Archive: May 2014

  1. How to Make Working from Home a really Shit Decision

    2 Comments 5 min read

    When I first started out as a graphic designer many moons ago I did my first few jobs from my bedroom. At the time I was living in Manchester city centre and had a rather nice apartment, I miss that apartment, it had a balcony and everything.

    However working from there was anything but ideal. In the beginning I thought it was fantastic, I had a commute that was all of three seconds and I didn’t even have to get dressed. Surely, I thought, productivity will be insane.

    Turns out that was truer than I knew. You see, I’ve said before that I love what I do, and that’s true, but it’s a double edged sword. I’d do my days work, pat myself on the back and then go watch some TV. But then I’d have a thought; a way to tweak an illustration, or modify a website. Before I knew it I was sat back at my desk doing a little bit more work. You’d be surprised at how quickly this pattern turns into you staying up till three in the morning finishing projects off.

    Why not have a little Call of Duty during the day? I’ve earned it.

    Quickly the opposite also started to become true, free time started to bleed into what should be work time. After all I’d be up all night doing all those extra hours? Why not have a little Call of Duty during the day? I’ve earned it.

    My work life was a mess. I was waking up at two in the afternoon, staying in my pyjamas all day procrastinating and finally starting work proper around five and finishing again at four in the morning. I was getting a tonne of work done, it was even good, but I felt like shit. I had no energy at all, no social life, I was putting on weight and worst of all, I just felt like a straight up scum bag.

    I had no energy at all, no social life, I was putting on weight and worst of all, I just felt like a straight up scum bag.

    Thankfully an opportunity presented itself that helped solve my problem. Some friends of mine had decided to start up a video production company and very generously offered me some desk space which I grasped feverishly with both hands.

    Having an office to work from meant that I was forced to get a routine back in place. It’s insane how something as simple as actually having a shower and getting dressed can set you up for the day. Plus it addressed one of my other concerns; the fact that I didn’t feel very professional working from my bedroom. Having an office, a place to work from, a place to meet clients gave me a sense of professionalism and legitimacy that I felt had been lacking before.

    And so this was my situation for a good few years. Obviously things changed, I switched offices a few times and eventually got one of my own, but my routine was solid, work was work and play was play, and I felt all the better for it.

    Recently though I’ve had a bit of a change of heart about the whole situation. (Yeah, that was just the worlds longest introduction – sorry.)

    I wrote about this in a bit more detail on my personal blog, but the jist of it goes like this.

    I recently took a couple of months to go travelling around Asia, and whilst there I realised that I could have totally just worked there if I’d had a laptop. In fact I could work from anywhere. It got me thinking about how I’d filled this office up with stuff I didn’t really need that much just to stop it looking so empty. I was tied to a desktop computer that was five miles away from where I woke up (not good for when a client needs a ‘quick fix’ on something). Even the majority of client meetings I had were in coffee shops in Manchester rather than here (another situation that would have been improved by working from a laptop).

    On top of that, the issue of legitimacy I had learned wasn’t nearly as contingent on office space as I had assumed.

    On top of that, the issue of legitimacy I had learned wasn’t nearly as contingent on office space as I had assumed. I looked at all the British designers I admired, Andy Clarke, Sarah Parmenter, Laura Kalbag – they all worked from home.

    I realised that I was paying for the privilege of inconvenience.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things I liked about having an office that aren’t even business related. I like that I wasn’t far from other people, the building had offices for an estate agents, a flower shop and even a beauty parlour in so I was never far away from a chat with someone if I needed a break. My landlord too was ace, not only a good friend but he gave me a killer deal on the place. It was really close to the gym and I got to ride my bike there every day.

    I don’t want to sound like I bashing the idea of an office over working from home. I don’t think one is better than the other. I comes down to what works for you. Personally I felt like the office was taking more than it was giving and that I had a good enough work ethic now to try working from home again. That being said, although I didn’t live in that Manchester apartment any more, I was acutely aware that what was true there could be true again. To stop that from happening I had to learn from my mistakes and get a proper plan together.

    So if any of this is sounding familiar check out the follow up to this article where I’ll go through all the systems I put in place to make working from home a really good decision.

    Photo Credit to Ludo

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  2. Why Your Great Granddad Knows More About Twitter Marketing Than You

    Comments Off on Why Your Great Granddad Knows More About Twitter Marketing Than You 5 min read

    I’ll level with you here guys – one of the things I don’t do too well in this game is social media. I’ll hold my hands up here, I know it’s important to a business but with the best intentions in the world, I keep finding myself letting it slide. However, out of all the social media outlets that I have a presence on, of all the audiences I regularly forsake perhaps the one I have the most trouble with is Twitter.

    Which is a bit of a bugger really as that’s quite possibly the most important.

    I see tonnes of other designers that really nail Twitter, and use it as their primary social outlet. Names like Sarah Parmenter, Andy Clarke and Jessica Hische spring to mind. Jessica even made an entire website just to teach her mum (and vicariously me) how Twitter worked!

    What’s more interesting is how these designers actually use Twitter to their advantage. Very rarely do you see them advertising a new product they have for sale, selling tickets to the next event they’re guest speaking at or even linking to a new portfolio piece they just published.

    They’re just chatting.

    Now, I may be totally wrong here, and it probably goes against the grain of most online marketing books out there, but I think it’s in simple conversation that designers promote themselves most effectively, and I’ll tell you why.

    To use my earlier examples; I started following Jessica Hische after quite naturally (and quite unavoidably) finding some of her amazing work online, through following her tweets I found out she was friends with a UI designer called Sarah Parmenter who is also amazingly talented. So I decided to follow her. She then retweeted something from Andy Clarke that she found amusing who turns out to be a rather talented web designer.

    You get the idea – you know how Twitter works.

    I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs here.

    it’s effectively the same way you might get to know two old ladies having a conversation behind you on the bus

    All I’m saying is that through a natural quite unrelated conversation I quickly became a fan of two new designers that I may not otherwise have found.  And it’s not just that either, there’s also a bi-product that comes from this. Because these designers are just chatting and not punching out marketing speak on the hour, I feel like I’m getting to know them. Agreed, it’s effectively the same way you might get to know two old ladies having a conversation behind you on the bus, but the end result is the same. When the time comes that one of these designers does want to promote something, I’m all the more likely to respond to it – not because they’re Twitter famous, but because I know them.

    What I’ve Been Doing Wrong

    So why is it that poor old Alex hasn’t been getting any twitter traction? Because until now I’ve basically been doing the absolute polar opposite to what I’ve just said.

    I have three Twitter accounts at present, one for my design business – Hunting Town, one for the Design Range and most recently one for me. I have no favourites. I ignore all three quite equally. On the Hunting Town account I occasionally post images of projects I’ve worked on, the Design Range account basically acts as an RSS feed that only updates when there’s a new article published and my personal account is just what I use to actually follow people.

    What I don’t do on any of these accounts is actually interact with anyone.

    I’m trying to promote a social media account without actually being social

    It’s because of this vital and painfully obvious factor that I think I just give up with Twitter time and time again. To say it out loud sounds really stupid doesn’t it – “I’m trying to promote a social media account without actually being social“. It’s moronic. Yet I think it’s what a lot of us actually do. We’re so wrapped up in work and trying to actually run a business that we treat social media as just another box that needs to be ticked, we just need to get a post out for today to show we’re still alive.

    So why do we do it then?

    It’s because we’ve taken our cues from big businesses. If you look at the Twitter accounts of Red Bull, or Nike, they have a large following and post regularly about their services and products and it works for them. But they’re companies, they are Red Bull, they are Nike. How do I explain myself here?

    You’re not going to become mates with Red Bull.

    Now that’s not to say that that’s the ideal way for a big business to handle Twitter. In fact Gary Vaynerchuck positively implores big businesses to be more social on a one to one basis with their customers in his book The Thank You Economy, and some major brands have taken this kind of thinking on board to great effect. Argos recently garnered a tonne of attention from their response to this customer.

    Heh – love that. Do you get what I mean though? The fact that I (and many others) have just posted that tweet is testament to the fact these kind of personal interactions are effective.

    Blizzard too are a great example of interacting with their customers on a personal level. Aside from being incredibly open with the development of their games, their actual developers take time out to field questions on their personal accounts. Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler) in particular was almost considered the voice of Blizzard by virtue of the fact that he replied to so many tweets personally. So granted, whilst you’re still not going to become mates with Blizzard, you may well end up getting to know Greg Street.

    It’s this kind of interaction that was such a simple and obvious part of business for our grandparents. You weren’t just a service to your customers, you knew them. You knew that Mrs Smith popped in for a loaf and some cheese on a Thursday, or that Brian had just had a new baby because you actually spoke to them and actually got to know them. Well the same is true today, it’s just a reversal of it, instead of you knowing your customers well, they know you before you even meet them!

    You just need to be there to get to know.

    So what’s the plan then?

    So going forward I’m going to try a new approach. I’m going to leave the Hunting Town and Design Range accounts as they are for now and focus instead on actually using my @lexsingleton account like an actual human being. I desperately encourage you to follow me and give me a nudge if you find me slacking and by all means, try and do the same yourself and let me know how you get on! If you’ve got any tips yourself that could help me out or any other designers, please do let me know in the comments below!

    Photo credit to AdamCohn

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