Wattpad and Patreon

I’ve joined Wattpad!

It only took two workshops from the lovely Linda Poitevin to convince me of the benefits of the platform. I guess it also took me over a year to feel like I was ready enough as a writer to do it. The first workshop of hers I went to was by the Capital Crime Writers and Ottawa Public Library in October 2015. I even found my old tweets from then!

The latest workshop was this past weekend at the Ottawa Romance Writers Association. Here Linda mapped out for us how the popularity of Wattpad and serial reading is growing worldwide (especially among the younger demographics) and she explained how linking to a free excerpt to a fully-published ebook can lead to more sales. She used her own data and charts to show us exactly how Wattpad affected her sales. It’s really quite staggering.

In addition to the fun Wattpad announcement, I’ve also recently joined Mandy Rosko’s Patreon, which in my mind is the “Mandy Rosko exclusive fan club”, where she has made it easy for subscribers to get her backlist and newest ebooks! As a higher-tier subscriber, I get one-on-one Skypes once a month where Mandy has been giving me motivation (and cracking that whip). As a result, I’ve had a higher wordcount last month than the previous ones, I’ve started using the terrifying “Write or Die” (NOT in kamikaze mode though), and I’ve also picked up Fire Emblem Heroes on my iPhone and become VERY addicted to it. What? A healthy life isn’t about all writing, all the time!

Ottawa Planner Meetup

This weekend I went to my first planner meetup!

I’ve been meaning to blog about my planner for a long time. I feel like I’ve had to retell this story over and over, the fact that I used a planner all throughout school, and once I had graduated University I never gave up the habit. I still bought a yearly planner when all the “back to school” stuff came out, until I fell into the “planner community” on YouTube. My first big planner purchase was my gorgeous purple Filofax A5 Organizer.

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I felt it was a nice jump into the “business world” and loved taking it to business meetings with me! Of course, with falling into the planner community comes things such as washi tape and decorative clips! Luckily, I already had a pen addiction, so that wasn’t anything new.

My A5 got a baby brother when I purchased a Filofax Personal Original in dark aqua, but both of them have been neglected for the past few years while I’ve been pretty happy with my Erin Condren Life Planner. I was a vertical planner to start, but I’ve now been loving my horizontal.

I know it is a bit silly, but I print Avery Labels for each week that have repeating tasks. For morning and night, that includes things as simple as “eat breakfast” or “play with cat”, but on a few days I have important work tasks that must get done every week. I like having daily reminders of my routine. It’s something that just works for my personal organization and productivity.

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And while I don’t go overboard with stickers very often, it is pretty nice to shop from local crafters like Esby Creative and Three Tiny Bows around to pretty up my otherwise boring weeks! Sunday’s meetup was a lot of fun because of the great company, but also because of the great conversation and sticker sharing! Where else can you squee over each other’s weekly chore lists? lol

Ottawa-planner-group-meetup

Please note: Some of the above links do lead to a small commission for me. It does not increase the price that you are charged for the item, but it does make my day!

Don’t Phone it in on Special Occasions

Jessica-Ripley-Effort-Blog

Once upon a time it was a good idea to jump on a trending topic, and to stay current.

The first time I saw this getting out of control was with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. People realized that people liked seeing the ice bucket challenges. They got views and attention, and everyone from celebrities to small businesses, joined in. Granted, it made over $100 million for the ALS association, so while it may have gotten annoying, it was at least “for a good cause”.

Recently, within the last few weeks, I’ve seen way too much of this sort of bandwagoning. For example: #TheDress. This image quickly went viral, and advertisers were quick to join in. It was widely talked about until audiences began to automatically ignore anything on the topic. It wasn’t a very effective marketing strategy.

Also consider “March Madness”. Perhaps that gets a certain audience excited, but if you focus your advertising on it, you are ignoring all of the people who don’t care about it.

It’s not just trending hashtags though. Another common content mistake happening is people phoning it in on holidays or other days of importance. In the last few weeks I’ve been inundated with “Happy International Women’s Day”, “Happy Daylight Savings Day”, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day”, and “Happy First Day of Spring”! I call it phoning it in, because advertisers are posting this with no real enthusiasm, and no follow-up content. It’s as though they are getting a “free day” on social media, without realizing that all they are doing is lumping themselves in with all the other posts that audience eyes will glaze over. People don’t subscribe to multiple different pages just to end up seeing the same thing from all of them on some days.

There is a lack of originality in doing this, and there is also a lack of alignment with business goals, branding, and consumer expectations. There is also a risk in watering down meaningful topics. Have you ever heard Valentine’s Day called a “Hallmark Holiday” because of its connection to consumerism? An expectation of buying cards, stuffed animals, and boxes of chocolates for loved ones has caused meaning and enthusiasm for the day to dwindle. This year we saw a great deal of criticism when advertisers jumped in with “Happy Women’s Day” on International Women’s Day, with a complete lack of sensitivity toward the international efforts to raise awareness of political and economic disadvantaged woman worldwide. You definitely don’t want to risk offending people in this way.

I have two suggestions (besides the underlying tip that you should always research something before you post about it):

  • Have a content calendar, based on your marketing plan. Follow this plan, and never have to “phone it in” on any day.
  • Post according to your regular schedule, and then add into your social media posts a mention of the designated holiday. For example “Today we have a post on Original Facebook Content! Take a read while you are enjoying a Shamrock Shake or a Green Beer on this St. Paddy’s Day!”

Following these two tips will ensure that you continue being known as a high-quality content provider.




Me and my digital decluttering

How much time is wasted sifting through files to find what you need to work on/with or send to someone? Not only does it slow you down, but it also slows your computer down. Conquer your stress by engaging in some digital declutter. Make it a yearly practice for sure, but also set aside a few minutes each week to tidy up so you can see the productivity benefits right away!

Update your File Organization

One of the biggest wasters of time, and the most easily fixed, is your file organization. If you find you are constantly hunting for a certain file, and using brain power to try and remember where you put it, it may be time to revisit your organization system.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to file things, so long as your system works for you. Starting with one file for everything (such as “My Documents”) is a great place to begin. Then try nesting your files, with larger topics first and then years, clients, projects, etc. inside. Keep it simple though, you want to be able to locate the files quickly, and not go through twenty nesting stages to get it. Your organization system can evolve with you, but be consistent so you don’t just end up confusing yourself!

While you are reorganizing, purge your folders, starting with the biggest one. Get rid of old files you don’t need anymore. Don’t be a packrat! Make sure you aren’t keeping around duplicate files, or previous versions of a finished project.

Get into the habit of sitting down once a week to put everything in its place. Clear out your downloads folder and your desktop clutter. You’ll be on your way to a stress-free file management system in no time!

Name your files:

Use a consistent standard, whatever it may be, that works for you. Be descriptive and specific, so you can understand what the file is without having to open it. Many people chose to start with the date, then use the broader category and then project name, with underscores between each, such as:

20150223_Blog_Decluttering

You could also add your business acronym and file version, especially if you are sending it on to anyone else. Remember that file names shouldn’t be too long, and most special characters should be avoided. Also avoid using spaces. Instead use underscores, dashes, or camel case (each letter of each word is capitalized for ease of reading).

Also remember that if you are uploading images to your website, they should have SEO optimized file names!

Weed out the E-mail

Email clutter equals brain clutter. Each email symbolizes a taxing demand on you from another person, no matter if the only thing required is a simply “ok” reply. Many of the best email management techniques recommend that you set a certain time each day to sit down and give your email your attention. Don’t let it be a constant interruption during the day! When you are focused on your inbox, be determined to take action. Use descriptive subject headings, respond right away, file messages with specific labels and folders, and use a program like Boomerang to schedule an email to leave your inbox and come back at a later time and date if needed.

Of course, deleting is going to be the best way to declutter. Get rid of your archives that are older than 2 years old! Also, unsubscribe to all of the newsletters that you don’t read.

Control the Information Overload

Do you find yourself stashing away articles that you want to find time to read someday? It’s all too easy to do so, between browser bookmarks, Evernote clippings, and the “Saved” features in our RSS readers and even Facebook! Give yourself time each week (or day) to read these articles you’ve kept and keep what you are stashing down to a minimum. In addition, you may want to decrease your subscriptions to only the top 10 that you can make time to keep up with.

And a final reminder: Backup! Backup! Backup!

How often do you create a backup of your computer? And do you store this backup in a safe location away from your computer? You may want to consider keeping files in cloud storage (such as Dropbox) to not only give you peace of mind that your files are safe and secure, but to also allow yourself access over any computer or tablet.




Concentrating when working from home

Jessica-Ripley-Home-Concentration-TipsOn a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your ability to concentrate on your work?

Concentration is important for self-employed individuals, because if you aren’t able to maintain focus you can end up wasting hours (and as I’ve written about before, time is our most valuable resource)! If you’d like to improve your concentration skills and start getting more done each day, check out the nine tips below.

  1. Create a to-do list every evening (or whenever you finish working for the day). Not only will this give you a chance to set your priorities, but it will also give you the chance to unload everything from your mind and put them on paper so you can enjoy the rest of your evening.
  2. Have a restful sleep. Focus starts the night before you work, beginning with your to-do list and leading into a restful night of sleep. A good mattress and a good pillow help facilitate restful sleep. Try to get a good eight hours a night so your mind is well-rested.
  3. Start your day off with meditation. Letting go of any worries and allowing your mind to clear is the best way to create a stage for focus. Experts recommend 20 minutes of meditation a day to improve your attention span, starting in five minute increments. Clear your mind and focus on your breath. Whenever anything wandering thoughts find their way in your head, simply let them go and focus back on your breath.
  4. Optimize your environment by creating a workspace that feels good to you. You should have a space that you look forward to spending time in. Consider using color theory. The color red is said to improve concentration and memory, and blue improves creativity. Also think about the noise in the area. Many people work well with classical music. Sites like Focus @ Will are specifically designed to help facilitate concentration. Also ensure that you have enough lighting and a comfortable temperature, and keep your area clear of any distracting mess.
  5. Speaking of distractions, remove as many as you can as possible. Turn off the phone and text messages, email, and social media. Set certain times when you check these devices, but remember to keep to your to-do list and don’t let any other requests bump out what you really need to do.
  6. Try the Pomodoro method, or timeboxing. Work straight for 25-50 minutes and then take a five minute break. After two hours of this take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Combined with your to-do list, this helps to set deadlines and trick your mind into having a stronger block of productivity.
  7. Get the blood flowing and improve flow of oxygen to the brain. When you spend so much time sitting, gravity pulls the blood downward. Get up during your breaks and walk, use the stairs, or do some stretches to get your circulation going and improve focus.
  8. Don’t Multitask. Practice doing just one thing at a time, and doing it to completion. When we split our concentration between tasks not only do we increase the time it takes us to finish each one, but research shows that the quality of work also suffers. There are many studies that show multitasking shrink’s the brain’s ability to concentrate, so just don’t do it!
  9. When all else fails, try the “five more” rule. Tell yourself to finish just five more tasks. If you are reading, read five more pages. If you are doing email responses, just five more emails. At the very least, just five more minutes of work!

Try one or two of these tips at a time to build up your concentration. Remember the golden rule of consistency! The more regularly you practice these tricks the more benefits you will see. Good luck!




Tips for Working over Family Holidays

The holidays never cease to throw a wrench into any plans to be productive that I may have had. Living 1800 miles away from my hometown (where most of my family and friends reside) means it’s always a big deal when I am able to go home for a visit. It also means that no matter what my best intentions are, I never get as much writing done as I want to.

It is incredibly hard to get family and friends to understand your job when you work from home, especially if your time is spent all day on the computer. Writing takes a great deal of concentration, and it’s not the kind of thing that is easy to do when you have someone next to you chatting. Combine that with the fact that Christmas is a time for family and loved ones, and we’ve got a very stressful situation and a challenge of trying to find a balance.

It seems like it might be easiest to just take the time off completely and focus on family, but sometimes it isn’t possible to do that, or uncomfortable to take weeks away from making progress. In that case, I’ve been trying out two big tips to help me keep my momentum:

Practice Starting and Finishing: This applies to a work in general as well as daily writing. Sometimes I have something to do in the afternoon, but I have time to write in the morning and evening. I need to practice sitting down and hammering out words without the promise of a long stretch of writing time. For me, starting is the hardest part. I need to get used to it.

Appear in the afternoon: I’m lucky in that my family likes to sleep in, and they don’t really do anything before the coffee has had a few hours to activate their brains. This means I’m able to stay in my room and write in the morning without any distractions, and if they don’t “believe” I am working, they can just assume I’m sleeping. Of course, I’m fighting my own desire to get up and see what everyone is up to, but it works when I can!

The main thing is to keep going along, and not get discouraged no matter what!

Prepping for time off

Jessica-Ripley-Productivity-Time-Off(blog originally published on the Hewett Ripley Site)

Do you have vacation plans in the future?

Haha, right! As small business owners it’s hard to imagine taking time completely off from business, but do you have a plan in place to ensure your business is able to still run so you CAN take time off? Remember, time off might come when you least expect it – it might come because you have an illness or family emergency.

In the business world we consider these situations “risks”, but do you have a plan to ensure potential clients aren’t repelled by your sudden withdrawal?

Consider having these 5 steps in place so your business doesn’t whither while you tend to important life circumstances.

  1. Pre-write blogs. Evergreen content is that which can be posted at any time. Do yourself a favor and have a few (5 or so) evergreen blogs ready to go in case you don’t have a chance to write a new one on time.
  2. Curate Content. Having a list of great articles that you’d like to share with your audience ensures that you can stay active on social media and continue to provide everyone with helpful tips.
  3. Be Truthful. Let your audience know if you are having planned or unplanned time off. People can be very forgiving and understanding if they know what is going on.
  4. The “one-hour” rule. Set one hour a day, JUST one hour, to focus on work. You may use this hour for emails, phone calls, and posting that pre-written content. Knowing you have just this one hour will help to set healthy boundaries for you and your business. *Bonus Tip* Consider a tool like Boomerang to schedule emails to be sent back to you in the future.
  5. Make a comeback plan. Odds are that you may feel a little guilty after taking time off, or you may just try to jump back in with too much enthusiasm. Put a system in place to let yourself ease back into work slowly. Prioritize tasks, and set goals, but be careful of overdoing yourself. You don’t want to make commitments that you can’t uphold!

And back to that idea of “time off”. Remember that vacations ARE important to allow yourself to refresh. Summer vacations are especially nice, because then you get to come back in the Fall just like a school kid after summer break. Don’t feel guilty – with proper procedures in place your business will survive and you will benefit from the respite.




Time: our most valuable resource

Jessica-Ripley-Time-Resource

As a small business owner and/or entrepreneur, you may have started to realize that the most valuable resource to you is your TIME. The only limit on our productivity, on our ability to create and our ability to pull in income, is how much we can get done each day. What this means is that we need to ensure that our prices are high enough to make up for the rest of the time we spent marketing, bookkeeping, and (in the case of writers like me or other creatives) also brainstorming, and it also means that we need to be making the most of the time we have.

What are some solutions to this issue of needing more time?

1) Increase Productivity: There are so many books and blogs out there about increasing productivity, but my advice is to figure out what works best for YOU. What works best for ME is starting my morning out by focusing on non-work things that will help me to feel good for the rest of the day (exercise, eating a healthy breakfast, and reading). Then I work in 90-minute intervals, taking a break to walk around or change my scenery before sitting down for another session. When I do this I find I don’t end up in a “zombie state” after overworking myself.

2) Set Priorities: Each night, either when “clocking out” or before you go to bed, set your to-do list and agenda for the next day. Stick to this list. It is tempting to backburner tasks for new emails that come in during the day or phone calls that come in, but you have to be realistic and realize that giving your time to these new demands only puts you behind. Check your emails only two or three times a day, at designated times, and focus on your predetermined tasks for the rest of the day.

3) Outsource: There are many options to fit what you need, from high-quality virtual assistants and bookkeepers, to freelancers on oDesk, and all the way down to the $5 deals on Fiverr. There is no excuse for you to have to sit down and teach yourself a whole new skill that takes your time away from what you are really good at.

4) Technology: Use business tools that save time. For example, using Dropbox takes out the need to move files to a USB stick when you are moving locations. Using Google Apps for Business allows you to access your email and calendar on any computer or smartphone. Evernote lets you organize notes, to-do lists, webpage bookmarks, emails, and more! There is something out there that will help you to become a more effective worker.

5) Cut Travel Time: If you drive to meet clients you understand how much time it takes to prepare for the meeting, to commute (especially if you run into traffic), to wait for your client/potential client, to leave time for small talk, and then to drive back to your workspace. Doing this many times a week can really add up to lost time. Try to set just one day a week for traveling around to meet clients, and consider virtual meetings (using tools like Skype) as an alternative.

These five tips are essential for my small business time management, and I hope they will help you too!