Author: Megan Jonas

#TBT: The Last Time I Was Unemployed

The last time I was unemployed was when I returned to Washington, D.C., after finishing grad school in Chicago. This was a weird time in my life. I had left a great job to get my master’s degree in journalism, and then returned to Washington, where I thought I had a great network of contacts, excellent, well-connected references, and a shiny new degree that would certainly lead to the job and career path of my dreams. Right?

Fast forward two months and I have worn out my welcome at every guest room, couch, and floor of my friends and friends of friends. I have sent out maybe 50 resumes with no response. I have had coffees, dinners, lunches, and happy hours with people who should be able to help me get in touch with people who are looking for someone with “exactly my skillset.” And, to add insult to injury, I have broken my wrist in an ice skating accident.

So… sitting on a friend’s couch in Oakton, Va., eating bite sized foods,  I did what I had to do. I emailed my former employer to see if there was any work that would be a good fit for me and my new skills. They knew I hadn’t intended to come back, I knew I hadn’t intended to come back. But there was a job available, and the pay was good. So back I went.

And I got great experience. And I learned a lot of things about a lot of things. But the most important thing I learned is that I will do whatever needs to be done to make it on my own. And if I hadn’t ended up back at that company, I may never have decided to move to Asheville. And that was one of the best decisions I ever made. So now, when I’m just starting out on this whole self-employed journey, I know I will do whatever I have to do to make it work, and I know I will learn a lot. And most of all, I know it will lead to great things, no matter what.

On My Own: Or, How Unemployed Became Self-Employed in 24 Hours or Less

About a month ago, I left my job at the Advertising Agency in Asheville. There were a lot of reasons, some positive, some negative, but mostly, it just wasn’t a good fit for me personally or professionally, and it was time to make some major changes in my life.

I had been planning an exit for a couple of weeks and when the end finally came, I was prepared to be “unemployed” for several months, if I had to be. Most importantly, I was not planning to immediately start looking for a new job. Instead, I wanted to take some time to think about the things that I liked and wanted to do, and the things I absolutely did not want to be in my next job description.

What happened next, however, was unexpected to say the least.

Within about 24 hours of leaving my job, I had lined up enough meetings for enough freelance projects to take me well into the fall. While not all of them ended up working out exactly the way I wanted them to, I do have a roughly 100% success rate in signing all these clients. What’s my secret? Most of them are friends (and I definitely realize that well will run dry sooner than later), but I am also finding that when I’m doing work that I am truly excited about (in this case, web development), it comes across in the way I describe my day and my projects. I also can’t overlook the fact that I am priced relatively competitively in this market, especially compared to a full service agency fee.

So now, I am getting used to answering “self-employed” on applications for credit cards and online services. And I’m figuring out how to split my days between billable hours and networking for new business. I’m rapidly learning the ropes of estimates, invoicing, and all the other items that go with being my own business. And I’m loving every minute of it!

If you are looking for web or digital marketing services, or are interested in working with me on other projects, please contact me at meganmjonas (at) gmail (dot) com. In the coming days and weeks, expect some improvements on this site to let you know what I’m doing and what kind of projects I’m looking for in the next few months.

TV Commercials; Or, has the river gone up since you scouted that location?

Last week, we shot new television commercials for our largest client. The shoot for two commercials took 25 hours over a two day period.

We contended with rain when it was supposed to be dry, no rain when the outdoor scene called for rain, two kitchens, a hike upriver with all our gear and an overnight shoot at a local grocery store.

There were also nine actors, a food stylist, a wardrobe stylist, a makeup stylist and somewhere around ten guys who’s jobs were lights, camera and miscellaneous.

All for a grand total of 60 seconds of TV… well, actually something like 50 seconds of TV when you take into account the art cards and stock shot at the end.

The end result we’ll see next week, but I think they’re going to be really great. I was reminded of how much making TV is a team effort, and that while the Creative Director comes up with the overall concept, there are a thousand little decisions made by all those people that lead to the final product.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

Why is getting a project started always the hardest part?

I have a number of big projects waiting in the wings and I know that once I get them started I will be obsessed with finishing them. These are truly the types of projects I love to do.

But I always have the hardest time getting them started. I procrastinate. I clean, I cook, I write blog posts and yet there those projects are, waiting to be started, finished and invoiced, and I just can’t seem to do it.

I told myself last week that if I could just get through that crazy week at my day job, then this weekend, I would have hours upon hours to dedicate to these projects. Then yesterday, I told myself that if I could just get this basic housekeeping work done (a proposal that needed finishing, a couple of profile sites that needed basic setups, grocery shopping, Target, a new windshield wiper blade for my rear window – see, I really know how to procrastinate), then I could get started.

Now it’s 6pm on a Sunday night and, while I feel like I accomplished a lot this weekend, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough for these clients. But maybe if I just have dinner… then I can focus…

I hiked so hard I broke my boot

Today, I hiked. I woke up to a beautiful, warm, Western North Carolina morning (the first one we’ve had on a weekend I’ve been in town all year) and I decided to put aside work (yes, work on a Sunday… blurg…) and head for the trails.

I chose a challenging trail in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just outside of town. The guide book said the trails can be quite muddy after a rainy week like we had, so I laced up my trusty hiking boots and headed out. It was hard, it was long, and it was amazingly fun. Several times while hiking, I thought to myself, “this is the reason I moved here.”

About one mile to go on an eight mile hike, I felt like something was dragging on my left foot. I looked back and saw that the sole of my boot had almost completely detached from the shoe. I flipped and flopped out to the trail and thought about all the good times I had in those boots, which I’ve owned for about 10 years. They were sturdy but comfortable (and bought on sale!) so I just never saw the need to replace them.

But sometimes you have to replace things that are old, outdated, broken, or just plain falling apart. In business and in life, you have to think about the tools you’ve “always used” and decide if they are still the right tools for the job. Just because I build sites in WordPress and use Dreamweaver, Coda, and Filezilla every single day, doesn’t mean those will always be the right tools to use. Part of succeeding in life is knowing when it’s time to retire some of those things.

And so this week, I’m boot shopping.

What is Branding? A Video

Ad Week highlighted this video a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Produced by David Brier of DBD International, it has just the right combination of clean design and digestible information. I hope you agree.

Do your clients give good feedback?

Clients come in a variety of sizes and experience levels. Sometimes I am working one-on-one with a client to develop a new website. Sometimes my client has more people in their marketing department than I have working with me at the agency.

Regardless of the client, one thing that we struggle with is how to encourage clients to give good feedback. That is, feedback that is helpful to the designer, developer or creative, and feedback that accurately reflects the client’s views on the project.

Setting the tone and standards of feedback early is key. Once a client has devolved into a bad habit (say, completely rewriting my copy minutes before the print deadline), it’s hard to break them out of that.

So here are a few things that I tell clients early on in the relationship to encourage constructive feedback:

1. Tell me why: You may not like this color or that image, but please, tell me why. How does it make you feel? What feeling were you hoping that element might create? What is your goal in changing that element?

2. Tell me early: Feedback is best when it comes early. When you see the wireframes, if there’s something you want to change, it’s much easier to change in that stage that it is once I have built your navigation. Same thing with more general feedback on the feel, styling, and substance of the end product.

3. Tell me straight: The number one thing I hate that clients do is to sugar coat their criticism. My graduate school professors can tell you I have never been a fan of the compliment sandwich. You are not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t like something. I am a grown woman and can handle it, so please don’t water it down for me. The only thing that accomplishes is creating another round of edits when I thought I made the changes you requested and you think I have no idea what you said.

4. Finally, Let me explain: You hired me because I am the expert at what I do and you are not. So let me explain to you why I made the choices I did. They are almost always based in research, data analysis, or best practices. You and I may ultimately agree to deviate from those standards, but let me explain to you why I did what I did so that you can make a decision based on all the facts.

Continuing Education

Part of the reason that I love the work that I do is because it is always changing. Just when I think I’ve mastered a technology or a technique, something new comes out that changes everything I know.

Because of this, it is crucially important to refresh my skills from time to time and to learn about new technologies before they become the industry norm.

Now, I was one of those people who loved school. I mean loved it. I went back to school after being out in the workforce for four years because I loved it so much. I loved that so much that after only about three years out, I’m starting to think about going back for a Ph.D. so that I can teach and never leave school again.

How do I maintain this kind of schooling when I’m not formally enrolled in classes? Well, lucky for me there are a number of web-based tools that can help me refresh and expand my technical skills.

Codecademy is a great place to start. It’s also a fun place to go back to when you need a quick refresh on some coding skills. And it’s free.

Lynda.com is a low-cost way to continue to expand my knowledge. I particularly like their “updates” series, which covers just what’s new in updates of software like Adobe Photoshop. And the “Up and Running” series that gives you just enough knowledge of a technology or application to dig in on your own. Lynda now covers everything from Adobe software to strategies and philosophies of design, marketing and more.

Google Developer Tools has a number of high-quality, free tutorials that you can use to learn about web development, Google Analytics, and other products.

And finally, the applications themselves often have extremely good support, documentation, and even interactive tutorials of their own. This is especially true for open source applications like WordPress, but is also true of MailChimp and other proprietary software/web apps.

A Return Journey

This weekend, I am returning to D.C. for a visit, something I haven’t done since I left over a year ago. In fact, by the time you read this I will already be there (the joys of scheduled WordPress posts).

I am looking forward to catching up with old friends, most of whom know I am really, really bad at staying in touch, but won’t hold it against me.

I am also hoping for at least a little bit of good weather fortune, as we’re supposed to get something between snow and freezing rain here in Asheville over the weekend, and DC’s forecast looks just about as bad. I’d like to get to some different parts of the city in my brief, 48-hour stay, but the weather might not cooperate.

Still, it’s not a tourist visit or a work visit. The trip is about seeing people who I love and if we spend all weekend camped out on someone’s floor, that’s probably OK too. But I will refuse to leave if I don’t get a cupcake from Sticky Fingers – so consider yourself warned, D.C.

#jonasreturnstodc

Central New York is Cold and They Know It

You may have seen this latest marketing gambit by the city of Ithaca, N.Y. and their travel and tourism website. It involves and unlikely message for most travel marketers: “Don’t come here, go to Florida, instead.”

As someone who spent four cold years just 30 minutes north of Ithaca in Syracuse, let me tell you. They are right. February are dark days for central New Yorkers. It’s been at least a month since they’ve seen more than a day above freezing. They’re digging out from yet another snow storm that would grind any other area of the country to a full, week-long halt. And the sun, when it makes a rare appearance, seems to only make things colder (All former or current CNY residents know that clouds are actually positive because they trap what little heat the area has).

And so, the Visit Ithaca site decided to have a sense of humor about all of this and gently suggest that maybe this isn’t the best time of year to visit. Maybe you might want to consider a warmer climate for your February travels. Oh, and, by the way, it’s a great place to visit in Spring, Summer, and especially early fall, when the gorges that the area is famous for (Ithaca is Gorges t-shirt, anyone?) are lit up with fall colors.

Most tourism bureaus would shy away from this, seeing it as a risky move. But honesty and integrity go a long way, and so has this campaign. It’s now trending in some areas on social media, and people who never even knew where Ithaca was are visiting the site and poking around. Next time your agency suggests something a little out of your comfort zone, don’t be so quick to say no. You might just have the next viral campaign on your hands, or at the very least, you might have the ability to convey that you have a sense of humor about yourself and your destination/brand.

And no one will hate you for that.

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