Say yes. Be free.

Not long ago, I wrote a post on saying no that got quite a bit of traction. It was about taking back your freedom and feeling secure enough to set comfortable boundaries.

Once you get good at saying no and setting boundaries, it’s easy to take it too far. It’s easy to turn your nose up at regular work and say, “Poo. No thank you. How pedestrian.” You can go from the most generous business owner to the stingiest in a heartbeat… if you let yourself.

I’ve been writing quite a bit on boundaries lately, since it’s a big problem for service providers all over the map (not just designers and developers).

No is uncomfortable, until it isn’t. Then yes is uncomfortable. Then everything makes you squirmy and you decide that maybe it’s time to throw in the towel to let someone else make the decisions for a while.

Quitting isn’t the answer. (Until sometimes, it is.)

The Art of the “Yes And”

A lifetime ago, I was a stage actor, where I spent a good chunk of my formative years. My favourite part of theatre was theatresports or, as it’s more commonly known, improv. Improv is a practice where you learn to say yes. It’s not just about saying yes – it’s about learning to add your spin to the yes.

When I first dove into improv, I was barely a teenager – fourteen, maybe. I was awkward and strange and didn’t want to make an ass out of myself. My acting teacher taught me something that I’ll never forget:

“Improv will make you look silly and weird and strange. The best improv actors are the most confident people in the room.”

It’s not something you develop overnight. It’s an openness that is sharpened and learned. And it’s up to you to determine if you’d rather be cool or be successful on the stage.

Sure, being cool has its fringe benefits – you look great on paper and your visage is coifed to perfection – but I’ve determined that sticking to the coolness is the best way to stagnate.

There is an art to the “yes and” that requires you – the creative, the artisan, the business owner, and entrepreneur – to be open enough to possibility, no matter how uncomfortable it seems.

During contract negotiations, I often find myself saying, “Absolutely we can do that, and it’ll cost you X monies in order to execute your vision.” Or, “I love where you’re going! And we can improve that even more by doing XYZ action.”

The power of the “yes and” ripples from your client relationships to your team as well. When you’re brainstorming, every idea is awesome and no one should feel like they aren’t smart enough or talented enough to contribute.

“Yes! That is an awesome idea and I think that we could incorporate it in XYZ category. Write that shiz down and put it in the brainstorming file!”

The Insidious Nature of No

There’s a paradigm or two that states that you should say no three or four or twelve (I can’t remember which) times for every yes you say.

For one year, I followed that. During the course of 2013, I said no to more and more while saying yes to less and less. I thought that the no was opening me up for the bigger yes.

In some ways, it did. In many more, it didn’t.

All it did was show potential clients how inflexible I could be, which contributed to a serious and incredibly troubling lull in my business.

Boundaries are incredibly powerful measures to cultivate, especially for we lovers and givers; if left unchecked, “yes and” can make martyrs of us. But there’s an equal insidiousness to “no” that we don’t tend to question.

We have to tread that fine line that encourages us to be firm and steady, while still being flexible; to be the bamboo or willow tree, instead of the firmly rooted oak.

Say yes to generosity and opportunity.

Tweet: Say yes to strange and wildly improbable possibilities. - @AmandaJFarough yes to strange and wildly improbable possibilities (Tweet that.)

Say yes. Be free.

Photo by JD Hancock

27 Lessons I’ve Learned From (Almost) Five Years of Biz

November 8th, 2009: I launched my very first client website under my shiny new business, violetminded Design. It was magnificent. It was creatively exhausting. And, more than anything, it was the first in many lessons that I’ve had to learn since starting up on my own.

I’ve got twenty-seven of them for you that cover pretty much every aspect of being a digital business owner.

  1. Never do work on the cheap. Instead, work for free and from the heart if the cause (or the project) is too delightful to pass up.
  2. Implement systems to take care of your people.
  3. Be kind and expect kindness in return.
  4. Collaboration trumps competition. Every. Single. Time.
  5. Inspiration is fleeting. Deadlines are not.
  6. Determine whether you’re the visionary, the processor, or the operator in your business.
  7. There’s no wrong answer, just different approaches to a problem.
  8. Check your baggage at the digital door before you go into a collaborative partnership.
  9. Contracts. If you’re a service provider, you need one. (We have three.)
  10. You can do all the coursework, legwork, and masterminds in the world but if you don’t launch your shit, you’ll effectively remain at square one indefinitely.
  11. Creativity requires deep vulnerability and the utmost trust in yourself and your collaborators.
  12. Always trust your intuition. If a project feels wrong, it will end nastily.
  13. Be courageous, loving, and audacious.
  14. For new designers: your skills haven’t caught up to your tastes, yet. Keep experimenting and don’t lose heart. (Or hope.)
  15. Burnout happens, so learn what your limits are and respect them.
  16. Rest. Deeply rest. And then throw caution to the wind.
  17. Risks and mistakes are necessary.
  18. Apologize for breaches of trust quickly.
  19. Don’t apologize for standing your ground.
  20. Find or create a community that you can trust with your fears, dreams, and unabashed enthusiasm.
  21. Always be reading. It keeps you sharp.
  22. Hype is hype. Jargon is jargon. But love letters are forever.
  23. Create an amazing team as early as you possibly can. Then get ready to get into the trenches and lead by example.
  24. Hone your bullshit detector.
  25. Know your tools and be open to new technology.
  26. Any motion is good motion. (Even if it’s backwards.)
  27. Don’t be a dick.

Got any you’d like to add? Post ‘em in the comments or hit me up on Twitter: @AmandaJFarough

Your Website Sucks (and that’s okay)

When people enter into the creative process with violetminded, they usually have a pretty decent idea of the kind of website that they want. They have catchy words that they use — bold, dynamic, exciting — and amazing digital dreams for their online biz.

Their enthusiasm is contagious! And, me being me (enthusiastic to a fault sometimes — hello loud!), I want to know more about the business they’ve built over the last while. I’m curious about their Perfect People, their business model, their revenue, and their messaging.

Then, they tell me that they’ve just started their biz.

(Cue car screeching to a halt. Or a record scratch of disbelief. Or sad trombones. Whatever works for you.)

They’re concerned because their website is a mess (or they don’t have one) and they believe that in order to be taken seriously, they need the most badass website imaginable. They see what Big Budget Design does for the Big Names in the online world. (There’s that contagious enthusiasm again.)

But here’s where the whole thing comes apart: time and money.

Start-ups that aren’t funded by investment capital (and some that are) are on a tight budget and an even tighter timeline. Every penny is magnitudes of importance — it could be going to paying an engineer to produce the software or to the solo entrepreneur as she struggles to pay rent. Those pennies have emotional charge to them.

Lately, I’ve taken to saying:

“Listen, sweetpea. Your website? It sucks. I’m not going to deny that. But here’s the awesome thing about being brand new: that’s okay.”

Now why in the world would I tell potential clients that they’re not ready for me? (Yet.)

I follow the Agile Manifesto (read about that here), whose over-arching tenet is: get it shipped and improve as you go.

That’s what business — especially digital business — is about. And that’s why I send the newbies on a different quest: to get it “good enough” and get it out the digital door. Why invest thousands of dollars in a business website when your business isn’t sure what it is? (Yet.) Why spend anywhere from four months to a year getting a website polished and prepped when that could be time spent hustling your biz and getting money in your bank account?

Usually, there isn’t a good reason to invest in a website right out of the gate.

Here’s where you need to invest first:

  • Great branding, which includes solid messaging (and that’s where copywriters come in)
  • A technically oriented virtual assistant to get you set up with your online tools
  • A WordPress Security expert, to make sure that your installation is as bulletproof as it can be
  • A premium WordPress theme that you (or your new technically savvy VA) can customize fairly easily

A professionally designed (and gorgeous) website is the least useful thing for you until you…

  • have an established brand with products and services that make your people sing from the rooftops
  • know who your Perfect People are
  • have your messaging in place and can confidently articulate who you are, what you do, and why you do it

The exceptions are:

  • Community start-ups: if you’re building a business around building a community, then you need to invest in great web design AND development right out of the gate, or you’ll lose your Perfect People as soon as they land on your page
  • eCommerce: if your business is to sell a lot of physical products (not necessarily the stuff you can find in online marketplaces), then investing in solid web development will save you YEARS of headaches down the line. Do it right or don’t do it at all. If you build with the wrong backend, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

The tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version:

Before you invest in a high-touch, super customized online space, make sure that you’ve done your legwork beforehand. Showing up with a dream in your eye is amazing (omgenthusiasm!), but enthusiasm does not a sustainable business make. Once you’ve proven your concept — whether that concept is a product, service, or content — then you can move onto making sure that your content and your online space are aligned.

If your website sucks (and you’re brand new), don’t fret. There’ll be time for that.

If your website sucks (and you’ve been at it a while), then it’s time to make a change.