Android and Apple

It's beautiful

Oh.. sorry did I already say this? 😀

A Todoist blog header by illustrator Yin Weihung

Here's how my ZBS from above looks in Todoist (in sexy dark theme)

The times in red have passed, green is upcoming..

Typing this in took me about a minute using the shortcut from above (adding the time in-line)

To use Todoist for ZBS here's what I suggest...

Add everything to the "inbox" not "today": Todoist defaults to adding tasks to "today" but I recommend that you add them to your "inbox" UNLESS you are doing your plan for today.

Avoid scheduling things beyond today: Eventually you are going to make this system work for you and customize it your way - but in the beginning avoid scheduling things for anything other than today. Things get messy and "stuff" gets lost if you spread it out

The only exception I make is at the end of the day if "stuff" is left over I will sometimes reschedule it for tomorrow (an easy click or two in Todoist)

Use the inbox for certain kinds of stuff: Non-digital stuff can be hard to track. Did your spouse ask you to take care of something? Does your kid need money? Does the car need to get to be inspected? Drop it into the "inbox" with no due date - then tomorrow when you do your planning you can choose to add it to your day or not

Be More Productive!

Now that you have a ZBS you will feel a new kind of freedom - the freedom to FOCUS because the things that DISTRACT you can be neatly planned for and filed away.

Work on the things you have scheduled, one after the other, ticking them off (and getting that sweet, sweet karma) as you go...

Here are some additional little tips and pointers to make your life with ZBS even easier...

  • If your task takes to long, don't sweat it. I will sometimes cut myself off and immediately put the "remainder" of my task into my inbox (or tomorrow) or i'll quickly evaluate if I want to remove something from my ZBS in order to work on my current project a little longer...
  • Plan on your tasks taking longer than you expect. It's just a fact of life, you can't lock your door and unplug your phone and you can't skip bathroom breaks (or coffee breaks for that matter... just me?). You'll still get interrupted, just plan on it and whenever possible try and stop the interruption from sabotaging you... (see the next point)
  • Unless something comes up that is really an emergency, try and deflect it. For instance if an urgent email comes in, or you've missed an important phone call you might go back to your ZBS and carve out some time later in the day to work on it. Just make it part of the plan!
  • If you MUST check distractions like social media, email, text messages etc... that's ok! But instead of doing it impulsively, schedule it. You can plan on checking these things during scheduled breaks OR you can build ten minutes into the top of every hour for checking notifications and managing them.
Minimum Viability – An Antidote For Perfectionism

Minimum Viability – An Antidote For Perfectionism

Most businesses owners I've met tend to have perfectionist tendencies, at least in some areas of their life or business.

For instance: In general I believe that a new project is not worth starting unless I'm able to make each part of it perfect from the beginning.

In other words: It's not worth even bothering to write a blog post if I don't also have a plan to send it to my list, promote it, have an opt-in form with a good lead magnet, etc.

In my last post: How To Overcome Analysis Paralysis I shared this graphic:

This type of thinking has sabotaged me in the past, and I've developed a method for getting through it. Here are some of the ways I've sabotaged myself...

... I can't advertise my services unless my website is perfect...

... I can't offer this product unless the UX is perfect...

... I can't create a Facebook community unless I have at least 3 months of content prepared...

... I can't write a blog post unless I understand how to optimize it for SEO...

Sound familiar?

The Online Business Culture Is Toxic (Sometimes)

Online businesses are great (obviously) - My success, and a lot of other peoples successes are owed to the ease with which people can do business online.

But when you immerse yourself in the culture of it, you naturally begin to expose yourself to a LOT of marketing. No doubt, you are subject to daily emails, advertisements and advice from friends and "Gurus" alike.

You just HAVE to join a mastermind, and Facebook group, where you interact with other people who want to build an online business, and who want to help you do it, so of course they've got advice for you about who you should follow, listen to, subscribe to...

You probably listen to some podcasts in the car, you've probably bought at least one course, coaching program etc.

The result is that you don't have to look very far to find a perfect example of someone being super successful with whatever business, marketing plan, or product you're thinking about developing.

I'm deliberately avoiding examples in this section so I don't create a bigger problem for you 🙂

The problem is there are plenty of people who want to sell you their model of success, but not enough people who are talking about what it's like exactly where you are in the process.

There are a lot of Mike Tysons out there who want to teach you to be the next Mike Tyson, but aren't talking about what it's like the first time you put on your gloves and step into the ring.

Because you've seen what an SEO strategy looks like, or a product launch, or a Facebook ad campaign - you assume (naturally) that this is the best way to proceed - and you forget that the people teaching you didn't start this way.

The point is that there is often a minimally viable version of whatever you are trying to do, but you've talked yourself out of it because you know that it's not "The best" way to do it.

Here are a few tips I've learned that will help you find the minimum viable version of whatever you're stuck on...

Focus On Where You Are

You might not need to pay for email marketing software right now. The amount of revenue you're generating might not warrant software to manage it.

You don't need a custom designed website.

Focus on what you need to do right now, not what you will need to do in the future. "Future Planning" is something I am really guilty of... It's when you're unable to get started with something because you know that at some point you will need to change.

For instance, the way we handle design requests at Graphic Rhythm Designs has been (And continues to be) a work in progress. We started by just having clients message me in Facebook messenger. Then, we had them create tasks for us in Asana. For a brief period of time we had an official form with Airtable, and most recently we retrofitted a helpdesk software for the task.

But the goal has always been to have a custom software dedicated to the task. Our current solution is an imperfect custom software and I know that in a year we will need to change yet again.

Do Things That Don't Scale

Being small has a few advantages and one of them is that you can do things that you know you'll never be able to scale. That's Ok!

This is the time in your business to do those things. If you're holding yourself back because you know it won't scale, consider whether or not it NEEDS to scale, or if you can consider it a competitive advantage for the time being.

For example, personally getting on a call and on-boarding a new customer or client may not be something you can do forever, but the value it provides to your clients right now in this stage of your business is immense and is a competitive advantage.

Find Your Minimum Viable Audience

The definition of a minimum viable product is a product which only has the features necessary to attract early adopters.

You can serve a small audience with a very niche product that doesn't have every feature possible. This audience is your minimum viable audience, people to whom your imperfections will be overlooked because you have the specific thing that they need.

Automate - Only When Necessary

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent trying to automate processes which I haven't even done one time yet.

Things like figuring out how to automatically update customer profiles, or how to automatically move files around.

The fact is that until you have enough volume, it's probably easier to do things manually and figure out how to automate it only when it becomes necessary.

Start.

"Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction" is a favorite phrase of mine. You've probably heard it before, but consider all of the things it implies...

... You have permission to do it wrong...

... It's ok if you fail...

... No, it's not right, but it's going to be ok...

... Failing is learning...

... The best time to start was last year, the next best time is now...

One of the things that routinely holds me back is this: I don't like starting something if I can't see from the beginning how I can eventually get someone else to do it for me.

In other words: Outsource.

Outsourcing is basically my favorite thing, and I use it enthusiastically to get unstuck and to get through analysis paralysis... so stay tuned for more information on how I pull it off!

Analysis Paralysis - How To Power Through It

Analysis Paralysis - How To Power Through It

Guilty confession: I haven't sent an email to my list in over a year.  ???

Why? Well, in short:

- Fear
- Analysis Paralysis
- Indecision
- Loathing (Not for my subscribers, for writing)

We will get into the details in a bit and how I am getting myself out of this rut. But why have I decided to do something about it now?

Well, in part because I was inspired by Tim Urban over at Wait But Why. If you're not familiar with Wait But Why - it's just the best blog on the planet. But here's the thing... Tim didn't write a single thing to his subscribers for OVER 3 YEARS!

I'll let Tim explain why and what happened, but for my purposes... if Tim can rally after 3 years, I feel pretty confident that I can rally after one!

The other reason why I am starting up again after a long silence is because I genuinely believe in serving, I just haven't felt capable of it... but that's changed.

Here's what we're going to get into in this post and follow up posts... 

- Analysis Paralysis... what it is, how I got over it, how you can too
- What you should do if you hate doing something (even if you know you should be doing it)
- How I came up with my content strategy and minimum viability

If you don't have time to get into this article - just read this bit below:

Our new content strategy is based on building a business and living a life By Design (Catchy right?)

We're all business owners, entrepreneurs (some may relate to the term "Hustler"). We're doing this because we don't want to punch a clock, we don't want a boss. We want a life of freedom, we want to work when we want, how we want, doing what we love.

If this sounds like you, and you want to connect with like minded business owners, then you need to do a couple of things right now...

  1. Answer this two question survey that will help us create content and material that will matter to you
  2. If you feel like you can help other business owners build intentional businesses that pave the way to freedom and you want to teach our audience then we want to hear from you! Fill out this form and we will get back to you.

How I Got Over Analysis Paralysis

Analysis paralysis is when you have unintentionally piled on so many possible paths going forward that you can't figure out what you're supposed to do, and you do nothing.

Sometimes, it looks like circular logic, or a catch 22. i.e.

"I need to grow my list!"

"Before I grow my list I need to write content!"

"I can't write content until I know what my audience wants!"

"I don't know what my audience wants because I don't have a list!"

"I need to grow my list!"

"Before I grown my list I need to write content!"

You get it. 

I talk to a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs and this problem is something every single one of us faces. We are in an internet culture where new strategies, tactics, plans, coaching, consultation is constantly hitting up our mailbox. 

Just when you think you've sorted out what you are supposed to do, something changes and everything gets thrown into disarray, or someone else comes along with a better tactic. 

Compound this by the fact that you are probably a perfectionist (most of us business owners tend to be) - you don't just want a direction, you want THE BEST direction. The definitive, end all, be all, best way to move forward. 

So how do you get unstuck? 

At the heart of it, Analysis paralysis is a decision making problem... So to get unstuck you need a better way to make decisions.

At the heart of it, Analysis paralysis is a decision making problem...

All of the things you are considering will work. So pick one.

It doesn't matter if you are picking a business model, a marketing strategy, a product idea... chances are very good that everything that you are considering is completely viable and will work if you stick with it.

Of course, do your due diligence, especially if you are going to be spending money, but the point is that follow through, more than anything else, is the key to success.

I look at all business en-devours like climbing a mountain... they are ALL mountains. And the first mile of any mountain is pretty easy walking. But inevitably, the mountain gets steeper, the terrain gets tougher, avalanches become a thing... you get it.

In honor of Tim Urban and Wait but Why, we will be demonstrating this using stick figures.

Here's what happens with a lot of business owners... they walk that first mile and are like "Oh, this is fun! I can do it!"

And then they hit the hard part. They experience a few set backs. They aren't making as much progress as they would like. They start to lose faith that they can actually keep going or get to the top or that there even IS a top.

When that happens, they say "Oh! The is really hard, I don't think this [business model, marketing strategy, product idea etc] is the one for me!"

They go back down the mountain and start walking up another one... rinse and repeat forever.

The fact is that all of the mountains are hard to walk up - so you need to pick the one that makes the most sense for you, your personality, your vision of your life and your business and stick with it.

Here are some questions to get you started - these apply to most of the challenging decisions you can make in business. Including what business is best for you. (Side note: here's a fun quiz to discover your business personality type)

What is my risk tolerance and does this match it?

Everyone has a different risk tolerance. If you tend to be more risk adverse, you may not want to spend a few thousand dollars learning how Google adwords work. By understanding your risk tolerance you can eliminate potential choices that don't match and make your decision easier.

Is this something I will enjoy doing? If not, is it something I can have someone else do?

In life and business, there is only the journey. You never arrive. Every time you think you have arrived, you see the road on the other side of your destination and realize you've got more walking to do.

So, if you don't enjoy what you are doing, you are going to be miserable doing it. If you're considering offering a product that doesn't get you excited to produce, you will lose interest in it and it will fall by the wayside.

But, that doesn't mean you have to enjoy everything you do. If the solution you're considering isn't enjoyable, can you hire someone else to do it for you?

FYI - this is totally how I feel about content creation. Content marketing matches my profile for marketing strategies with the exception that I actually hate writing blog posts. So I hire other people to do it (I'm writing this one, but I can't guarantee I'll be actually writing others)

"The fun part about doing something new is imagining how successful you'll be and what that will feel like."

Do I understand the obstacles and will I be motivated to overcome them?

I repeat: ALL MOUNTAINS HAVE OBSTACLES.

The fun part about doing something new is imagining how successful you'll be and what that will feel like. The fact is that you will 100% fail fully or partially and meet challenges along the way.

Take a minute and list all of the ways this can go wrong, all of the problems you're going to face and have a real conversation with yourself about how you'll do getting over those challenges.

If you know that cold calling is going to be a big part of how you'll get clients - then you should come to terms with the fact that you are going to hear "No" a lot.

Is that ok? If you've been told no 19 times today, are you still going to pick up the phone for the 20th time?

How does being successful at this align with my overall goals?

Ah - The hollow victory. You've achieved success, you've overcome the obstacles and.... you hate what you've created.

There is nothing worse.

What will you have when you accomplish your goal? Will you like what you have? If you decide that you want to be a speaker at events and you're successful... are you going to enjoy traveling? Will being a speaker align with your personal goals?

Here's another example: If you successfully implement a new marketing strategy, will it produce the kinds of leads that you want?

Make sure that success at your en-devour aligns with what you want out of life and out of business, or you could just be meticulously building yourself a new job.

If I completely fail at this... will I survive?

We are all subject to biases - but optimism bias can be a killer. When you're making a decision, it's really important to figure out if you can survive a catastrophic failure - especially if money is involved.

I've gotten into the habit of plotting the outcome probability on a line. I put catastrophic failure at one end, and smashing success at the other.

Then I assign probabilities to those outcomes based on realistic, reasonable assumptions. For instance, I might assign each a probability of 10%. This leaves an 80% chance of something in the middle happening.

I may further assign some other probabilities to the middle section. My goal is to figure out what the probability of success and failure is, what the most likely outcome of this will be.. and if the very worst happens, will I survive?

I did this recently in my decision to be a sponsor for the Digital Agency Expo. I added up all of the expenses for being a sponsor, including the fees, travel costs, marketing costs etc. Then I asked myself "What is the worst that can happen?"

In my case, the worst thing would be that I invest all of this money and in return I get zero new clients - in other words, 100% loss of my investment. OK - So what is the probability of that happening?

To answer this, I did some research on these kinds of events, reached out to some people who have done them and got an idea of what their success rate is like. No one reported a complete loss so I felt that this had about a 5% chance of happening.

So then I asked, what is a smashing success? I arbitrarily decided that 50 new clients would qualify as a smashing success - and attributed a probably of 10% to this outcome.

I also plotted my break even point, the minimum number of new signups I would need to break even and assigned it a probability of 25%.

So here's what my chart looked like...

Based on this, I have a 70% chance of breaking even or better. That sounds pretty good. But there is one important question to ask: If the worst happens.. can I survive?

In other words, if I lost all of the money I invested in this sponsorship, would it wreck the business or severely impact my life? The answer in my case was no and so I felt comfortable going forward with the sponsorship.

"Every time I've thought about emailing my list over the last year, I was struck with Analysis Paralysis."

How I Screwed Up The Courage To Email My (Cold) List

Every time I've thought about emailing my list over the last year, I was struck with Analysis Paralysis.

The root of the problem was really that I didn't know what to say. The email list for Graphic Rhythm Designs is comprised of small business owners and Amazon sellers, in roughly equal parts. These two groups have very different needs and I wasn't sure how I could serve those needs.

There are so many conflicting and different strategies about content creation, I was completely paralyzed. For instance, apparently you shouldn't bother writing a blog post unless it's SEO friendly. You also shouldn't bother unless you have some sort of content upgrade at the bottom.

So, in order to write to my list, I needed both of those things sorted. Well those come with problems because that's more content I have to build - and besides what do I write about?

The key for me came in two forms - Minimum viability and outsourcing.

In my next post I'll get into how I proceeded from here - In the meantime, comment below and tell me what you're paralyzed with right now... I answer every comment!

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Graphic Design Ideas: Your Guide to Using Visual Content in Blog Posts

After listening to a podcast or presentation, people remember 10 percent of what they heard. Add a picture, and that number skyrockets to 65 percent.

Researchers and educators have long known visuals are important in the learning process. Most adults can more accurately recall images. They also find it easier to process visual information versus text.

You already know what this means for you as a content creator. Whether you’re writing a blog or creating audio, you want to add some visual content.

You might already add some visuals to your content, since you know how powerful they are. What you’re wondering is how you can incorporate visuals into your content. You also want to know how you can create better, more engaging visuals for your audience.

These graphic design ideas will help you use visuals more effectively than ever. With them, you can banish blocks of text and create content your audience loves looking at.

Why You Need Visual Content

You already know visual content is important. The numbers paint a very clear portrait of why.

We’ve already mentioned that visuals boost recall as well. People find visuals easier to read and more appealing.

It follows then that if you want your content to be more appealing, then you should be adding visuals to it.

Remember the Purpose of Visuals

graphic design ideas purpose of visuals

Before you make visuals for your blog posts or other content, think about the image's purpose. At the end of the day, content messaging is still the core of anything you create.

Ask yourself what information it’s trying to convey to your audience. The best images help us remember information. 

Good visuals relate to their content, making it easier to connect ideas and remember them.

If the visual isn’t related, it becomes a distraction. People will recall the image, but they may not remember important information in your post.

Once you know what the purpose of a visual is, it’s easier to decide what information you can transform. Be sure to consider the best format for any visual. You can choose from a variety of types:

  • Charts and graphs
  • Animations
  • Graphics
  • Photographs
  • Illustrations and drawings
  • Videos

One type of visual may be more appropriate for the message you want to send than another. For example, complex data is often easier to understand when it’s in a graph or chart.

Learn the Basics of Good Graphic Design

Many graphic design tips focus on using the fundamentals of good design. You should be familiar with ideas such as color theory and how to use negative space. These principles apply to almost any visual you’ll create.

Remember that good visuals are clear and easy to understand. Lines and color can communicate emotional information. Negative space can make the image feel more inviting.

graphic design ideas Basics of a Good Graphic Design

If they incorporate text, the font should be easy to read. Placement is also important for legibility. Be sure to keep text to a minimum.

Once you’ve reviewed the basics, it’s time to consider how you’ll use different types of visuals in your content.

Consider the Design of Your Website or Post

The first thing you should look at is the design of the website, blog, or platform where people find your content. The design for a blog might include space for cover images for each post. A website might have a background image or banner image.

A Facebook post might also have a cover image. An eBook also makes use of images in its layout.

You may not think of layouts as “visual content,” but they’re an important part of graphic design in your posts. These design elements can make text seem less dense and more inviting. In short, they increase visual appeal.

Use a Background Image

If your platform allows for it, make use of a banner or background image. This image should tie into your content, but it should also provide visual interest.

Images can create an emotional appeal through the use of color, line, and more. A background image or cover image summarizes the post and intrigues your audience.

Make How-tos Easy to Follow with Images

If you’re putting together a how-to post or video, visual content is a must. You’ll want to illustrate each step in the process with an image.

You can use photographs, screenshots, or custom graphics to show the steps in a process. The visual summarizes the text explanation. The text and image work together to explain how something is done.

In a video, you can walk people through each step and narrate the steps as you go through them.

Since people process visual information faster and recall more, they move through the steps with speed and accuracy.

Add a Little Animation

Motion draws the human eye, so why not spruce up your visuals with an animation? Animations can be practical, helping you to illustrate a point or step in a process.

They can also be more whimsical, adding an element of fun to your post. Be sure that the animations you choose make sense in context. Otherwise, they could be a distraction for your audience.

Unleash Your Inner Artist

Sometimes, you can’t find the right graphic or image for your content. When this happens, don’t be afraid to start making your own images.

Hand-drawn illustrations add uniqueness to your post. You may be illustrating something no one else has, and no one will illustrate it in the same style.

You can also create other visuals, such as photographs or even paintings.

If you don’t think you have the artistic talent, talk to graphic designers about visual content. They can help you create custom visuals that work seamlessly with your content.

Visualize Data to Make it Easy to Read

graphic design ideas Visualize Data

Have you ever tried to read a description of the results of a scientific study? Even looking at large tables of numbers can be intimidating.

Data is often best represented in visuals, like graphics and charts. Ask anyone who’s ever had to present the results of a company survey at a board meeting. The audience understands a pie chart faster than a block of text.

Be sure to choose an appropriate format for the data you have to present. A graph may work best for showing results over time. A pie chart may be best for illustrating the percentages of people who picked responses on a survey.

The Infographic is Still the King of Visual Content

When someone says “visual content,” you probably think of the infographic. This form of visual content has become popular over the last few years. It’s an effective way to combine text information with visuals.

The infographic is like charts and graphs, in that it takes information and turns it into a visual format. In this case, it often takes information from a blog post or eBook and turns it into an easy-to-read image.

Infographics highlight the key points of a blog post or other written content. They reduce the amount of text the reader has to process and add visual elements to make it easier to understand and remember.

Psychology_Behind_Type

An example is a timeline of your blog or of a company’s history. Instead of reading lengthy paragraphs about what you did each year, readers see the highlights plotted on a line. Icons and symbols reinforce the key idea.

Creating the Visuals You Need

Now you have some graphic design ideas to incorporate into your blog or other content you want to create. The question is, how do you go about creating great visuals?

Reviewing the principles of design is a great place to start. You may also want to work with some of the following resources:

  • Software such as Photoshop
  • Free online tools for creating graphics
  • Stock image sites for finding photographs and illustrations

You can create your own custom photos and hand-drawn images as well.

If you need high-quality images for a large amount of content, you should work with a graphic designer. They can create custom visual content for you, often faster and with more ease than you can do it yourself.

When you work with a graphic designer, you can rest assured your visuals will be professional quality. You know all visuals will have a uniform look too.

Before you decide to work with a designer, check out their graphic design portfolio. Get an idea of what they create.

Do they create the kinds of visual content you want? Do you like their style? You'll want a team with the skills to create the visuals you want.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

When it comes to connecting with your audience, visual content is worth more than text alone. Engage with your audience by creating beautiful, custom visual content.

Do you have some graphic design ideas you want to translate into reality? Get in touch with us. We can help you create the right visual content for your audience.

What graphic design strategies do you think works best for your audience? Share your thoughts below!

The Ultimate List of Everything Your Content Creation Business Needs to Automate in 2019

The Ultimate List of Everything Your Content Creation Business Needs to Automate in 2019

It can be challenging to automate your business when content is the primary focus. After all, this is one area that needs to be dynamic and responsive in order to connect with and grow an audience.

But with careful planning and execution, it's easier than you think. In the following article, we'll be discussing the techniques and tools you need to get the job done. Let's start creating!

1. Keep Your Ideas Fresh

Getting stagnant is a danger every content creation business will face at some point in its lifespan. After hundreds of posts, it can become difficult to generate ideas without feeling like you've already done it all before.

Finding ways to generate those fresh ideas without taking up all your time is important. And fortunately, we've got a few ways you can do this.

Getting stagnant is a danger every content creation business will face at some point in its lifespan. 

kee ypur ideas fress as a content creator

After hundreds of posts, it can become difficult to generate ideas without feeling like you've already done it all before.

Finding ways to generate those fresh ideas without taking up all your time is important. And fortunately, we've got a few ways you can do this.

  • Track the latest headlines of your competition: you probably don't have the time to read everything your competitors are posting, but you can check out their headlines to see what readers are responding to the most. It's as simple as establishing a pre-set RSS feed through a program like Pocket or Feedly. This will alert you of what's happening and ensure you don't miss any major developments in your niche.
  • Study your old posts: is there a past blog or podcast that you've done that rang true at the time but has since changed due to technological, political, or socioeconomic changes? Revisit it from a new perspective.
  • Break down meatier posts: did you ever compose a user guide or perhaps a video production that touched on a topic or bullet-point that could be expanded into its own thing? If so, carve it out and build a new piece of content around it.
  • Have someone read through book reviews on Amazon and other websites for top-sellers in your niche: what do the two- and three-star non-fake reviews have to say? Assign one of your team members to browse through these selections and list out all the criticisms customers are making.

Complacency can sneak up on you the longer your content creation business persists. Don't allow it to happen. You can quickly set up the above recommendations on your own or have someone -- a staff member, freelancer, etc. -- do it for you. 

But if you do outsource, seek out a student or a fellow traveler in your niche. That'll shorten the learning curve and ultimately be easier on the budget. 

2. Hire a Copywriter

Copywriter for your business

Perhaps the biggest step you'll take if you hope to automate your content creation business is the hiring of a copywriter. When doing this, think visually as well as textually.

In other words, find someone who is versatile across multiple media. After all, more audiences are consuming audio and video content than ever before. Your copywriter should be as effective at scripts/blocking for short videos as they are for long-form consumer guides and blog posts.

Perhaps the biggest step you'll take if you hope to automate your content creation business is the hiring of a copywriter. When doing this, think visually as well as textually.

In other words, find someone who is versatile across multiple media. After all, more audiences are consuming audio and video content than ever before. Your copywriter should be as effective at scripts/blocking for short videos as they are for long-form consumer guides and blog posts.

Where to find such people? Consider posting job ads on sites like Craigslist and Indeed.

If you do go this route, the most important thing you can do is put a lot of effort into the job description. Don't just hang a shingle that says "Help Wanted: Writer!" 

You want qualified candidates, who aren't going to bother applying if it's a waste of time. Request samples and references. After all, anyone can pull a link from a reputable website and say they wrote it under a pseudonym. 

Don't fall for it. Consider finding someone online who's written something you really connect with and inquiring about their rates. This cold approach may cost more money per content piece, but it will improve your chances of getting the type of writer (and content) that you're looking for.  

3. Automate Your Editorial Calendar

An automated editorial calendar -- that is, the schedule for what you'll post and when you'll post it -- is easier to accomplish when you've got Nos. 1 and 2 handled. However, it's not going to take care of itself without a little more pre-planning. 

Consider helpful software tools like Hootsuite or CoSchedule. These allow you to plan out your posts days, weeks, and even months in advance. They also allow you to schedule your posts for automated publishing on all your social media channels.

Image Source: CoSchedule

You probably don't want to get too carried away with the long-term scheduling, though. This especially is true if you're creating content in a dynamic sector like business or politics. That's because the current "It" company or person can go down in the flames of scandal three weeks from now.

Your glowing interview with them won't be of much value at that point. So plan ahead, but allow for the rapidity of changes your content niche can bring.

4. Schedule Your Social Media Post

Successful process automation depends on how many functions and controls you can set up ahead of time. That is, what protocols can be implemented by a piece of software rather than human hands?

We mentioned CoSchedule and Hootsuite above, but it's also worth noting that Facebook and other social networks allow you to schedule posts directly from their platforms. Why do that when the other software let you handle everything under one "roof"? 

Well, it's not something we can prove with anything beyond our own experiences, and it could be contingent on software updates. But direct scheduling may have its own advantages for two main reasons: 

  • Reach throttling: CoSchedule swears this doesn't happen, but it's not unreasonable to note that a social network's goal is to get you to spend as much time on it as possible, so if you're scheduling all your posts without ever "logging on," it's possible the social network may "penalize" you by limiting your reach.
  • Tagging: sites like Facebook allow you to do this with your friends and organizations that may find your post of interest, but it's not doable on a third-party platform.

Either way, you're better off setting a future date for your post to go live. So experiment with how you do it, but don't burn a lot of calories over it. 

5. Outsource Your Graphic Design Needs

outsource your graphic design needs for your website or business

Another important step for business automation is to entrust your graphic design needs to a specialist. A few years ago, marketplaces like Fiverr were popular sources for graphic design.

But you don't have to be on such bargain-basement platforms very long before realizing it ends with bargain-basement products. Getting affordable, professional-looking help hinges on long-term connections with a professional who really understands the needs of your business. 

By using an agency like Graphic Rhythm Designs, content creators can easily submit a new design request and get it back in 24 hours. And if they have a brand profile, it's easy to get a high-quality design with as little input as possible.

6. Use a VA for Guest Post Reach

use a virtual assistant

One step content creators often miss in achieving automated workflow is outreach, particularly when it comes to landing guest posts. This rather tedious, largely manual, activity can be discouraging when you're looking to automate. But it doesn't have to be.

Hiring a virtual assistant to compile leads will take much of the guesswork out of where to submit your content pitches for widespread distribution. But do yourself a favor when hiring a VA.

Don't focus solely on affordability. You'll get better results if you hire a great communicator in the VA role. (Someone who can encapsulate the crux of a potential publishing partner into a few short sentences.)

Ask the VA to provide summaries on the types of content each publisher will take. This helps you cut out tailoring time when it comes to writing out pitches and query letters.

You may not be able to fully automate this aspect of your content creation business. But a VA can at least help you cut way back on the number of hands-on steps you have to take.

7. Get Optimized

An essential element of automating process workflow happens after the content is done. It entails three key elements: search engine optimization (SEO), media monitoring, and audience tracking (or list-building).

SEO tools like Yoast can help you analyze content for readability and keyword focus. But you'll also want to look at your online listings to make sure your keyword information and the accuracy of your information lines up across your website, online listings, and social media channels.

Google loves consistent, well-structured information that's easy to crawl. Consider turning this over to an outside agency if it's difficult for you or simply takes up too much of your time.

Furthermore, set up Google Alerts to ensure no mention of your business or author name goes unnoticed. You won't know who's talking about you otherwise. 

And last but not least, set up an on-page way of capturing email addresses for anyone interested in opting into your platform. This will automate the process of building valuable relationships that help grow your content creation business.

Automate Your Business and Put Success on Autopilot

Some content creators are hesitant about automation. They don't want to give up the control that good content often requires.

But when you automate your business the right way, using the tips and tools we've outlined here, you stand a much better chance of finding success. Good luck in your efforts, and check out our portfolio if you need any design help along the way.

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