Permission Granted. Say, “Yes!”

Sometimes you need encouragement and support to allow your self to do X.

Sometime you just need a push.

Lucky for me, this magical story shaper had time to meet with me and I have this amazing entrepreneur, like-minded friend to hold my hand.

And, thank you Seth Godin for “On behalf of yes

Yes, it’s okay to ship your work.

Yes, you’re capable of making a difference.

Yes, it’s important.

Yes, you can ignore that critic.

Yes, your bravery is worth it.

Yes, we believe in you.

Yes, you can do even better.


— Seth Godin, “On Behalf of Yes”

Garcia Had It Right

I love Penelope Garcia.

If you’re a Criminal Minds fan, you know her. If you have no clue who she is, Garcia is sensitive. She’s caring. She’s whip smart and kicks ass when it comes to hacking into computers.

She will find your secrets.

She is also the girl you know that sticks out in a sea of suits.

Her hair changes color every few months or every year. She wears feathers or flowers, color combinations you might not dream of putting together and she knows how to wear it with sass and class.

Photo of Kirsten Vangsness

Photo Credit:

Don’t Kid Yourself, Clothing is Important. Metaphorical and Otherwise.

(Hello! I’m a designer!)

In a recent episode, Garcia decided to step up and fill someone else’s shoes. In order to fill the shoes, she thought she needed to tone down her personality and opted for a more demure appearance.

She didn’t wear her shoes.

She was trying really hard not to be herself.

It’s no surprise she became frustrated. She was stretched too thin and balls starting dropping.

Luckily, her BFF had a wee chat with her and she got her mojo back!

She stopped trying to be someone else. She tapped into her strengths and used her unconventional style to help stop the psycho killer. (It’s a tv show – yay!)

We can try to be someone else.

We can try to wear different clothes.

We can try to use a different voice.

Or, we can use what we have; be who we are and do things our way.

Be your true self. Recognize your limitations. Tap your strengths.

Not everyone will love you, but your fans will. And you’ll do a better job, because it will be YOU doing your job. 

The Challenge: Why I do What I do

While preparing a presentation about branding and marketing to photographers I couldn't help but do some of my own soul-searching about who I am, what I do, why I do it and who I do it for.

I'm a firm believer that when you are ready for what you want, things will happen. It's like you are sending out some kind of awesome energy to the universe and it sends you what you need.

What I needed, though I didn't know it, was an email newsletter from Amy Hoy of Unicorn Free about a blog post by Naomi Dunford of Naomi challenged her readers to answer some of those exact questions!

So I'm taking up Amy and Naomi on their challenge to do the same.

While preparing a presentation about branding and marketing to photographers I couldn’t help but do some of my own soul-searching about who I am, what I do, why I do it and who I do it for.

I’m a firm believer that when you are ready for what you want, things will happen. It’s like you are sending out some kind of awesome energy to the universe and it sends you what you need.

What I needed, though I didn’t know it, was an email newsletter from Amy Hoy of Unicorn Free about a blog post by Naomi Dunford of Naomi challenged her readers to answer some of those exact questions!

So I’m taking up Amy and Naomi on their challenge to do the same.

These are not easy questions and they are rock solid questions for anyone wanting to figure out what makes them unique or for those wanting a refresher (like me). Things may have changed and it’s always a good idea to reevaluate to make sure you are on the right track. It’s a lot like car maintenance: the 30K check or 60K tune-up.

Just like Amy and Naomi, I challenge you to answer these questions and post your link in the comments.

What’s your game? What do you do?

I help smart people take the scary out of being online. I help them navigate the chaos of choices when it comes to building a website.

I like to think of myself as the visual partner for businesses. I love a good brainstorm (I’m full of ideas) about ways to market a product, design content and distribute it.

We design logos, identity systems, print collateral, books for self-publishing, websites, and more. I have one part-time employee, Rachel Yoakum, and we have a great time working closely with our customers.

It’s fun!

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

Love it. Love it. Love it. I’m not sure what a creepy knack is so I’ll stick with the Luuuuuv 🙂

Design is magical because it affects our everyday lives. Everything has been designed (good or bad) from the way traffic moves through a city to the fork you use to eat.

Design isn’t just about typefaces, colors, or graphics. I love the full range of how design can solve problems; how it affects the way people interact or how a product is used; how to communicate a message, a story, a feeling.

I love working with passionate, optimistic people who are committed to their dreams and go into business saying, “Yes!” to success.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

My customers include a wide-range of small businesses: editorial photographers, wedding photographer, nonprofit foundations, jewelry designers, letterpress printer, winery, copywriter, a bed & breakfast…

The big deal is that recently I’ve decided to fine-tune my niche, my “target market” more to be the go-to designer for editorial and wedding photographers who need a designer to help them with their branding and marketing.

When I worked full-time for newspapers and magazines, I did my best to make sure pictures were used well; that the best pictures were used for a story. Before that, I went through a graduate program where most of my friends were photographers (photojournalists to be specific). I listened to their challenges, frustrations, hopes, joys, etc., and went out into the design world determined to be one of their advocates.

If there was a “picture friendly section” of the newspaper, I was usually assigned the section. When I moved into magazines I felt like hit the jackpot. It also helps that I’m married to a photographer and picture editor who also understands the challenges, the beauty and the business of design. We complement each other very well.

The kind of people who would need or want what I offer are people who are serious about their business and ready to invest in a professional solution. They understand the value of working with a professional designer.

I love working with people who have a dream, believe they deserve it and are totally committed to their business — anyone who needs a marketing-web-and-print-savvy designer and partner-in-crime to help them reach their fans.

They believe they have something special to offer and want to share it with the world. It’s a lot of work, sure, and it’s fun, exciting and the beauty is they get to be themselves.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

Some people think I’m the bomb. Really, go ahead and read what they have to say.

In all seriousness, I think big picture and I can get into the nitty gritty details. My background is in publishing and there are many similarities with producing a magazine and producing a website. I can easily maneuver from web to print so if you need an ebook or printed book or magazine, no problem. If you need a website, logo, business cards, brochures…let’s talk!

I believe you can be small and powerful. You may not need all the accoutrements. I don’t try to sell you features you don’t need. I help you find what works best for your resources and goals. If we aren’t the best fit, I’ll try to make recommendations.

Photographers benefit from my experience being on the receiving end of their websites, promotions, etc. As a magazine art director I received TONS of promotional pieces. (Would you believe I still have several promotions from photographers and illustrators that made a lasting impression?) I also visited thousands of websites and back then, it was painful as a user. Now as an independent designer I approach my work to meet the goals of the photographer and to be compelling and useful as possible for art directors, picture editors, buyers or really whomever is determined to be the target audience.

My style is also not heavy on crazy graphics or web 2.0 glossy shit. I lean more minimalist and classy, especially for photographers. I have a special love for typography which I feel is at the heart of what makes websites “pretty”. Busy backgrounds? Crazy Photoshop effects? If that’s what you are looking for, we’re not a good match.

We also work closely with our developers to make sure the site is coded to be future proof. There are varying degrees of this depending on budgets and that’s where we start. How can we design a website to scale easily and be backward compatible as technology evolves? We also do not use Flash unless it is needed for a specific use. Design and development work together from beginning to end.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

More affordable website solutions for photographers who have smaller budgets and big dreams. I keep thinking there has to be a way for people to start out the gate without an enormous lump sum payment and look really polished and current (design + technology). I’m really excited. We already have some designs in the works.

We’re also planning to create some print design solutions and I would love to develop some packages with my husband and picture editor, Mike Davis. We work well together so I think it’ll be super fun.

The coming months will also bring a mini retreat where I’ll be focusing on me, my business and what other types of solutions I can offer for photographers and businesses who really need some help getting out there. I have big plans to rock 2011 so I need some physical and mental space to create so I can tackle the new year fully armed and rested!

Clip to Evernote

The Tale of Two Realtors

We decided to sell our house in January of this year. I knew the economy wasn’t great. I knew the housing market was and has been in a state of chaos. You would have to be a mole who never comes out to not know.

As two self-employed people, watching cash flow is a huge priority. We knew selling would be challenging and until you go through the process in this environment, you really have no idea. A few sobering price adjustments and low and behold, it sold! (I’m eternally grateful to the universe.)

Our next step: Buy a house. With interest rates at an all-time low and house prices in general falling, conditions seemed ripe. Surely we could find a house and get a deal!

(This is where fellow self-employed peeps shake their heads because they already know what I’m going to say.)

The Lending Hurdle

What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to get a loan. I’ll save the details for another post and because of this hurdle, I started to research other cities that seemed “more affordable”.

I was convinced we would relocate to Austin, Texas; position ourselves in a more stable local economy (Portland isn’t so great) and buy a house that didn’t need tens of thousands of dollars or additional work; maybe purchase a house for cash!

Time was short so I took action to find a realtor to get some information and expertise. I had no recommendations so I began my research online.

The Test: One Email

I found two realtors I liked from my experience of them on their websites. It was a shot in the dark and I was feeling desperate at the time. (I don’t recommend making decisions in a desperate state of mind.)

I wrote the same email to both realtors in great detail. I figured I might as well give them the details because it’ll come out sooner or later. Plus, I had to know if my thought process was even realistic.

Realtor No. 1

She had a classy, polished and very professional website. It was clean and approachable; slightly on the conservative side. Her association with a national company seemed to lend to her credibility. She had a ton of testimonials and those are what compelled me to choose her.

Realtor No. 2

She had a bit more personality and this very cool hummingbird that flew around the site. (I’m a sucker for hummingbirds.) The site was clean and was fun; playful. She also had some great testimonials.

Night and Day Responses

Within a day I received an email response from both realtors.

Realtor No. 1 was as cold as a fish. In a nutshell told me I wasn’t worth her time (read: your budget is way too low for me to bother). She even went so far as to tell me “not bother” and “It would be a complete waste of time”.

Realtor No. 2 was as warm as sunshine. She wrote me this lengthy, solutions-oriented email that made me feel like wow, this person can help us. She was optimistic and realistic. She explained the challenges and what to expect with our budget.

Service and The Circle

Naturally, I was taken aback by Realtor No. 1. It’s like that feeling Julia Roberts’s character (in Pretty Woman) must have had when she walked into that store on Rodeo Drive and the women basically told her just by appearance that the store “couldn’t possibly have anything” for her.

I kept my cool with Realtor No.1. (I really wanted to reach through the email and slap her) and simply wrote her back saying, “Thank you and I’ll get in touch with another realtor.”

Realtor No. 2 and I hit it off as if we had known each other for years. Even though we never met in person because we decided to stay in Oregon, I wrote her a testimonial for the service she gave us during this crazy time. When you are thinking of buying a house in a city you aren’t familiar with, the level of anxiety is even greater. She held our hand from afar, providing a great deal of emotional support.

You can take a wild guess who I would recommend in a heartbeat to anyone I cared about.

Interview with Rebecca Shapiro

 I’m starting a new series called Sunday Spotlight where I will feature an interview (Q&A format) with an entrepreneur who I think has something valuable to offer to you. It’s a work in progress so if you have any suggestions or ideas or questions, please contact me and share 🙂

Rebecca Shapiro Portrait Today’s Sunday Spotlight is with Rebecca Shapiro of Integrative Mentoring. I met Rebecca a couple of years ago now and have worked with her in the development of my business. She is thoughtful, honest and extremely professional. Rebecca has years of experience working with many entrepreneurs, helping them to see more clearly; encouraging them to move forward and do what feels good. Rebecca has helped me grow and I think she might be able to help you grow, too!

Please share a bit about yourself and the services you offer:

I am a small business mentor and a professional fine artist. I find that entrepreneurship and art are both highly creative and complimentary. I often use my skills as an artist and mentor when I consult with business clients.

I work with my clients to develop an actionable plan so they can successfully accomplish what they want. We do this together so they’re fully engaged. It doesn’t work when I end up telling a client what they should do. If they’re not invested, it won’t stick and usually fails…even if it was the best solution.

Most of the time my clients are in transition and are having difficulty seeing where they need to go or what they need to do for their business. I use creative principles and exercises to get the juices flowing so clients can see what they’re doing in a new way and make the best decisions for their business.

You can read more on my website at

What are a few of the biggest challenges facing businesses today?

Fear is probably the biggest challenge I see businesses face today. It prevents them from thinking clearly and strategically. It keeps them from investing in themselves and their business. I see so many businesses freeze in their tracks when the economy slows down. They’re so afraid of making a mistake but guess what…they just made a huge one by freezing up.

This is the very best time to reevaluate your personal and professional goals. Once you’ve taken some time to sit down and look at what’s going on, you can determine what you really need. It’s a great time to invest in your business, get some additional guidance or bump up your education. It’s also an excellent time to put some money and effort into building relationships with new customers so that when the economy does turn around, you’re way ahead of everyone else who was frozen in their tracks.

This is the time when I carry my soapbox around and tell everyone to reinvent themselves. It truly is the best time to do this sort of work. Most people need a little help so working with a coach, consultant or mentor can offer guidance and motivation so you stay away from freeze mode.

In an age of DIY, how can a business mentor help an entrepreneur?

DIY is great! Business owners can save a lot of money and have greater control when they DIY. BUT…there comes a point where DIY can actually get in the way and businesses can lose profits. It’s sort of sneaky…you get to a tipping point where you actually must reach out and bring other support on to keep your business going or growing.

A business mentor can help you through that DIY transition time. I commonly help my clients determine whether this is the best time to bring on additional staff or create a contractor position. Sometimes they need to relinquish control and delegate. Other times, they just need an expert eye to help them see where they can be more effective by having a good mix of DIY and hiring help.

What is the importance of design and marketing for entrepreneurs?

A well crafted design is attractive and people want to know you. The old adage “put your best face forward” really is true because first impressions do last. When your business has an eye-catching design, it tells potential customers you’re successful and have something to offer. It also tells your existing customers that you care about your business and you’re flourishing. Everyone wants to be part of something attractive and successful.

Design is also part of your marketing plan. In fact, a good design is part of your branding strategy which is part of a solid marketing plan. A lot of businesses skip over the branding work and go straight to the marketing. I discourage my clients from this pitfall. The branding work can be tough but when done right with a well-expressed design, it makes your marketing so much easier.

I’m a firm believer that owning a business is a community effort, so the more support you create, the better you will be.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business?

Get expert help. There are business advisors all over the place, especially now that entrepreneurship has been on the rise for the last several years. A strong business advisor who has experience working with your genre of business (this is very important) will help you identify and achieve your goals much more quickly than if you try to figure it out yourself.

Look at it this way…If you needed surgery, you would look up surgeons and pick the one that specializes in what you need because that surgeon is an expert in that field. It’s the same with business. You need help, research and find the best possible person who can help you grow your business. It might be a private consultant such as myself, it might be someone at your bank or someone at your community college. Don’t be afraid to say you need help and want to grow. Do be sure to ask questions and make sure the help you’re getting someone who has experience with your type of business.

You use social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN. How did you decide how to use it and how does it fit in your overall marketing strategy?

I use these tools because they fit my personality and my way of communicating with other people. I am social and outgoing and enjoy helping in a public way. Having an online presence and personality helps me reach many more people than usual. It’s part of my brand.

BUT…social media isn’t for everyone. It may not fit your personality or personal bandwidth. You may not want to market and grow your business further. You also have to remember that social media has “flavors of the month.” Right now Facebook is the hottie but it could experience what happened to MySpace. My-what? See what I mean. You have to stay on top of the online trends and be smart about how you use them. If you’re not seeing any new customers or an increase in sales after a good solid effort over a good solid amount of time, then it may not be the best marketing strategy for your business. Just because “everyone” is using it doesn’t mean you should.

I help my clients assess whether or not they can maintain an online presence and where their business can see the most returns when recommending social media as part of their marketing plan.

How has using social media evolved for you since using it?

I’ve had an online presence for many years and as mentioned earlier, I’ve been online long enough to see trends rise and fall. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that if I’m going to participate, I need to keep my branding and message consistent, I need to be active and contribute to the global conversation and I need to stay on top of the trends and measure if I’m getting a good return on my time. Twitter used to be very lucrative for me. I still use it but that’s shifted and now Facebook is more productive. I know that this will change at some point, too. When people are frustrated with social media it’s usually because they don’t know how to use it for business and they’re not measuring whether or not the effort is paying off.

What advice do you have for using social media?

If you’ve never used social media, find a business or marketing consultant who has a lot of experience using these tools. They should be able to help you assess whether or not you can or want to maintain a social media presence, how to use social media and which sites will serve your business best.

I also recommend that you understand yourself and your business brand VERY well. Some types of businesses and business owners can combine personal and professional tweets and Facebooks posts seamlessly. That’s because it’s part of their brand and they understand how to use it. Other kinds of business should not post anything personal but find other ways to participate and contribute to the online community.

Of course, never post what you ate for lunch (yawn), or how much you hate your neighbor or boss (stupid) or load a picture of you last night at 2 am with a shot of tequila in hand. Common sense is necessary because once something is on the internet – it NEVER goes away. If you even hesitate for a second, don’t post. If you can’t tell, don’t post. If you don’t care, you could really hurt your business.

Are you reading any business related books? If so, what are they?

Yes. I’m reading Jackie Peterson’s new book “Better Smarter Richer” for creative entrepreneurs. It’s very good and I like what I’m reading…especially since I work with creative entrepreneurs who are launching a business or are in transition with their business.

How has your business evolved and what have you learned in the past year?

I’ve pretty much focused on consulting with small business owners and my art. It’s where I get a lot of energy and am excited the most. I spent the year prior letting go of things that don’t serve me. I also learned that if I’m involved in something I really don’t want to do, I can’t sustain it. It’s not an avenue worth pursuing. I tell my clients who are thinking about launching a business that if they’re going to be an entrepreneur they better like what they do and get energy from it because it’s going to be a huge part of their life.

As a business mentor, where do you go to find assistance and advice for your business?

I actually spend a great deal of time building and nurturing my business support team. As I’ve grown I’ve collected people that I can count on for different things. I use my bookkeeper and CPA for financial questions. I have several coaches…some for personal development and others for business development. I also have friends that I trust and are successful entrepreneurs I admire that I can turn to when things arise. I also keep cards of people that may be able to help me in the future and make sure to stay in touch from time to time so I’m building a relationship with them.

I’m a firm believer that owning a business is a community effort, so the more support you create, the better you will be. And, your support team isn’t just for use when things come up. It’s good to have coffee with someone from time to time and just do a check in…see how you’ve progressed. It’s amazing how we forget all the things we accomplish in a short period of time. These support people can help you mark your progress and feel good about your successes.

Do you have any current specials right now for business owners?
I offer a free 30 minute consultation so people can experience the way I work. This way we both test drive one another and see if we’re a good fit for teamwork.

What is the best way for entrepreneurs to contact you?
The best way is through my website: There is an intake form tab you can click on and fill out the form and leave me a question or comment. I’ll get back to you quickly.

When entrepreneurs sign up with you, what three things can they expect?

First, that I will carefully listen to where they are and what they want to accomplish. I’m very good at listening “between the lines”, too. This is where a lot of information is stored that people don’t know about themselves.

Second, I make a clear assessment of where I think you and your business are headed. I’m very honest with my clients so they understand right away that our relationship is based on trust. The assessment is candid and without judgment.

Third, I offer recommendations for steps my clients can take to achieve their goals. Together, we carefully craft a plan that they can follow. We build a support team so they stay on track and execute quickly. When goals or transition work isn’t planned properly, people lose their inspiration and motivation resulting in lost momentum. That’s why I meet with people every other week and we stay on track, checking in and making sure progress in being made. What invariably happens is people discover other things in the process that they can incorporate into their business. The result is they have a business that is more appealing to others and more enjoyable for themselves.


Rebecca Shapiro : Integrative Mentoring

Please Welcome Rachel Yoakum

I would like you to meet Rachel Yoakum. She recently joined Cococello after interning with me for the last several months.

I’m very excited.

Designer Rachel Yoakum of Cococello

And here is a wee note from Rachel:

First thing is first, I am excited to finally say I am a graduate from Portland State University. I am honored to have received my Bachelors of Art from one of the most amazing design programs. Then again, I am a little biased. Now that I have ended my internship and started (officially) working with Deb, I have found being a part of Cococello to be simply amazing.

Since I have become a more or less validated adult, I have discerned some of the things that inspire me and how I design. Great music, the object of Oregon rain, long-winded stories, and thoughtful typography.

Typography. I am in love with well-constructed, hand drawn type. Slab serifs, type set to thin, and anything small caps are not too bad either. Which does not quite explain why my new favorite typeface is New Century Schoolbook.

If I am not drooling over type you’ll find me swimming in some body of water, singing in church, laughing with my friends and family, and wherever in between takes me.

Rachel has been and will continue to work closely with me on a variety of print and web design projects. With her help I also hope to design and develop more products for Coco Paperie!

Please give Rachel a warm hello.

What I Learned This Week: Random Mix

12 Million: Americans with sensory disabilities
26 million: Americans with Physical disabilities
16 million: Americans with mental/cognitive disabilities

— Scott Mayer, Usability Services Specialist, American Family Insurance from the art of web accessibility by Steve Grobschmidt, in his article, Multiple Facets of Accessible Design – Scott Mayer Presentation

I’m still processing a ton of information about web accessibility and disabilities. All I know is that I want to do better to help make experiencing the web easier for as many people as possible.

Web Standards is About Quality

“…when you examine the fullness of the technical and experiential results of crafting websites and web applications according to Web standards, and compare the results with efforts not crafted according to these standards, what you’re confronted with is a stark contrast in what really matters: quality. It is the idea of quality, not standardization, which provides the compelling argument for the Web Standards Project and for the W3C.” — Andy Rutledge, Web Standards: it’s about qualty; not compliance

Quality. It was the first article about Web Standards that put all my learning and efforts into a greater context. (Thank you Andy for being so eloquent.) The learning continues of course, and I highly recommend reading the entire article. If you are interested, he also has a great cycling blog.

Really, Write to One Person

I’ve read and heard this advice at least a million times and for some reason, Sonia’s marketing advice resonated with me this week. Maybe because I like the photograph of two girls dancing in the snow. It brought back a memory. Maybe it was just the right time. All I know is I feel like I’ve been all over the map and I want to make the kind of connection she made with me.

I Want to Grow My Business

So my goal in the next few weeks is to hire a virtual assistant. This scares me and I know that if I ever want to grow my business, I need to get the help I need. But finding one is not easy. I did a search on twitter and wow, there are so many! After what seemed like hours, I finally stumbled upon a woman who created this great resource for hiring a virtual assistant. Now I feel more confident speaking with one or two or more to find a good match.

Great Grey Owls Can Live to 40 Years

I think that is amazing. I never really thought about it much until I saw this picture of a Great Grey Owl by photographer Markus Mauthe. I wonder if the owl in the photograph will make it to 40.

There it is. Five things I learned this week.