June 16, 2020No Comments

Quick tips on how to keep your website up-to-date and running smooth

Websites are never fully finished. Your website is a living, breathing document that’s meant to be revisited and updated as your business evolves.

It's important not to ‘set it and forget it’ but to make it routine to check in on your website and make sure all the details are up-to-date. You'll ensure that your site is always functioning well and gives off a solid impression to potential customers.

Not to mention, routinely adding content and making small changes to your site increases your SEO (search engine optimization) rankings by signalling to Google’s crawlers (the tech that scans websites for keywords and information) that your website is active. It’s basically saying “I’m alive, check me out!"

So, here are my quick and easy ways to keep your website updated. These tasks are a little check-in routine I personally do on my site and the sites I maintain for clients:

Test your contact form and newsletter signup forms

Task frequency: monthly

There’s nothing worse than the panic of realizing your contact form hasn’t been working for 6 months (it happened to a friend) or that people can’t get on your newsletter list because of a broken link. Sometimes server and software updates cause glitches with forms, particularly on WordPress sites or with third-party email service forms integrated on your site. So as a rule of thumb, I test contact and newsletter forms at least once a month and with 2 separate email addresses. You can make a date of this task celebrating the first or last day of the month.

Check that all site links are correct and active

Task frequency: quarterly

It's easy to make changes in our business and forget that they affect our website. For example, if you’ve updated your social media handles or Linkedin profile URL, you’ll need to remember to update these links on your website. Or perhaps you’ve removed pages or blog posts that were linked elsewhere on your site, say to events that have passed. I like to go through every page of a site quarterly and right-click on each link, making sure it still opens the right page. Avoiding broken links (links that don't go anywhere or go to the wrong page) is huge for making potential clients feel that you are professional and on top of things.

Make sure your footer copyright year is current

Task frequency: yearly

This once-a-year update is the easiest way to signal to visitors and search engines that you are active on your site. If you’re on Squarespace or Shopify, it’ll update automatically. For WordPress and other builders, you may need to update it manually. Either way, check to make sure it shows the current year or a range from when you set up your site to the current year (ie. year started - current year). It’s a small detail but will keep visitors from wondering if you haven’t been around since 2017.

Update your site photography

Task frequency: yearly/every other year

According to a recent Shopify study, high-quality photography and a clean layout are the top two factors in creating a trustworthy impression of your site to new visitors. Professional photography is an investment that pays off big time in attracting new clients and positioning yourself as ultra-professional. Changing photos also signals to existing clients and customers that you're investing in improving your business. I highly recommend hiring a local photographer at least every other year for some professional photos of yourself and your products/service. Also scan your site to make sure that your existing site photos are not blurry, pixelated or low-resolution.

Bonus tip: Remove the 'Home' button from your top menu

This is a one-time update that will instantly make your site more modern and usable. A ‘Home’ button used to be the main way for visitors to return to your home page, but it’s now common usability practice to have your top logo link to your home page. (Think of when you visit other websites - do you subconsciously know that if you click the logo you’ll go back to the home?) As long as your top logo links back to your home page, you can remove the ‘Home' link from your navigation and free up space for a new button, or just keep your navigation super simple with your remaining items.

There you have it - easy tips that will make sure your site is polished and projecting a sense of professionalism to potential customers.

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March 29, 2020No Comments

The 100 Day Project: 6 reasons to do it this year, and tips on how to make it all the way

2020 preface: I want to start by saying that you do not need to take up any new projects at this time. You do not need to make the most of this unprecedented phase of history. You do not need to challenge yourself or maximize productivity. It is enough that you just be and take care of yourself.

That said, if you’ve been thinking of doing the 100 Day Project, the yearly challenge where you commit to doing the same task every day for 100 days and posting it publicly for accountability, I think it’s a great time.

Oscar Wilde quote handlettered by Barbara Kowalski

An Oscar Wilde quote from my project last year, 100 Days of Handmade Words

Last year, I completed my first 100 Day Project - 100 Days of Handmade Words - in a transitional, uncertain period of my life. In the span of the 100 days of the project, I resigned from a job, dove into full-time self employment as a graphic designer, moved apartments, and was still getting used to a new city.

Why do it now

We are currently collectively facing transitional, uncertain times. Admittedly, throwing yourself into a commitment like a 100 day challenge may feel a tad nuts. It did for me last year.

But the lessons the project taught me consistently help me in work and life. The project teaches you the value of commitment, the beauty in repetition and the power of showing up even when you don’t feel like it.

A few of my daily posts from last year's challenge where I hand-drew words every day

A few of my daily posts from last year's challenge where I hand-drew words every day

Here are my 6 reasons for why a 100 Day Project is the challenge to get you through life right now:

#1 It's a routine and bubble from the world around

My favourite part of the project was the sense of losing myself in enjoyable work every day. I ended up creating a lot of my handmade words in the evening last year, with a cup of tea, lights dimmed, music on. It became my bubble and wind-down routine. The project is a great way to forget about the world, even just for a bit.

#2 You create a catalogue of work and develop your style

Most artists will tell you the best way to find your signature style is by creating lots of something. You may start off feeling like a beginner, but you'll end with a better understanding of what you undertook and a sense of your own signature style. This happened to me. By the end of my 100 days, I realized that I had a favourite technique I kept coming back to, and just like that, I found my style.

Balance inspiration and discipline hand lettering

#3 Sense of community

The 100 Day Project brings together driven, enthusiastic, passionate people. Find other people whose projects interest you on Instagram with the hashtag #the100dayproject and connect with them and cheer each other on. You can also find participants in your city and celebrate with them after, like we did here in Ottawa last year.

#4 Discipline and public accountability are fine teachers

The most impactful lesson of the project is the power of showing up. There will be (many) days where you do. not. feel. like. it. It's so easy to want to give up. This is where you learn that discipline is often stronger than inspiration for making you pump out creative work. So many writers, for example, credit their progress to a disciplined routine of sitting down to work whether they feel like it or not. This is also where committing to sharing your work publicly gives you an extra kick to keep going.

#5 Saying no to perfection and yes to creative flow

Posting something everyday that you made quickly or are just learning is a humbling feeling. There will be days when you don't feel great about what you've made, especially if you have perfectionist tendencies. This project shows you that it's ok to release things into the world that are maybe not so perfect. You move on! And you realize creativity is a flow - you get better the more you do and the less you dwell on perfecting.

#6 The satisfaction of completing a mammoth challenge

Oh the feeling of posting your 100th post. By that point you’re most likely ready to be done. You may feel like you’re drained of ideas and could never do this again (though that feeling lasts about a week before you think of your next challenge!) The feeling of having 100 posts or creations to your name, that you can share or sell or frame or gift, is a massive achievement that shows drive, dedication and perseverance.

100 Days of Handmade Words final collection of posts

My final collection from 2019 - 100 Days of Handmade Words


Tips for actually getting through all 100 days of the project:

Tip 1: Pick a small task that you're drawn to and keep it simple

My rule of thumb for what to pick for your project: pick something you've wanted to learn or enjoy doing and keep it simple and specific. For example, decide to sketch an item in your home every day in a few techniques or write five lines about something you saw in nature, as opposed to a vaguer idea like completing a full painting daily. The goal is to be realistic and set yourself up for success.

Tip 2: Aim for something that takes you 10-20 minutes MAX

Choose a task that could take you 10-20 minutes. You'll be way more likely to stick to your project on days when you don’t have much time or energy. And believe me, when you hit day 20 and the initial project excitement has worn off, you’ll be glad with a smaller task that you can keep going through.

If an idea does not exist, create it hand lettering

Tip 3: Start with a brain dump and plan a bit ahead

Make a big list of initial ideas, add to it as you go, and use it as a roadmap. I found that having a running list of ideas made me much more likely to keep going daily than when I had to think of an idea AND execute it the same day.

Tip 4: Forgive yourself for missing a day (or a week). It’s all part of the experience. Most of us skip a day or a week here and there. The goal is to keep going. If you miss a day (or ten), get right back into it. You don’t need to double up, you can just finish whenever you finish. And it still counts.

Tip 5: Feel free to make and change your own rules

This was a hard one to wrap my head around. As someone who responds well to parameters, but is also unnecessarily hard on myself, I realized that this is a project meant for fun and personal growth. As such, you can make and change your own damn rules. If your initial idea is proving too hard and time-consuming, change it! If you can’t work on weekends, don’t! If you take a year to make all 100 posts, you’re not alone!

One Hundredth post from 100 days of handmade words

The 100 Day Project is much like marathon training: it’s about long term endurance. Little by little, you chisel away at your goal and build up discipline muscles. And then finally, after much joy, pain, feet-dragging and elation, you’ve reached the finish line.

How to join

The project starts April 7, 2020 on Instagram. Find all the official info on the 100 Day Project website.

My project this year

This year I'll be making 100 Days of Textures: experimenting with different handmade and digital texture techniques. Follow along on my Instagram.

I hope this advice helps you decide to take part in this year's 100 Day Project. Will you participate? Let me know your project and where I can follow you in the comments below!

 

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