Archive for the ‘Design Business’ Category

What’s Distracting You?

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Happy Halloween! Did you get your candy for tonight? Are your kids’ costumes ready? Oh, and be sure to get something for dinner. And the dog needs his flea meds. Did your mom call you back? Need to check in. Hey, look what your friend posted on Facebook – that’s awesome! Let’s go see what’s on Instagram.

No, I’m not practicing stream-of-consciousness writing. I’m giving you an example of “monkey brain” – an overstimulated, unable-to-concentrate thought process that most of us experience in today’s wired world. The problem? There’s almost no room for focus. We’re just too distracted! And that can hurt our clients and our businesses.

It’s so bad – thanks to the Internet and all of our favorite apps – that Harvard Medical School research shows we have “culturally generated ADD.” We’re all now inattentive, disorganized, overbooked. Yikes. Not a great set-up for small businesses that need ALL of our attention.


It’s so bad, that most medical research on multitasking now calls it attention switching, with your brain trying to switch constantly to other topics or chatter at you until you stop focusing on the task at hand. So what’s a “monkey brain” to do?

Stanford University research says that focus can be developed, like a muscle. We just have to literally practice focusing. How do we do that? You know the answer. You have to clear the decks of ALL distractions.

Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur who has written five books, found concentration so hard for him that he actually booked round-trip flights to Tokyo just so he could write without anything grabbing for his attention. He found it to be a small price to pay to get his books done. But I love flying today for the same reason – no distractions. You just have to try to resist the temptation to log onto inflight WiFi.


Here’s how to start using that focus muscle without a flight to Tokyo:

  • Turn off all alerts on your phone. You do NOT need to know how many people like that photo you posted. You can look later. It’s hard to resist the temptation to look, so help yourself by eliminating those alerts.
  • Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. You can set it so your child’s school can still get through; no one else really needs to. So shut it down. We used to live through whole days without talking to people who weren’t involved in our actual jobs, so you can do that for a few hours each day.
  • Turn off every window on your browser except the one you require for the task at hand. That includes Facebook.
  • Tell your team/spouse/mom/whomever that you are working and can’t be disturbed. Period. Hold them (and yourself) to it!
  • Turn off the noise. That includes televisions, radios, anything else that’s distracting to your concentration. Consider using white noise machines, a fan, anything to block whatever might cause your brain to disengage.

It can take up to an hour to get your brain back in gear once you’ve been distracted, so don’t let that monkey brain run away with you! Think about how much more you could get done in a day if you really and truly focused on your business. It could be a game changer!

What distracts you from your work? Let me know in the comments section below!








4 Ways to Rethink Your Work Team

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I’m asked all the time when a small business owner should hire employees – and there’s really no easy one-size-fits-all answer. You have to determine that for yourself based on your income and overhead. But I will tell you that I have completely revamped how I work with team members, and you can too! Let’s take a look at 4 ways to create a lean-and-mean productive team:

1. Make a list of all your tasks and jobs required in your company. Remember what I always say: You should spend 80% of your time on the thoughts and activities that will produce the most results (aka MONEY) for your business. So look at that list and mark the things you need to do to make your company money or that require your skills. If an activity doesn’t give you a strong return on investment, then you should not be the one doing it. You have to assign tasks that you should not be performing to other people. That’s going to make your company more productive. After all, if you are the most important asset your company has, can you really afford to be the one taking out the trash or cleaning your office? Making that list will help you focus on where you need help.

2. Once you know you have job duties that you should pass on to someone else, it’s time to decide what type of person can handle them for you: an outsourced hire or an employee. The advantages of outsourcing include: getting specialized experts for a fraction of the cost. You also don’t have to pay for insurance, retirement, payroll taxes, office supplies, a workstation or a computer. In most cases, you pay when the work is complete. And you don’t have to manage anyone in-house. I outsource things in my company like bookkeeping, web design, IT help, graphic design and more.


There are advantages to having an employee, of course. You have someone to work with you and to bounce ideas off of. They are on-call immediately and can help when there’s an issue. Once they’re trained, they know the “ins and outs” of the business and can help make decisions without your guidance, which comes in handy when you need to take time off. Once you really think about the pros and cons of outsourcing versus having an employee, you need to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine which type of employee makes the most sense for your budget and your needs. You may want to use a hybrid, like I do, with employees handling some jobs, and other things being outsourced.

3. Think global rather than just local. In today’s world, your team doesn’t even need to be in the same place – you can hire the right person for the job, regardless of where they’re based. As many of you know, I have full-time team members in different states, and my outsourced people are in other states, too. Because of today’s technology, we stay in touch and work together just as if we were all in the same office. Having a virtual team allows you to get the best and brightest in the field and not settle for less just because that’s all you can find in your area.

4. Get connected. We are so lucky to have so many tools available to us today that let us connect with people around the world. They also help keep a hybrid work team connected and productive. Some of the tools we use are Studio Webware, Asana, Dropbox, Skype, Google calendars, Time Tracker, and more. It creates a seamless work system that feels as if we’re all working in the same office.


You’ll also have to meet and check in with your team a little more often just because you aren’t sharing the same office space and you don’t have the luxury of gathering around the water cooler or break room and casually discussing topics. Organize time when your team can socialize and get to know each other and build a relationship that will last.

Building a team, like building a company, takes some work and time but if you put these ideas into place, you should end up with a more productive and smoother-running company in the long run. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!







5 Business Lessons I’ve Learned

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When you’ve been in business as long as I have – over 17 years now – you learn some things along the way. I’ve learned from business experts, coaches, my dad, and so many others. But the lessons I really took to heart are the ones I taught myself, by making missteps, having to course-correct, or flat-out failing at something!

Those experiences may not be fun, but they do give you a real-world lesson. And they taught me that I can fail at something and come back even stronger. So here are the 5 lessons I learned the hard way over the years:

1. Bigger is not always better. I thought I had to have a big office and a huge staff to be taken seriously and to get everything done. I just thought that was what you did as a “real business.” Boy was I wrong. I’m now in a much smaller office (more about that in the future), and I not only have a leaner staff, but they are based in several different states, too! We are a much more efficient and cohesive team that functions at a high level with a lot of online tools. And business is better than ever!


2. Profit margins are where it’s at. I’ve told you over and over how I had to face some hard truths early on in my business, and get super-serious about my financials. And the one thing in that painful process that really rocked my world is the realization that profit margins are the key. Small business owners like me can fool ourselves into thinking we have a ton of money coming in. But once we weigh that against the expenses going out, or against our REAL hours spent on the project, we can get a cold slap in the face when we realize we aren’t making a 10th of what we think we are. I watch my margins like a hawk today!

3. Think local. Now I love the major shelter magazines more than you can imagine, and they are always my goal for publishing. But sometimes we forget that our local magazines are fabulous vehicles for getting published, too! In fact, they can often bring in more clients for a designer than one of the national magazines. So even though I will always earmark projects for submission to the premier magazines, I really love to support my local and regional publications, too. In fact, as I always say, At Home in Arkansas really helped me get to where I am today!


4. Niche is key. If you’ve spent time with me, or read this blog for any length of time, I know you’ve heard this before. But defining and refining what makes me different from other designers and businesses was the key to everything for me, from getting covers of publications, to forging new partnerships, to attracting new clients across the country. In the early years, I wasn’t clear on that niche. It took me a while to really settle into what was my “sweet spot.” That happens for a lot of us, we’re afraid to be pigeonholed. But being clear about what makes us different is really what sets us apart!

5. Leap into new ideas. This one is actually already part of my DNA – I love to come up with new ideas and strategies for my business. But where I’ve made missteps in the past is on not pulling the trigger! Whether it was fear or overthinking, I’ve missed out on some really great ideas that I then saw someone else execute and put out sooner than I did. And good for them! However, it did teach me to trust my gut and leap when I have a great idea. After all, if it doesn’t work, I’ll have another good idea to replace it!

What do you think about the lessons I’ve learned? And what are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way? Let me know in the comments section below!







Top 5 Reasons to Have a Blog on Your Website

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My coaching clients, Mastermind members, and course attendees ask me one question probably more than any other: “Do I have to blog?” I hear you: you have enough to do already and you are not a writer, but I would say that blogging is absolutely crucial to the success of your business.

For the last six months, I’ve kept a commitment to blog 5 days a week. It’s been hard at times, but that consistency has paid off. Actually, it’s done more that that: my readership has exploded! The number of followers on my blog has increased; my Facebook and Twitter followers have increased; and that is just that many more people that know about my business and what I offer, right?

Blogging may seem “old school” to you, and maybe you just don’t see the point of it, but here are my top 5 reasons that you should have a blog on your website:


1. Having frequent, fresh new content (like from a blog) makes Google rank your website higher than a site without that fresh content. Updated content lets Google know that your site is active and they should keep paying attention to it. Every new indexed page is another opportunity to improve your SEO and drive traffic to your website. Because how often are you really updating your About page or your Services page? Google only needs you to update that blog with new content 2-3 times per week to be considered “fresh,” so you don’t have to blog every single day. And you don’t have to write a book – just be sure to use those keywords to attract attention

2. Blogs are the easiest way to position you as an expert in your field. There are probably thousands of blogs out there about interior design but a lot of them are not by designers, and we are the experts in this field. Own that. People want to hear what you have to say because you are the professional and they like your style. By posting topics that resonate with your audience and show your knowledge, you are marketing your skills for your business and services.


3. Blogging also gives you great content for your social media. You can (and should) have your blog auto-post to your Facebook business page and Twitter, giving you new content for both of those platforms. You can also use a photo from your blog on Instagram. This “360 approach” to your content will allow you to drive traffic to your social media, and then from your social media back to your website. That’s what I call a win-win!

4. You can really highlight your niche, what makes you different from all other designers, by using your blog. I always say that if 10 of us wrote about the color red, none of us would approach that topic in the exact same way. This is a great chance to show prospective clients and partners why you are so unique!


5. Driving traffic to your website increases the number of people who know about your brand and services. The more people that know, the more chances you have to convert the occasional blog reader into a client or a lead on a client. More clients equal more opportunities to make money for your business and do the thing we all love to do: Design!

Once you get into blogging, it will get easier. Stay committed to having a real voice and talk about things that interest you but always try to relate it back to design because, in the end, that’s the whole point. Also be sure you’re delivering authenticity! It will make it that much easier to be trusted as a designer while boosting your business at the same time.

So have I convinced you? Blogging really isn’t that hard, and the more you do it, the more you’ll enjoy it! Let me know what you think in the comments section below!







Top 5 Reasons to Add Video to Your Marketing

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There’s a reason that I regularly post videos on my blog, that I have a Tobi TV page on my website, and that I have both a YouTube channel and a Vimeo site. It’s because video really is the future of online content and marketing. Actually, it’s already a major player!

Did you know that 78% of all the people in the U.S. watch a video online every week? That’s a lot of people! And if you look at a worldwide audience, it’s mind-boggling how many people are creating and viewing videos! So why should you include a video strategy in your business marketing plan? I’ll give you 5 good reasons!


1. Volume. By next year, research says that video will account for 69% of all online traffic. And there are over 1 billion visitors on YouTube every month – that’s with a B! That may make you think that you don’t need to get into a crowded field, but I would turn that around and say that there are so many people who want to see video that you should jump right in and give it a shot! There are plenty of “eyes” to go around!

2. Engagement. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text! Video is naturally engaging for viewers – they are drawn in almost without realizing it. And here’s another amazing fact: Videos in emails generate 76% more clickthroughs.


3. Attention and retention. In this day of information overload, video offers the quickest and easiest way to send a message. Forrester’s Research says 1 minute of video is worth 1.8 million words in terms of how quickly it can get your point across. And most people retain 95% of the information they get from a video, compared to only 10% for text. Even more importantly for small businesses, visitors will stay on your site 2 minutes longer after having viewed a video.

4. Branding. Axxon Research says that 70% of people view a brand more positively after they watch a video from that brand. People also remember videos much longer than they do text – which means they’ll remember your brand more easily if you use video, too!


5. Emotional rescue. Brand strategists all agree that they way to attract and retain customers is to make an emotional connection or relationship with them. A study by Forbes and Distilled showed that it can take 15 seconds to make an emotional connection with text, but only 5 seconds or less to hit that emotional button with a video. Given that humans now have the attention span of a goldfish (roughly 8 seconds), the quicker you connect, the better!

Really, video is just storytelling in visual form. It’s a way to really show your personality and engage. So you want to have some fun with it. But you do also need to have a strategy. What goals would you want to achieve with video engagement – what do you want people to learn about your business? And remember that short attention span and keep your videos short, too. Micro-video is really starting to ramp up, thanks to Instagram, which would be videos that are about 15 seconds.

Don’t let fear hold you back! Get out your phone and start practicing. You may be a YouTube star in the making!