Kristine Neil

Markon Brands

Shoppable Products on Instagram

Social Media, MarketingKristine NeilComment

You know that old saying about how in real estate the only thing that matters is location, location, location? Well, making it easy for your customers to shop right from their Instagram feed is the modern, online-business equivalent. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to buy from you and to reduce any friction that might interrupt that process. 

Making it easy to buy right from their feed!

We love a good “link in profile” for posts or - if you’re cool enough - the “swipe up” ability in stories but you don’t have to constantly update your profile link or be a social media influencer already to take advantage of the shoppable products on Instagram feature. If you sell products and use Squarespace, you’re in.

Tips & Details

  • This feature only works if you sell physical products but not digital ones or services. If you’re a salon, for example, and sold your products online in addition to service packages you could tag the products but not the services in posts and stories. 

  • You’ll need to be on either of Squarespace’s commerce plans. Both are great options and we can help you decide if one is better than the other for your business. 

  • Shoppable Instagram requires that you update your personal account to a business one… which if you’re using Instagram for business you should probably do anyways and comes with some cool side benefits like Instagram Insights, contact information and Instagram Ads.

  • You’ll also need to have a business page on Facebook and it will get connected to something called Facebook Business Manager. Because Facebook owns Instagram, everything gets routed through your Facebook page for ads and integrations like this on Instagram. 

  • The setup process can be a little overwhelming and it takes a number of steps to set up but once things are in place, it’s easy to manage! Because of this, it’s a great feature to get some help with at the start so that you can make sure everything is taken care of and works as it should.

TL;DR Shopping on Instagram allows you to tag products in posts and stories so that visitors can check out the details and shop the product on your website… all without leaving the app. It’s a great way to connect with your customers, right where they are and making buying from you easy. It’s the cheapest real estate you’ll ever buy, we promise! 😉

SEO & Squarespace

Strategy, Web Design, BusinessKristine NeilComment

Highlighting Features & Busting Myths about SEO and Squarespace

As web designers & developers, we naturally get a lot of questions about SEO or search engine optimization. As Squarespace designers & developers, we also get alot of questions about how choosing the platform itself affects SEO. This can be a complex and confusing subject with lots of information out there meant to confuse and conflate things and there are plenty of myths that we love busting whenever possible. Let’s jump right in! 


Somehow, way back when, Squarespace got a bad rep when it comes to SEO. This may have been relevant in the early days of the service and could still apply if you’re still operating off the now deprecated Squarespace 5 platform which does not have the same SEO features that the current Squarespace 7 one does. The current platform, which all new websites are built on, features a robust toolkit when it comes to SEO. The best part is that no third-party apps are needed to be able to work on the SEO features of your site and you don’t need to get into any super-technical code either. 


  • All Squarespace sites are optimized for mobile and all templates have been scanned with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool to ensure that they are mobile friendly. Google prioritizes mobile-optimized sites in search results. 

  • Areas where you can edit the search engine and page descriptions on both a site-wide and per-page basis. No third party plugins are needed for this!

  • Sitemaps are automatically generated and itemize all of the URL and image metadata on your site. Everything is given proper priority and is ready to index regardless of the template you choose. 

  • SSL Certificates are included in every domain that is connected to a Squarespace site. SSL-secured websites may rank higher than those that are not secure. 

  • Squarespace automatically generates clean HTML markup that can be read by search engines when your site is indexed without the need for any extra code or tags.

  • The tags that improve search engine indexing (alt, title, meta and link tags) are automatically included. 

  • Clean URLs for all primary pages that are easy for search engines to read and index.

  • If you have multiple domains or use a custom domain on your Squarespace site, automatic redirects ensure that search engines will only see your primary domain.

  • Easy enabling of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to create lightweight versions of every page on your site so that they can load faster when people view your website on their phones. Sites with AMP may rank higher in mobile searches. 

  • Products on Squarespace are structured so that data like the product name, image, description, price and URL so that Google can display this information as a rich search result

  • Automatic and easy integration with Google Search Console so that you can see Google search keywords analytics directly in your Squarespace analytics platform. 

The Secret to Getting Seen: CONTENT

One of the greatest misconceptions out there is that SEO is as easy as adding a plugin (something like Yoast if you use Wordpress). The real truth is that plugins like Yoast are nothing more than a checklist. You’d be just as well off printing an actual to-do list and putting it on a clipboard next to your desk. These plugins do nothing for your SEO just by being connected. The secret to getting noticed is having great content, something that is completely independent from what platform your site is on or what SEO tools you may be using. That being the case, we know that people love checklists so here’s one you can work off of: 

  • Site Title (less than 60 characters, include keywords)

  • Site Description  (50-300 characters, make it a readable description)

  • Location Info (i.e.  a map and business contact information)

  • Use a Custom Domain 

  • Connect Your Social Media Accounts

  • Add SEO Descriptions (for each page, 50-300 characters) 

  • Page & Title Formats (for all individual pages, home, blog, shop)

  • Custom 404 Page 

  • Clean Blog post URLS (include post title in URL)

  • Clean Page slugs (use real words and make it relevant)

  • Verify site with Google Search Console

  • Index your site with Google

  • Verify your site with Bing Webmaster Tools

  • Connect your site to Google Analytics

  • Regularly check Google analytics search keywords panel and update content as needed

  • As content updates and changes over time, be sure to redirect or fix any broken links using URL redirects

  • Update your site frequently by blogging

  • Use keywords strategically 

  • Use Squarespace’s built-in features for creating headings

  • Add alt text to images

  • Add social sharing images to every page

  • Give images readable file names 

  • Use tags & categories on blog posts, products and galleries

  • Link to other relevant content on your site 

  • Keep images under 500KB

There you have it! Print that list out and you’ve got yourself an SEO plugin 😛 


If you’re searching for yourself on Google (who doesn’t routinely do this?!) and not liking what you see, there may be a few culprits. If you’ve worked through all of the items in the checklist above, it may just be that your site is too new or that it was just moved from another platform. You’re just too new to the neighborhood! Google & Bing are crawling sites all the time but it can sometimes take a few weeks for your new site to be scanned. If your site does show as being indexed already in Google and you’re still not seeing the results you’d like, we recommend taking a look at the keywords that you’re using on your site. Like we’ve said before, content is king

We know that SEO can be an overwhelming subject so if you’d like to learn more about this topic, you can also check out our SEO Guide. It’s specific to the Squarespace platform that we create all our sites on but the principles are universal so we think it would actually be helpful to anyone who’s wanting to learn a little more on the topic or feel more empowered when it comes to discussing the subject with a pro.

Guidelines for Online Brands

Design, StrategyKristine NeilComment

Take a look at the brand guideline documents for some of your favorite companies, and you’ll find rules about everything from packaging to permitted verbiage for retail displays, all outlined in great detail. Brand designers agonize over every little pixel when putting guides like these together and define usage rules for every type of scenario imaginable. It makes sense to have guides like this if you’re Starbucks or Apple; with thousands of employees spread across the country and the globe, brand guidelines docs are the best way to get everyone on the same page and ensure brand consistency. They cover everything from the expected (color codes, fonts) to the mundane (signage templates, letterhead layouts).

But what if you’re a small business or a business that doesn’t have a location at all? It can be easy for online-only brands to think they can forego brand guidelines altogether and just wing it when creating new brand assets. Unfortunately, without defined parameters in place, it’s all too easy to get busy and settle for “close enough” instead of “on brand.” Getting your brand assets organized is super important, and it doesn’t have to be as rigid or complex as the big guys; after all, the strength of most small businesses is that we’re way more nimble and adaptive than large corporations. Here are our best tips and resources for online brands:

1. Have more than one logo

Right away, I know what you’re thinking: I thought you said this was going to be less work. And now you’re saying I need more things?! Yes, but hear me out. We often see clients that have invested in a logo design. A logo design - as in, ONE logo. And then we see them use that logo on everything. Good intentions, sure, because at least they are being consistent! But it’s nearly impossible to have one modern logo that works for all applications, scales, and sizes so we recommend that at a minimum, you should have at least three versions or variations or your logo. This is true especially for online brands and even service-based companies because, for you, exposure to your brand depends entirely on a great online experience! You don’t have a storefront or in-person employees to help make up for an inferior digital look.

The three versions we recommend are:

  • A version that is taller than it is wide

  • A version that is wider than it is tall

  • A version that works cropped into a square or circle (i.e., for social media profile pics)

If you feel like being an overacheiver, here are a couple bonus variations that can come in handy:

  • An icon or submark

  • A text-only version

In the olden days, we used to say that people also needed to include logo variations that are suitable for all sorts of various print applications, but if you’re an online business, chances are you aren’t printing much. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to make sure your logo does work well as one color (in both white and black) so that when you need to, you can have that ready to go. What’s most important now is not so much the number of colors in your logo (used to be a huge factor in determining printing costs) but that your brand can be identifiable in very small situations at a glance (i.e., while scrolling on social media).

2. Understand web colors

Speaking of social media, this is where color can make or break you. We’re all exposed to so many brands online every day that our brains can barely process them all. To take it all in and attempt to make some sense of it, our minds use color as a shortcut. Just seeing Starbucks green, or Coke red or Facebook blue can trigger you to pull up all of the associated feelings you have with those companies - good, bad, or otherwise. This is why it’s so critical for online brands to define their exact brand color palette and never deviate from it.

Color tip: define exact colors using web-based color codes (HEX codes) and not just general colors. This is the difference between saying our brand color is #052d52 and our brand color is navy. One looks like this:

HEX #052d52

HEX #052d52

And the other looks like this:

50 Shades of Navy

50 Shades of Navy

Using a close approximation isn’t good enough when it comes to color. At best, you’re diluting your own brand identity, and at worse, you’re risking people confusing your brand with another altogether.

3. Don’t go bananas with fonts

One of the things we love about working with online brands is that there’s a little wiggle room to adapt and fudge some of the design “rules” that we wouldn’t have the freedom to do when working with a larger company. The downside to this is that it’s pretty easy to adapt and fudge some of the design rules and end up with a brand asset that looks nothing like the brand. 🙃

The rule when it comes to fonts should really just be: “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” and that’s a pretty easy rule to remember. Just like color, your fonts need to be consistent so that people can see it and know that it’s you. It’s not enough to say that your font is “cursive.” Cursive is not a font. Adorn Smooth is a font. For website design projects, we usually define up to four fonts: H1, H2, H3 & body but most of those are usually just variations of one or two fonts. For example, we may use an all caps version of the brand font for an H1 and a smaller, sentence-case version of that same font as an H3, etc. For most online brands, we recommend defining your primary brand font (the on that is used the most) and one or two “accent” fonts that can be used sparingly as headlines, callout text or as an embellishment to the primary font.

4. Have a photographic style

We were so excited when Squarespace announced last year that it would be including our favorite stock photo site, Unsplash, as a built-in integration. With a massive library of gorgeous photos that are free to use, Unsplash images are a great way to flesh out a website if client’s don’t have many pictures of their own.

Stock photos can also just be used as a nice background to set the “mood” for a site while your content takes center stage. We know that photos have the power to shape the way we feel about what we see online - bright, colorful images can make us feel happy; dark, moody photos evoke a more serious feel. Including both on a website - confusing!

When it comes to photos, we suggest letting your web design team work with you to pull just the right selection. Visual communication is our strong suit so if you tell us that you need to convey to your visitors that you’re sophisticated, or funny, or an expert in your field - we’ll find photos to do just that. It’s often difficult for clients to disassociate from their own feelings about the visual elements enough to understand how someone that’s never experienced their brand (or maybe even their industry) sees things. For example, what you see as a photo showing a specific type of tool or technique or technology, visitors see as “someone who does what you do.”

Keep in mind that these photos can also be used in blog posts, social media promotions or even digital advertising so building a library of on-brand photographic assets is super helpful!

5. Put it all together - Canva for Work

If you’d have asked me, a serious graphic designer, a couple of years ago if I would use Canva more than I do Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, I would have laughed at you. That’s because I was caught up in the idea that Creative Suite was for “pros” and new, web-based products like Canva were for amateurs. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Canva for Work is a fantastic way to keep your brand assets organized and quickly pump out on-brand social media posts, blog headers, Facebook ads and more. Here’s the thing: you gotta spring for the Canva for Work option. It’s $10 a month, but as an online business, you’re not paying to erect a monument sign in your front yard so I think you can handle it.

With Canva for work, you can define all of your brand fonts and colors, make templates that you can quickly use and re-use and organize all of your assets like photos and logo variations, so they’re always ready to go. No more excuses that you just picked the closest color you could find or used a font that was close-ish to your own. This is not a paid endorsement of Canva for work, and the link above is not an affiliate link. This is just us telling you that this is the best tool we’ve found to help online brands get their act together when it comes to managing their identities.


As an online brand, you may not need to worry about things like signage or employee uniforms but taking the time to get your brand assets organized will help you start building brand recognition and save you time in the long run. Whether you’re posting on social media, writing a new blog post or creating a landing page for a new product or service, it’s essential that you have the assets you need right at your fingertips. Brand consistency is what helps build trust and confidence in your business, and an organized aesthetic can easily turn casual fans into dedicated devotees. Done right, your brand will be ready to compete with the big guys in no time!

Your Personal Aesthetics Don’t Matter in Web Design

Strategy, UX, Web DesignKristine NeilComment

We may primarily work in web design these days but our roots are in brand design and building cohesive identities for small to medium businesses still lies at the core of what we do. The best part is that a website offers so many ways to expand and really have fun with a brand; underscoring our belief that a brand, like a website, should never be a static thing. It needs to grow and evolve as your business does. The problem that we find most small business owners having when it comes to this concept is wanting to infuse too much of their personal aesthetics into their branding, and therefore their websites. But here’s the thing - your branding isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do for your target demographic, or what your products and services will do for your client and it’s about how to compel them to take action and connect with you.

What does this look like IRL? Let’s take a look!


Our job as designers is not just to make pretty things but to make functional (pretty) things. We know that design has the power to appeal to the emotions, desires, and psychology of your potential buyer and we select design elements like colors, fonts, and photos with intention because they can all convey very different emotions. If a client tells us that they want to look sophisticated and upscale, we’ll most likely want to stick to things like muted tones, classic serifed fonts & very refined photos in a complementary palette. Pragmatic business owners know to put their personal aesthetics aside and go with what the experts say works, even if their own preferences would be to go with bold, primary colors, crazy script fonts, and bouncing illustrations. Nothing says sophisticated like a carnival!


We all have preferences when it comes to how we interact with our technology. Some people love hamburger menus (those three little stacked lines indicating a menu is available to pop out on mobile), and some people despise them. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about these elements because what we know is that they work. You may not like a button in a specific place or how a form has been positioned on a page, but the way you feel about it (sorry for the tough love here) doesn’t matter. You are not your client. When considering how to position items on a page, designers think about things like where the user's eye will be drawn to first and what motions and actions are most likely to get visitors to convert. 


Any designer will tell you that they are notoriously their own worst client; even the best graphic designers out there often have a colleague take over working on their personal branding for them. It’s because sometimes we’re just too close to the work to be able to see things objectively. We know that the jargon, insider information and technical knowledge we have is likely to negatively affect our ability to see our own work the way a potential client would. The same is true for pretty much anyone in any industry. It’s like how sometimes having a sympathetic friend to talk to when you’re having a tough day is just what you need; they are able to see your situation separated from the emotions you’re feeling. As web designers, we’re that sympathetic friend. Our job is ultimately to make sure that you feel heard and that all of your best ideas are communicated in the most effective way possible to your target demographic - separated from the emotion of the day-to-day involvement in the business. 

This isn’t to say that your personal aesthetics can’t creatively be weaved into the design solutions we provide. They may be more subtle or gentle than you would have done if left to your own devices but let’s just say that with the additional revenue generated by appealing to your client’s desires instead of your own, you’ll be able to afford to have us design you your very own carnival-themed personal website.

Data is Lying to You

Business, Marketing, StrategyKristine NeilComment

A quick Google search on “key metrics to track for your website” yields a plethora of resources on everything from bounce rate to conversion rates by traffic source and from authors as diverse as the well-respected Hubspot to some random guy online who decided he was an expert on this topic.  

Metrics are important because in many ways having a website is like opening a retail store on Main Street, leaving the front door unlocked and walking away. Without them, you don’t really know who’s coming in, who’s interested in what inventory or who’s getting frustrated and leaving before making a purchase. You’d never leave your shop unstaffed, and website analytics are the online equivalent of watching what customers do to figure out how to give them more of what they want and (hopefully) get them to eventually become your customer. 

I’m definitely in favor of making well-informed decisions backed by data and tracking and analyzing all these metrics can absolutely help you understand some of what’s going on when people visit your site, but the real truth is that the metrics never tell the whole story. The data, unfortunately, is lying to you. 

Not intentionally, of course. But at best, it’s at least not telling you the whole truth. As much as the left-brained people in the room would love for us to be able to chart and graph our way to understanding what motivates people as they explore and discover our content online, there are just some things that are nearly impossible to map. Here are five things to consider when looking at your metrics that might help you understand the rest of the story. 

Understanding Behavioral Economics & Buyer Psychology 

I believe that any good post on metrics or analytics has to start with at least acknowledging that there’s an entire field of study devoted to understanding why people make irrational purchasing decisions that routinely defy economic theory. The long and short of this when it comes to thinking about how users experience your website is that sometimes we, as humans, simply do not act in our own best interests. We’re dumb like that. Your site may logically outline the benefits of your product or service, provide social proof in the way of user reviews and testimonials, ethically appeal to the emotional triggers that motivate a purchase… all the things. And users still may not buy. Well, what does this do to that neat little traffic funnel you’re analyzing? Right - it makes it look like for some reason you have control over why this person has opted out.

The truth is that while traditional economics would have us believe that we all always fairly weigh all options presented to us and make rational purchasing decisions based on facts that this is just not the case. People may be distracted, they might have other personal things going on, they might have had a few too many glasses of wine at happy hour, they may have some deep, psychological block that is preventing them from seeing the value in your work.

I find this especially true for service-based businesses (like Markon and so many of our clients are!). We know we could help people improve their web presence, better showcase their brand, get noticed for how amazing they are and… they just may not be ready for that. They aren’t not purchasing from us because they don’t recognize the value we offer, they’re not purchasing because they don’t feel that they are worth it. Maybe they’re suffering from impostor syndrome. Maybe they lack confidence in their ability to succeed in business. Whatever it is, it’s not your fault, and the metrics aren’t going to fill in these blanks. The nuances of purchasing behavior aren’t something inherently graph-able. You’re not a psychiatrist, and your website isn’t a failure because someone else just isn’t ready yet. 

The Art of Perfect Timing

At a conference in Boston last year, I had the pleasure of listening to Daniel Pink speak. He gave a wonderfully informative presentation about timing, based on the findings he outlines in his book. It was all brilliant, scientific, rational stuff. But, as we said, we don’t all always perform rationally, and a lot of our success in business comes down not only to what but when. I’m not talking about timing when it comes to when to get into a particular business or industry; I’m assuming that as a smart business person that you’ve researched and studied the trends relevant to your field and are getting into the market at a time that makes sense for profitability. I’m talking about timing when it comes to interacting with the right potential clients at the right time for them

Metrics assume that all visitors are at the same place on their journey and that they are all in a position to buy right now. But unless you’re doing some sort of exit polling as people click away from your website (and wouldn’t that be annoying?!) you have no idea why people aren’t doing what you want on your site right when you want them to. Say you offer a service only for businesses that have been open for three years or more, but a visitor saw you on social media, loves your work and is aspiring to be your client one day. If they are just starting out, it may take years for them to convert. They may visit your site periodically because it helps motivate them towards what they are working for. You may see their visits in your analytics panel as another lead lost, but they’re just waiting for when they’ll be qualified enough to work with you. The perfect time

Asking the Right Questions

Metrics are great at providing answers but are you sure you’re asking the right questions? Because so much of looking at analytics is us both trying to make sense of past data without full context and trying to guess at what future user actions might be without being mind readers, there’s a ton about the numbers you look at every month that is 100%, completely and entirely arbitrary. That can be a bit unsettling if you use those numbers to make significant business decisions regarding staffing levels, pay raises, inventory holdings, budgeting, etc. Setting targets is great but what if you pick the wrong target? Your numbers will either look really great or super crappy as a result of your lousy target picking. Maybe you didn’t under- or over-perform; perhaps you did just fine, and you’re just really bad at picking targets. The whole thing is a crapshoot if you look at data within a vacuum and fail to make sure you know what you’re asking the numbers to tell you. Vanity metrics are like vanity sizing; at the end of the day, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.  

Leading with Heart

In business school, we spent some time debating whether leaders are born or whether they can be made. Is there an innate sense of what it takes to be a great leader within some people, and do other people just have to work really hard to train that sense? For me, the answer was always a mix of both. It takes a little bit of intuition and a whole lot of experience to be able to lead a company (even if you’re a company of one!). The trouble is that we tend to give a ton of credit to that which we can measure and objectify and downplay the ability to make decisions just because they feel like the right thing to do. These decisions may seem subjective and may go against everything the numbers tell us to do, but they are still the right decisions.

A great example of this can be seen when looking at online shoe retailer Zappos. The company is well known for going to extreme lengths to take care of customers. From spending hours on the phone,  to sending flowers to grieving clients, to taking back discontinued shoes - the company routinely makes decisions that fly in the face of “good metrics.” But they’re asking the right questions (see what I did there?), and they know that the things that truly matter (i.e., customer loyalty, brand devotion) may not be measurable in a traditional sense. And if you’re still on the fence about whether it’s worth it to pay a call center employee hourly to spend an inordinate amount of time being helpful to your customers, here’s a number that may work for you: $928 million.

Quality vs. Quality

I was chatting with one of our search partners the other day and not to get too Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on anyone but we ended up having a conversation about what quality really means. It was deep. Unlike traditional search which weighs potential matches and returns a ranked list, what we were looking at with this partner was a matching algorithm that instead was trying to provide the one best match to every searcher. This logic is similar to that used by your voice assistant (Alexa or Siri or whoever); in a world of virtually endless possibilities (quantity), voice assistants seek to return only what they deem to be the best match (quality).

What does this have to do with metrics? A lot, really. As we start to see a more significant number of users shift to search methods that are seeking quality over quantity, some of us may see a dip in related metrics. Without understanding why this may be happening, we may falsely attribute the apparent reduction in traffic or click thru rates to something we’re doing wrong (asking the wrong questions). What we should really be thinking about is whether it matters to us that we have a high volume of irrelevant traffic or if, just like the customer, we’re actually seeking out our one best match. Personally, I don’t care if one thousand people see our site if they aren’t the right people. I would rather have one person check us out and think This! This is exactly what I’m looking for! These are my people!

So what to do about this? 

I’m definitely not saying to abandon the analytics panel. Metrics have a strong role to play in business decision-making and can help guide us towards understanding some of what’s happening on our website or in our social feeds. We just need to be aware that the numbers and targets we’re looking at can only be as good as the context in which we frame them. Spending time trying to understand the motivations and challenges your target demographic may face can help you fill in the blanks when the charts seem mystifying and guide you towards the rest of the story. If you find yourself too bogged down by what look like dismal numbers on the surface, take a step back and think about what else may really be going on. If you’re playing the long game, you’ll care more about the 10,000-foot view than any one day’s worth of data anyways.

They’re Just Not That Into You

UX, DesignKristine NeilComment

AKA Don’t Blame the Button

It was the Sex and the City episode turned Hollywood movie title phrase that caused many of us of a certain age at a certain time to do some real deep introspection: He’s Just Not That Into You. It was a real jaw-dropper to be told so bluntly that no, they aren’t just busy, aren’t just wanting to play hard to get, aren’t waiting a certain number of days to call. They just weren’t that into us. Maybe it was revolutionary at the time (or perhaps I’ve just grown up), but in retrospect, this seems so obvious. If someone likes you, especially if they are attracted to you, they’re going to find a way to connect. They’ll call. They’ll DM you. They’ll track down your next of kin on Facebook and send them a DM. (That last one is actually probably a huge red flag, but you get the point.)

Well, here’s the business owner version of the same concept: They’re Just Not That Into You. As in, the visitors to your website that aren’t converting. The truth is that in business, just like in love, if someone wants to connect with you, they’ll find a way.

If your site features a nice, color-contrasting button in the header navigation, some decent CTA text over the hero image and another link to “connect” in the footer of the site maybe there are other reasons why they aren’t clicking. Is your copy dull? Could your social media branding be more consistent? Are you just not giving them enough motivation to click. the. button? The answer could be in tightening up your branding or working on refining your messaging. It’s probably not in adding more buttons.

Other Ways to Fix Things


If people aren’t clicking, it’s rarely (if ever) the button’s fault. The button is there on the page, clear as day. The truth is that it could be a giant, blinking, Vegas-style neon sign with arrows pointing at it and they still wouldn’t click it. Because you’ve not given them a compelling reason to do so. Sure, we can A/B test a few landing pages to help us understand things like which color button converts for your site visitors most or play around with placing CTAs strategically in the hottest parts of a page, but these efforts will be in vain if you don’t pull your weight when it comes to content creation.


All of this is to say that we can do a lot with a beautiful page layout, our understanding of buyer psychology and various UX/UI design strategies to help move people towards the action you’d like them to take on your page or site but design isn’t a cure-all. If you focus on creating compelling, authentic copy that lets people know why you do what you do, how you can help them in ways other people in your industry can’t and that helps them understand what it’s like to work with you, they’ll be knocking down your door to become your customer. Even if there’s only one button on your page asking them to get in touch. 


Again, just like in dating, customers can smell desperation, and there’s nothing that will send visitors running in the other direction than someone begging to be hired. More isn’t more when it comes to CTAs. In addition to looking desperate, it contributes to the visual clutter on the page and can actually make it harder for visitors to see what you’re asking them to do. Make things as simple as possible. The web is a crowded, often ugly, loud place. Distracted visitors don’t have the time or mental energy to sift through your junk drawer. Explain what you do clearly, give it a little heart and point them in the right direction: ideally one, easily identifiable way to get in touch with you. From there, whether they convert or not is entirely in your hands, but at least you’ll know they’re genuinely interested in loving, adorable, unique little you. 💋

Reach Conference 2017

Business, DesignKristine NeilComment

Last Monday morning it was a rainy day in New York City where a group of creatives convened with one mission: explore the future of our industry and how to lead it. Among the panelists and presenters were some of the most influential and - dare I say - prolific creative leaders that are forging the way. The two day Reach conference, presented by HOW and held at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, was the type that you leave feeling smarter just for having been in the same room as so many creative pioneers… and also a little exhausted because your mind has been stretched and crammed full with so many great insights.

When the amazing (and adorable) Debbie Millman opened the conference by telling us that the role of creatives in our society has fundamentally changed and is becoming more important than ever there was a silent sense of acknowledgment from the crowd that we were all there for a real purpose. This wasn’t just about design. This was about the role of design in today’s world. And also I’m sure everyone in the room was like: hi Debbie it’s me your biggest fan I love you.


  • Automation, data revolution, and channel proliferation have created a CRAZY increase in demand for creative content. It used to be that brands had months at a time to plan content for primarily three channels: tv, radio, newspaper. (We all know how outdated that model is.) With so many opportunities for brands to interact and engage with consumers, creative leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the relationships that are formed are positive. — Alex Withers, Chief Marketing Officer, InMotionNow | @inmotionnow

  • Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies (and former clerk to none other than Sandra Day O'Connor) talked about really getting to know what your personality and the personalities of those you work with is in order to lead and communicate better. She got maybe one-third of the way through her presentation when a lady in front of me in the audience leaned over to the person next to her and said: screw my coworkers, this is the best marriage therapy I’ve ever had. We all laughed but then quietly added the book to our Amazon wishlists and Rubin’s The Happiness Project podcast to our queues. On her transition from law to a creative field: “I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” SWOON (@gretchenrubin)

  • On what it takes to lead into the unknown: “optimism, creativity, authentic communication and humanity” — Sara Kalick, VP & General Manager, Leadfully by SYPartners | @sypartners@leadfully@sarakalick

  • Mike Rigby, VP & Executive Creative Director at R/GA talked about using design as a tool to help people and not just to sell shit. (His words, not mine but AGREE.) When you are a designer, you are a communicator and not a decorator. Designing logos is kinda pointless, especially when all you’re doing is applying a beautiful veneer to a failed business plan. Branders have a unique ability and opportunity to help shape business and design a brand that communicates their values. Ultimately, design is a business asset and a competitive advantage to businesses that embrace design thinking. (@mikerigby)

  • The incomparable Stephen Gates caught my attention because he talked about how designers are a lot like chefs: “Just like a chef, designers all get the exact same ingredients to work with. It’s what we do with them that matters.” It’s also why a designer is not a designer is not a designer. If you don’t select carefully, you may end up with the designer’s version of a gas station tuna fish sandwich. Stephen is awesome and as long as we’re adding podcasts to the list, his podcast, The Crazy One with Stephen Gates, should be at the top of the list. (@sdgates)

  • Jessica Walsh Of Sagmeister Walsh talked about the joy of constraints. Designers love feedback because, like we’ve said before, it matters just as much knowing what doesn’t work as what does.

At this point, Day 1 was over and all our minds were tired. Champagne and city lights to the rescue!

Day 2 opened with the one and only Jonathan Adler who was nothing short of delightful. Listening to him talk about his design process and how he once struggled to balance his aspirations to be both a potter and an affluent Jewish American Prince (again, his words) will make you head straight to and buy this mug, which features the faces of both Run DMC and Kanye West, just to make sure this guy never ever again has to sit out at a rain-soaked craft fair. You’ll do it knowing that he’s already a bazillionaire but you don’t care: it’s for the art. And because he had this life-affirming piece of advice about not being afraid to put yourself out there and fail: “Failures don’t matter - things move too fast for anyone to care!” (My mug will arrive gift wrapped in approximately 5 business days.)

  • “No one is going to fall in love with your slide deck... they are going to fall in love with an EXPERIENCE.” - Moira Cullen (Did I mention that Moira was in charge of that simple little branding update at a little company called COCA-COLA?!)

  • Carole Bilson, from DMI, reinforced how valuable design is to business. Design is a force multiplier and should not be considered a “below the line” activity. Comparing the Design Index to the S&P 500, we see that companies that invest heavily in design and value design thinking outperform the rest by over 200%. That’s money in the bank, y’all.

  • John Maeda is the Global Head of Computational Design & Inclusion at Automattic (@johnmaeda) and he dropped so many gems that he could have his own sub-bullet section. The best? The reason why his job title is about design AND inclusivity is simple: inclusion is central to design and is just good business. Creating an inclusive strategy about technology means combining access to things in an equitable way as well as making things economically viable. Also, any friend of Paul Rand’s is a friend of mine.

  • Pentagram, the eponymous NYC design agency, continues to impress and guide me. Eddie Opara, a partner at Pentagram described how the flat hierarchy of the company allows them to be nimble and responsive. With no pesky account managers to muddle up client communications and no CEO to throw the power balance out of whack, Pentagram operates lean and mean. He reminded me that there’s so much power in simple 1:1 communication.

  • “The best search results don’t show up on a web page... they show up in people’s lives.” — Robert Wong, who spoke so casually about the fact that he led the entire redesign of all the Google products and interfaces that you would have thought he was giving you directions to the nearest Starbucks. Which, coincidentally, is something Google is really good at doing in a beautiful user-friendly way. Because the best search results ensure that you end up with a hot coffee in your hand.

So much good, right?! Among all that there was to take away from the brilliant minds who spoke at the Reach Conference, among the most significant is this: you have to blaze a trail that is right for you. You can’t get caught up in what other people are doing, and you can’t lower your behavior, or standards, to meet someone else's. Do you. Take risks. Create.

A Modern Spin on Public Relations

Public RelationsKristine NeilComment

(And, no, it’s not all about spin.)

When you think about public relations, the first word that comes to mind is probably spin. You’re used to hearing about companies that have done some not-super-legit things… and then hired someone to try to convince you otherwise. You think that PR is a luxury for huge corporations that can afford to have a third party manage their (usually poor) reputations. You think of spokespeople that have been hired to represent products or services despite never having used or endorsed them in real life. You think of the people on TV that seem to think if they just SHOUT LOUD ENOUGH that what they say will seem more... true. And truth be told, you’re right.

But you’re also wrong. These notions all rely on outdated stereotypes of the work public relations experts can do for you and your business - even your small business. It’s time to talk about modern PR.

Hold up - isn’t Markon a branding agency? Yes, we are. And what we’ve discovered over the years is that building brands is not about creating logos or building websites. Sorry to let you down on that but those are just the things we do to help connect your business to the public. Branding is about communication.

Public Relations is Branding, Evolved

Branding is a natural bridge to public relations and TBH your branding agency is the best possible public relations expert you can have. We’ve already taken the time to get to know you, your business, your goals, your challenges. We’ve researched your industry, your target demographic, your competitors. We know your strengths and weaknesses. We’ve studied the political and economic environment your business operates in. Who better to help you communicate with the world?

What we’ve learned is that we can craft a beautifully unique brand identity suite or put together a flawless social media marketing campaign but that today those things are just not enough. Communications are 1000x more important than your logo, your branding or your website. So, while it’s important to pick out brand fonts and colors equal time should be spent talking about brand voice and the particulars of how you plan to stay relevant.

Just as branding has shifted over the years, so has PR. It used to be that a logo was a brand. That was it. Slap Coca-Colaⓒ on it and color it red and it’s branded. Push a press release out to the local news outlet, shake a few hands and call it public relations. What we know now is that the fundamentals of both industries have changed, and continue to evolve and that most small businesses aren’t well positioned to handle either very well on their own.

Our take on public relations is a modern hybrid that combines traditional best practices along with intimate knowledge of the current media landscape. Let’s look at some of the different aspects:


  • Trade Shows & Events

  • Crisis Communications

  • Public Reputation

  • Sponsorship Opportunities

  • Press Release Distribution

  • Media Relations (Newspapers, TV, and Radio)


  • SEO & Link Building

  • Review Management

  • Online Reputation

  • Sponsored Content Opportunities

  • Ad Placement

  • Media Relations (Bloggers, YouTubers, and Instagrammers)

Our Definition of Modern PR


Modern public relations is not just communicating with the public and media (push) but how the public and media communicate with your brand (pull). It’s navigating this balance and all the different brand touchpoints where an agency like Markon can really help your small business shine. The end goal is that you’ll have built mutually beneficial relationships with your community, both digitally and IRL.

When to Call in the Pros

Now that you know that hiring a public relations agency isn’t just for corrupt zillionaires and that managing your branded communications is the single most important thing you can do to future-proof your image, when is it time to bring Markon on board? Here are a few times to consider reaching out:

  • You got a bad online review and you don’t know what to do.

  • You want to set up some comm guidelines for employees who are managing company social media accounts.

  • Your posts on social media are falling flat and not getting any engagement.

  • Your blog posts aren’t getting any backlinks.

  • You’re looking for media coverage - whether traditional or nontraditional.

  • You want to promote a new product, service, promotion or division.

  • Your company is restructuring or experiencing change/disruption and you want your audience to know what is happening straight from the source: you.

If you skimmed everything above just to get to the bottom line, here it is: branding without a communication plan in place is outdated. A PR campaign without a strong brand is just as useless. It’s the interplay between all of these moving parts that requires finesse and the solutions available aren’t just for the big guys. If you’re a small business owner and you’re struggling with feeling like you spend most of your day shouting into a vacuum, Markon is here for you. No spin.

Happy 5th Birthday, Markon

BusinessKristine NeilComment

Today, we’re celebrating Markon Brand Design’s 5th birthday! For my fellow entrepreneurs, you’ll know this is a big deal. Roughly half of new businesses started in the United States don’t make it this long, and those who do make it to this mark have the best chances of long-term viability. In business school, they taught us stuff like this as well as other important info like the difference between revenue and profits (hint: cash flow problems are the main reason why most small businesses don’t make it) which is all super helpful info and I definitely rely on it nearly every day but what they don’t teach you is just how hard the first five years can be. I’ve repeatedly said that this period has been the most intense series of never-ending learning curves I’ve ever experienced in my life; I don’t have kids but I’d liken it to learning how to be a parent for the very first time. At first, you’re a little scared of every little bonk or bruise… after a while, you learn that those scrapes and cuts aren’t going to kill them - or you. In many ways, Markon has been my child and now, as it turns the big five, I feel like we’re finally able to see the road ahead much more clearly. Whether it’s because the curves have straightened out and the terrain has become more friendly or I’ve just become a better driver, I feel like we’re finally getting into our groove.

For my teammates here in the trenches with me every day, I celebrate you as much as I do anything else. It’s as much a risk to work for a startup as it is to start one and your energy and tenacity are what move us ever forward. It is my sincere goal that as our company continues to grow that your hard work is rewarded and celebrated in new ways. I look forward to the new opportunities and projects on the horizon that I know we’ll all find creatively and professionally fulfilling in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed of five years ago. Here’s to the next five years of branding, design & marketing and however it is we manage to do all of that while still having fun and eating and drinking way too much coffee.

The last stop on this Oscar-acceptance-speech of a post is most definitely not the least bit important: our clients. Many of you have watched as we’ve evolved over the years and have been the most loyal cheerleaders. After all, without all of you, we would have nothing to fill our days with. You’ve allowed us to not only grow but to thrive… and it could take all the tenacity and creativity on the planet and a business like ours still wouldn’t make it without exceptional clients.

As one of those people who subscribes to the “birthday month” philosophy, we’ll be celebrating this milestone for the entire month of February. Sure, it’s slightly self-congratulatory but I think that when you achieve big things that you have to shout them from the rooftops. No one else is going to do it for you. Over the month, we’ll be sharing some of our goals for the next five years as well as giving you a behind-the-scenes look at our updated branding. By the way, if you’re celebrating a milestone of your own in the coming months we encourage you to give your brand a similar refresh. Keeping things current is what will ensure you feel as relevant in the future as you did in the past. BTW, I know just the team that can handle that for you.

Follow #mbdturns5 on Instagram and Twitter to see our thoughts on how Markon will change in the next five years, and learn more about our recent brand refresh.

Reflection & The Personal Brand

Business, Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

2016 By The Numbers

My last blog post of the year and I’ve pushed it off and procrastinated on it like no other. So, of course, I’m leaving it to my last day of the working year to write. The theme of the month at Markon, as it is in so many people’s minds this time of year, is reflection. The end of a year always brings “best of” lists and “worst of” lists. And memes. Oh, the memes. For better or for worse, 2016 has given the internet plenty to fodder over. In the brave new world we live in, where news is both created and consumed socially, there have been moments to celebrate and those to mourn. History made and changes no one ever saw coming. But to all of the memes declaring that 2016 will go down as one of the worst years ever, I would like to present some opposing evidence - because, at Markon, we’ve had one of the best years ever.

I’m not just talking about sales records or profit margin (those weren’t shabby either) but the metrics that truly matter, at least to me. What matters are the people we’ve reached and the brands we’ve worked with. From engineering startups to emerging beauty brands, we’ve had quite a diverse year. We’ve blogged and designed and built and written our little hearts out and I couldn’t be prouder of my small but mighty team. Together, we’ve accomplished so much. Here are some of my favorite stats:

Obviously, none of this would matter if we didn’t have you, our clients and readers and social followers. I’m hoping that 2017 will bring us together more, especially on Instagram, where we’ll be dedicating our social strategy. I’m already excited at the new people we have joining our team here at Markon Brands, at the client work that’s already in the pipeline for Q1, and at the other changes and growth I know will come along with a new year.

As we wrap up this series on personal branding, I offer this last bit of advice: counter every negative you hear with at least two positives. When the news of the day has you down, celebrate another brand launched, or another project closed, or a prospective client met. One project may seem small but 479 of them really add up! So celebrate your victories, even when they are small. Not only has exploring the topic of personal branding taught us that it’s the desire for self-improvement that’s half the battle, but it’s also that small victories eventually add up to big ones. And, on a mental health note, it’ll keep you focused on things you can actually control.

Sincerity & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

AKA Why We Are Changing Our Content Strategy in 2017

Long, long ago in late 2015, my team and I set about to craft a content strategy for the coming year. We had meetings and brainstorming pow wows and we drew all over the whiteboard. Collectively, we felt the need to keep up a posting strategy and frequency that many agencies five times our size don't (or can't) maintain. There were articles swirling around Twitter that reinforced what I call the "Push Push Push" content philosophy; that is, that you must continuously be creating or sharing or re-sharing content in order to stay relevant. You must be pushing multiple times per day to multiple channels. If you don't have any of your own content, push around someone else's. You must push content the way those guys in Soho push fake Chanel sunglasses: relentlessly. The thing about it is that when you buy a $25 knockoff of a $600 pair of sunnies, at least you walk away with a pair of sunnies. But when your feed is clogged with content that someone whipped up simply because they felt compelled to say something, anything, desperately and in haste, you're left feeling like you kinda got snowed.

You might be wondering what this has to do with personal branding. Well, the theme of the month (as dictated by my robust content calendar) is sincerity. Yes, last year about this time I committed to a content schedule and strategy that mandated I write one blog post per month, to a theme, on the same topic. Trust me, it seemed like a really good idea at the time. Personal branding is a topic I feel passionate about and it's only slightly tangential to the work I do everyday branding businesses and organizations. Because of this, I have found it quite enjoyable to explore how I could help business leaders think about personal branding as an important extension of their business identity. To me, one is simply a foundation of the other.

But if we're being sincere, I'm going to level with you: the content treadmill is exhausting. And that's the thing about sincerity: it only works if it's honest. I could write this post about how being sincere is the capstone piece to your personal branding strategy, how your readers and clients will feel your lack of sincerity and revolt en masse. But in sincerity, I feel compelled to tell you that it's okay to sometimes say nothing at all. It's a modern twist on the old adage: if you have nothing meaningful to say, say nothing at all. Sometimes it's also okay to make a change if something's not working for you, even if you set off with the best of intentions.

Next month, I fully intend on finishing our yearlong series as promised. After all, part of my personal branding ethic is that I always see projects through to completion. But after that, the team and I are making a shift in our content strategy.

In a crowded market, we no longer feel the need to Push Push Push in order to be heard. We believe that it's much more important to be authentic and to share authentically. We believe that a content strategy based on sharing only when we have something sincere to say is different enough that we're not going to be bullied or guilted into sharing or creating just to meet a benchmark or metric that means absolutely nothing to us. The metric that matters to us is simply too hard to put on a graph: the happiness of our clients. We'll be focusing more on sharing extemporaneously, through photos and stories we feel are right to share at the time, not because we were told to do so. You'll see us less on Twitter and fewer posts on our blog, not because we don't love those mediums but because we feel that those aren't places where we're engaging authentically. You'll see us more on Instagram, where our craft truly shines and where we can connect in a genuine way with our clients and community.

The personal branding lesson here is simply that you're fooling no one in your designer imposter glasses. Sure, they may get you a glance or two but you'll be left feeling as fake as the emblem on the case. You'll know it and, more importantly, your clients and followers will know it. You (and they) deserve nothing less than the real thing.

Organization & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

Organization isn’t necessarily the glamour girl of anyone’s to-do list. We often organize in fits and spurts; the junk drawer never stays tidy for too long. Intentions of keeping a clean desk are forgotten the second we’re busy with other “real” work or, if you’re anything like me, often done as a way to procrastinate doing that real work. That being said, if you take the time to organize ahead of time the actual work goes so much more smoothly! When it comes to organizing your personal brand, it’s really no different. If you take the time to get things tidied up in advance, you’ll know how to respond on-brand when under pressure and you’ll have the tools you’ll need at your immediate disposal. Here are the three main aspects to personal branding that you can organize and define now so that you can better achieve your goals in the future.

Organizing is what you do before you do something,
so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.
— A.A. Milne

Organize Your Voice

We’ve talked about voice before. This seems like something that you wouldn’t really need to organize after all one of the most important things is that your voice is authentically you! However, when it comes to branding and the public persona that you share with the world, I say never leave anything to chance. By defining your voice, you’ll be forced to evaluate your own values and goals as well as those of your target demographic. You’ll have a yardstick by which to measure future communications; a way to answer the question: “Is this on brand?”

Since we’re all different and all of our businesses are different, there’s no one-size-fits-all method for organizing your voice. You’ll need to do that for yourself in a way that makes sense for you and your brand. Things to consider as you work through this process:

  • Does my brand use “I/Me” language or “We/Us” language?

  • Do I speak directly to the reader/listener or use more generic language?

  • What tone aligns with my personal and professional goals? Does it also appeal to my target audience? Am I quirky? Straightforward? Funny? Serious?

  • Are there limits to my voice that I need to make note of? (i.e. if part of my defined voice allows some level of snarkiness, is there a line that I won’t cross? For example, I may be willing to be snappy but would never allow anything to be hurtful.)

  • Is my voice different than my competitors?

  • Is my voice one that my target audience would find compelling and authentic?

  • Does it feel authentic to me?

Once you’ve thought about these questions, plus any others that might be relevant to you or your industry - write down the answers! Even if it’s just on a little note card that you can pull out whenever you’re writing, responding to social media comments, or being interviewed, you’ll be thankful that you spent time defining what voice is appropriate for your personal brand in advance.

Organize Your Channels

You’re going to really thank me after this one. Here’s the takeaway: you don’t need to be everywhere. There was a time, and that time was just a few short years ago when we were all told that if we didn’t have a presence on that we didn’t really exist at all. Brands that had no business being on Pinterest were pinning things and people with no understanding of Twitter set up an account that has now gone completely defunct.

In the present day, we advise clients that they should only commit to the channels they can actively keep up with and that make sense for their brand. Nothing’s worse than a Facebook page that hasn’t seen a post since 2011 or a LinkedIn account that dead ends three jobs ago.

Taking some time to clean up and organize your social media presence will have a big payoff. When people search for you, they’ll only see what fresh and new, where you’re active and engaged. Once you’ve decided which channels you’re going to commit to, here are some housekeeping tips to make sure things are organized:

  • Make sure your info or about section is complete and up to date.

  • Update contact info (phone, email, address, website).

  • Update graphics (recent headshot, fresh cover photo, etc.)

  • Do an audit/review of past posts and delete any that no longer are in the right voice (as described above).

Organize Your Branding

The last little bit of organization that will help you is in regards to graphics or branding. This is an easy area to let get out of control but spending just a few minutes organizing a folder on your desktop with all of your up-to-date branding is well worth it.

  • A current version of your logo in various iterations, sizes, and file types. Having this at the ready when someone asks for it will save you the pain of searching for it when you don’t have the time or (worse) sending an outdated version of your logo.

  • A current photo of yourself to send along with press releases, article submissions, etc.

  • A copy of a stock intro letter to your organization (or your resume if you’re a freelancer).

  • At least 4-5 stock photos or images that you can use as backgrounds for social media graphics. Ideally, these are branded with your logo or in your brand’s color scheme. Saving these in one place will make creating branded social media graphics so much easier than starting from scratch every time.

  • A copy of your brand style guide that defines fonts, color, acceptable uses of your logo, photographic style, patterns/textures, etc. Having a PDF of this in your folder will not only help anyone you have working for you stay on brand but will help you know that your color is #4f672f and not #ffd74f.

I hope these organizing tips will help you as you charge towards the close of the year. For me, October is usually a very productive time. I’m energized by the return of a routine that fall brings… and not yet bogged down by the onslaught of holiday madness. It’s a great time to spend getting organized or back on track, even if we know it won’t last forever. Do it now and when the time comes, you know you’ll have everything in place.

Acceleration & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

Pump the Jam

As you'll undoubtedly discover throughout the month of September, we take autumn pretty seriously around here. There are routine squeals of joy over the first day you get to bundle up in a scarf for function and not just fashion. We mock (and then secretly indulge in) all things pumpkin spice flavored, especially coffee. One of our favorite office Pandora stations is actually entitled "Stormy Day Beats" and it pairs perfectly with a drizzly Pacific Northwest day. I've personally written before on how fall is my own take on New Year's; a time for goal-setting and self-analysis and getting back to work after the slower pace of summer. It's why the theme of the month around here is acceleration.

As we gear up to finish the year strong, I thought this might be a good month to recap where we've been so far. I know, I know. Looking backward is literally the opposite of acceleration. But the way I see it, sometimes the best lessons are the ones you've already learned. It just may be the perfect time of year to step up your game and get back on track if you've happened to veer off course over the summer.


  • Creating consistency in messaging & tone lets the world know you’re the real deal.

  • While it may seem overly calculating to strategize over your personal brand, I’m here to tell you that you can’t afford not to.

  • “Your personal brand serves as your best protection against business factors you can’t control." - Dan Schawbel

  • You’ve got to remind yourself every day that you’re playing the long game and do whatever it takes to do it with a smile.

  • In thinking about your personal brand, think about the type of content that you are putting out into the world. Is it consistent with your attitude? Do the words you choose support your agenda?

  • Creating consistency in messaging & tone lets the world know you’re the real deal.


  • Just as in our personal lives, in our professional lives faking it will only get you so far.

  • You can fake it till you make it but you can’t fake passion.

  • "Professionals" that lack passion: stubbornly resist change, avoid or delay communication, don’t value others’ time and make excuses.

  • Passionate professionals: are excited to implement changes, follow through and follow up, value the time of other professionals and easily make decisions.


  • There’s nothing harder to do than get up and head off to work when you’re burnt out.

  • It's hard to take care of yourself when you don’t have the energy to.

  • Spending a small amount of energy doing something to refresh your body, mind or spirit will magically create ten times more energy to do all the other things.

  • Find a hobby, a passion, or a side gig that you truly love.

  • Work can be all-consuming. It can take over your personal life, affect your relationships, your health and your overall well-being. There a zillion upsides to being a leader but it does require balance in order to be your best.

  • Whatever your side gig passion is, make time for it. Let it refresh and recharge you.


  • How do you shake things up and keep things fresh while still communicating that it’s you?

  • Five ideas to get you outside your comfort zone on social media:

    • Launch a short-term series or contest

    • Get some fresh graphics

    • Challenge your metrics

    • Try a new schedule

    • Try a new medium

  • The trick to innovating your personal brand is to have a well-defined brand to begin with.

  • If you’ve taken the time to craft standards and values that represent your brand, you’ll find the fine line between staying true vs. being new much easier to balance.


  • This isn’t about how you can work less and get more. There are no secrets here on how to put in the bare minimum in the name of “work-life balance”.

  • Are you willing and able to nurture your work and tend to your personal brand with a crazy fierce level of commitment? We’re at a point where reputation, both online and IRL, can be both easily bolstered and quickly spoiled.

  • The thing about personal branding that I’m just not sure I can communicate enough is that there is no off switch.

  • While everyone else is busy trying to look authentic, you can just focus on being authentic. It takes some dedication but the payoff is worth it.


  • Tracking progress is the roadmap towards your end goal.

  • Measuring your progress in business can be as complex or as simple as fits you.

  • The numbers themselves aren’t what’s really important. What’s important is that you know them and that you track them.

  • Remember that your path may not be the same as someone else’s. What matters is that you’re forging ahead. It is only this tenacity that can’t really be measured. It’s difficult to put a hard number on the amount of determination you have. Stats can’t measure your hunger to succeed.


  • Loyalty is an end result. Something that is earned. It’s the byproduct of other work. Loyalty is what you get when you’ve made other people feel safe. Loyalty is what happens when people know what to expect of you because you’ve been relentlessly consistent.

  • When it comes to personal branding or life in general, loyalty is earned after showing that you’re able to flex and bend without sacrificing who you really are.

  • When people know what to expect of you, when they know where you are and who you are and what you’re about, you’ll earn their loyalty and respect.

  • Update things often to stay fresh and current. It’s this constant evolution that allows us to build loyalty. It shows that we are eager to grow and adapt and change.

  • With a strong commitment to your personal brand’s foundations, you’ll be able to take on adversity and grow as a person, all while staying true to your roots.


  • Most entrepreneurs (especially new or young ones) have trouble with delegation because they have a true entrepreneurial spirit.

  • Learn to master your inbox! (It’s where most people screw up and it’s because they have no system to effectively manage emails.)

  • Only play the balls that are in your court.

  • Keep a clean desktop (real & virtual) because a clean space = a clean mind.

  • Learn to value your own time.

Delegation & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

From a leadership perspective, most conversations on the topic of delegation will encourage you to prioritize your work, surround yourself with a team you can trust and devote the best available resource to each problem as they arise - even if that means letting go of some control. No problem, right? These are all great lessons to learn but it takes even the best of the best time to master them. On top of that, most entrepreneurs (especially new or young ones) have trouble with delegation because they do have a true entrepreneurial spirit; they're working on a business or a project that's their baby, their passion and their investment. No one else can really put themselves truly in their shoes.

The truth of it is that it's not always as easy as having someone else pick up the slack for you (maybe you're a team of one and it's just you!) or as simple as giving control over to a third party (a great idea if you can afford it!). If this is you right now, rest assured- I get you. I've been in the same place you are. I know what it means to have 14 hours of work to get done in 9 hours. I know what it means to have no one else to ask for help even if you wanted. Don't worry- you'll get there. In the meantime, here's the list of my ten best tried-and-true tips, tricks, #hacks, and resources to master delegation right where you are. (Secret: These are also great even if you’re not a novice!)

1. Master Your Inbox - If you do nothing else on this list, please do this. Despite all the ways that we have to get in touch with one another 24/7, email is still king when it comes to business communication. Sadly, it’s also where most people are screwing it up and it’s because they have no system. They are letting their inboxes control their lives. If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed by emails, it’s because you’re not doing it right. (Sidenote: if you aren’t already, I recommend switching to Google Apps for Work ASAP.) Here are the tricks:

  • Turn Conversation View Off! I don’t know what they were thinking when they invented this option but it is the easiest way to miss pertinent information in a thread. It is the devil. Disable it now. You’ll see all your incoming messages in chronological order so that you can best handle them and not miss anything.

  • Develop a three-tier system for handling your messages using Priority Inbox. These settings are on the Inbox tab. Start by enabling Priority Inbox, then have your inbox sorted into three sections per my example below. I have a label I created (do this on Labels Tab) called “Tier 2” that is the critical step here. Now, when you have incoming mail everything will first hit the Unread section. Since you’ve disabled conversation view and things aren’t cluttered AF, you have the ability to choose whether you can respond to the message right away, delete it, mark it as read or do one of the following two actions with it.

  • Star the message to indicate that this is mega important but not something you can do in the here and now. It’s at the top of your list as soon as you can get to it. For me, these messages are typically emails from clients that require a response, proposal requests or other meeting notes. Respond to all starred messages by the end of the business day.

  • Mark messages that need follow up but aren’t as critical as Tier 2, or whatever fun name you’ve come up with to mark these types of messages. My Tier 2 messages are things like notes or to-dos from my accountant, anything that doesn’t pertain to a time-sensitive project or other miscellaneous messages that require some sort of action on my part.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with delegation? It has EVERYTHING to do with delegation! Many people falsely assume that delegation is all about authorizing someone else to handle a task or tasks that you would have taken care of otherwise. I say, sometimes delegation is about having that someone else be your future self… you can handle most of what you need to - you just can’t do it all at once!

2. Boomerang for Gmail - This is my secret weapon on the never-ending quest for the elusive INBOX ZERO. Paired with my three-tier system above, using Boomerang allows me to look like a super organized badass. It’s awesome. You can schedule emails to send at a later time, set reminders to follow up if you haven’t heard back or just to bring something back to the top of the stack at a certain day and time. It’s like delegating to your very own virtual assistant and they even have a free basic plan that would work well for most people.

3. Buy a Whiteboard - Listen, I’ve harped about why you need a whiteboard before and I will go to my grave believing that it’s the secret to 99.9% of any successful project. Get yourself to Target or Amazon and get the biggest whiteboard you can reasonably fit in your space. Divide it up into columns for Monday thru Friday and then rows based on the type of work you do. Habitually spend time each day checking in with your board and updating things. Don’t try to replicate this digitally; nothing can replace the joy in being able to erase a task you toiled away on all day like a whiteboard. Deal with today and the next 4 days of your work life ONLY. The whiteboard doesn’t care what’s happening three weeks from Tuesday. That’s what a calendar is for. A whiteboard is for delegating tasks to certain days. It’s a way to give you permission to do stuff later and still be on top of it.

4. Understand When The Ball Isn't In Your Court - This is really a mindset more than a #hack but trust me when I say it’s a crucial thing to master, especially if you’re in a line of work like ours. Working on a branding project or designing a piece of marketing collateral doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires input and dialog with multiple parties: colleagues, vendors, the client, etc. If you need something from someone and they haven’t got back to you, if you’ve asked a question that hasn’t been answered or if you’re waiting for something from someone else in any way THE BALL IS NOT IN YOUR COURT. You’ve got to understand that you’ve essentially delegated responsibility to another party and that you’re not doing anyone any favors when you do anything except wait for them to contribute like responsible little adults. This is a hard one, especially if you’re the type that figures you could just jump in and do that work for them in half the time. RESIST THIS URGE. Delegation only works when you only play the balls in your court. The goal should be to get as many of them as possible back over the net ASAP.

5. Buffer - AKA your social media personal assistant. Listen, you know I love social media. It’s totally my jam. But I have things to do that aren’t social media and I don’t want it to run my life, you know? Enter: Buffer. With this nifty little tool, I’m able to schedule posts across platforms at optimum times for engagement. With Buffer, I can schedule posts out weeks (sometimes months, TBH) in advance, which is great for someone like me that does a ton of reading late at night and early in the morning but doesn’t want to share 5 articles in a row on Twitter at 11:42pm. The end result to my social media audience is that it looks like I’ve got a social media intern posting things at regular intervals throughout the day in between fetching coffee. #WINNING

6. Don't Be Ashamed of Your Monica Closet - I know I’m going to lose some of you Millenials on this one but back in the day there was this show called Friends and it was epic and we all watched it like it was religion. On this show, there was this character called Monica that was basically OCD and super organized and Type A to the max. EXCEPT FOR SHE WASN’T. She had a secret. A secret closet.


The delegation takeaway: shoving a bunch of crap into a junk drawer doesn’t make you disorganized, it just means you know that you can only deal with so much at a time and that is all stuff you can’t deal with right now. You are so organized, that this is all stuff that doesn’t fit into any other category and you have permission to deal with it at some other time. You’re welcome.

7. #Slack Reminders - If you use Slack at work, you probably know how awesome it can be for your team. That being said, sometimes your co-workers are on a different wavelength than you and share stuff that you really want to get to but just don’t have time to tackle at the moment. DON’T TRUST THAT YOU’LL REMEMBER TO READ/DO/RESPOND LATER. THIS NEVER HAPPENS. Just use the reminders tool to automagically have Slack ping you back at some predetermined future time. This is just another way to free up some of your mental energy to focus on whatever you’re working on in the present and worry about everything else later.

8. Keep a Clean Desktop (Real & Virtual) - Clean space, clean mind. Here’s what you need on your desk at any given moment: you computer and details for whatever project you are working on right now and right now only. Make your computer desktop match. Keep only files that you need to access for the project or projects you’re working on in the immediate future and nothing else. Again, this is about helping you work more efficiently on your current projects while clearing away the clutter of everything else.

9. vCita- Ever wish you had a personal assistant to schedule meetings for you and help do other administrative tasks like collect payments, get files or manage messages. Now you do. vCita is a great tool that has markedly increased the number of interactions we have through our own website and allows us to quickly schedule client meetings without the dreaded back-and-forth chain of emails that typically happens. Delegate all of those tasks to this smart tool and get back to your real work.

10. Value Your Own Time - This is the cornerstone piece in all of this talk about delegation. You must assign yourself a dollar value and then use that as the benchmark against which you gauge whether you are the appropriate person to do each task. When you start thinking of yourself in terms of the dollar value you’d need to pay yourself to do whatever it is that someone else is really better at, delegation starts to make a bunch more sense. Now, for all you haters who are going to insist that you have more time than money right now, I’m going to have to show you a little tough love. You’re not only wrong, but your belief that you’ll get things done “cheaper” if you do them yourself is also detrimental to your ability to grow and succeed. It is the number one indicator of failure. If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, just wait to see the type of mess you’ll have on your hands when you hire an amateur, even if that amateur is you.

I hope you've found one or two things to help you start delegating, even if it's virtually or on a small scale to start. The secret is that there's really no magic to mastering delegation. It's not just about hiring the right people or companies to work with and it doesn't have to be as tough as turning over complete control of your business. While learning to not be the bottleneck in your own process is a huge achievement, it's just as beneficial to learn how to get organized. The dictionary may define delegation as the act of empowering someone to act for another but sometimes I think it's just as important to learn how to use the tools and resources available to you as a way to empower yourself.

Loyalty & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

Be A Tree

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past few weeks thinking about loyalty and what it means to me, and more importantly what it means to business. As I thought about what the concept means to me, and what to write about in this post, I was a little torn. I could take the obvious route and discuss staying loyal to your branding. Or, perhaps more self-focused, staying true to yourself. We could talk about how by lacking commitment to your personal branding, you’ll invariably struggle with business branding as a result. We could explore what it actually means to define and stay loyal to our brands.

But these things have been done.

And at the heart of it, it’s not what loyalty means to me.

To me, loyalty is an end result. Something that is earned. It’s the byproduct of other work. Loyalty is what you get when you’ve made other people feel safe. Loyalty is what happens when people know what to expect of you because you’ve been relentlessly consistent.

Loyalty is being a tree.

Be Flexible

I have a framed print that has moved with me to about eight various homes over the last nearly 20 years. Being a poor college student and lacking funds for proper art, it’s actually a greeting card I purchased at a cute shop in the little town where I went to undergrad. I loved it so much I bought it for myself, put it in a cheap frame and it’s been one of my favorite possessions ever since. On it, a small illustration of a tree, bent fiercely sideways in the wind, is silhouetted against a warm orange background and the best damn reminder ever to be flexible is written on top in a brush script font: “The strength of a tree lies in its ability to bend.” The strength. Of a tree. Lies in its ABILITY. TO. BEND. It’s a phrase I’ve muttered to myself a thousand times since, in challenging times and in times when I wanted to do nothing but stubbornly resist what was happening around me. It is such a good reminder that when it comes to personal branding (or life in general) loyalty is earned after showing that you’re able to flex and bend without sacrificing who you really are.

Stay Grounded

The ability to wave in the breeze is only made possible by having the deepest and surest of roots. It’s these roots that allow even the littlest of trees to be pushed and pulled and stressed by the elements and still stand firmly planted right in their little patch of earth. The biggest Sequoias are as strong underground as they are flexible above. In business, loyalty is earned by a similarly unwavering attachment to your foundation. When people know what to expect of you, when they know where you are and who you are and what you’re about, you’ll earn their loyalty and respect. They’ll build tree houses in your strong limbs and bring bottles of rosé and picnic under the shade of your branches.

Change Often

Sadly, summers spent lounging in the shade of a tree quickly fade to autumns spent raking up leaves. As seasons come and go, leaves bud and grow, then change colors and fall. New branches jut out from old trunks and new nests are made. A tree is always growing. We ask our branding clients to do just the same: update things often to stay fresh and current. It’s this constant evolution that allows us to build loyalty. It shows that we are eager to grow and adapt and change. It shows that we are keen to learn new things and to add another ring of knowledge to the stump. With every season, we should be looking to adjust and adapt and change.

With a strong commitment to your personal brand’s foundations, you’ll be able to take on adversity and grow as a person, all while staying true to your roots. Like I said, to me loyalty is the earned byproduct of this work. It's what you get when people know they can trust you, know that you'll always be there, know what kind of work you do and that you're fiercely committed to it. Loyalty is knowing that despite change, you'll be there. Season after season, building loyalty is as simple as aspiring to have a tree's amazing ability to be both flexible and grounded, both growing and the same.

Measurement & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

Break Out The Maps

June is the beginning of a new quarter, the start of a new season and a natural time to check in with yourself before the heat of summer really takes hold. Half a year has gone by! If you set some realistic business goals back in January, now’s a good time to reflect on how achieving them is going. And it’s ok if you gave up on them the third week in February like the rest of us - you still have 6 months this year to turn the ship around!

So what’s so important about tracking and measuring how things are going? Simply put, checking in regularly with yourself is one of the best-kept secrets towards achieving your goals. It’s ~almost~ a guarantee of success.

Tracking progress is the roadmap towards your end goal. You wouldn’t set off on a cross-country road trip without mapping out the pit stops along the way. You plan your route and then follow along as you go. If you get distracted by a roadside attraction or take a longer-than-planned detour, checking in with your map gets you right back on track towards your destination. It’s your way to know how many miles you’ve come and how far you have to go.


I know there are some free spirits out there who will insist that there’s nothing better than setting off without a destination in mind, that there’s nothing like getting a little lost and discovering new, unplanned things. I couldn’t agree more. But do it on your own time. Feel free to float from point A to point B without a care in the world, but if you’re doing it on the clock (let’s be honest here) that makes you more of a hobbyist than a business person. Retired folks have the luxury of hopping in the RV and meandering up the coast without a plan. You are not those people. You are a business owner and if you are serious about it, you’ve got shit to do that can’t wait. You simply can’t afford to let yourself get lost in the woods right now.

Measuring your progress in business can be as complex or as simple as fits you. There’s plenty of info out there about different metrics or tools you can use to gauge how things are going. Spend some time learning and getting acquainted with the ones that matter most to you. Find a way to track them that you can easily work into your regular routine. I’m not here to tell you that what matters most is x% of visitors converting to y% of sales. To me, it doesn’t really matter if you saw a 10% increase in traffic or a 2% jump in leads. The numbers themselves aren’t what’s really important. What’s important is that you know them and that you track them.

What’s important is that you use the data, in whatever form makes the most sense to you, to fuel your drive to achieve your goals. If you’re not meeting some of your milestones, check in with yourself to find out why. It could be that your benchmarks were simply unrealistic (i.e. you set the waypoints on your road trip too far apart) or that you weren’t equipped to achieve them in the first place (i.e. you didn’t budget enough gas money to get to the next stop). In business, you’ll want to think in the same terms. Did I give myself and my team what they needed to get where I wanted them to go? Is where I wanted us to be by now something we could have realistically achieved?


You’ll have to be willing to be honest with yourself if the answers to both those questions are yes and you’re still not where you wanted to be. It’s humbling but you’ve got to do it. Be open to discussing where things got off track, take the time to discover why and then make the proper adjustments. It’s ok if you’ve found yourself at the dead end of a dirt road. Just turn around and head back to the freeway.

It’s this level of awareness and commitment towards achieving your goals that will put you ahead of the pack. Some people end up lost and throw up their hands and just decide to camp out there and wait. But you’re going to break out the map and the compass and find your way. Because you are driven to succeed and unwilling to settle for only making it halfway. There are so many numbers and metrics and measurements to guide you. There are a thousand roads you can take to get there and your path may not be the same as someone else’s. What matters is that you’re forging ahead. It is only this tenacity that can’t really be measured. It’s difficult to put a hard number on the amount of determination you have. Stats can’t measure your hunger to succeed.

Dedication & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

(The Secret is... there is no secret)

What this post is not: a list of #hacks, a recipe for overnight success or a get-rich-quick formula. This isn’t about how to get ahead without working hard. This isn’t about how you can work less and get more. There are no secrets here on how to put in the bare minimum in the name of “work-life balance”. So instead of slugging through The 4-Hour Workweek and wondering why. things. just. aren’t. clicking. for you -- understand that things would be so much easier if you just actually worked. Dedicatedly.

This applies double for your personal brand, which if you’ve been following along, you now understand you have whether you want one or not. The question is really whether you are willing and able to nurture your work and tend to your personal brand with a crazy fierce level of commitment. We’re at a point where reputation, both online and IRL, can be both easily bolstered and quickly spoiled. You can put out great content, do great work and get recognition from across the globe in an instant. But hasty online reviews can be written, questionable pics after one too many margaritas can be posted and your sloppy commitment to your brand unravels all of the hard work you previously did. One step forward. Two steps back.

Stop doing that.

The thing about personal branding that I’m just not sure I can communicate enough is that there is no off switch. There’s no punching the clock on it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or a fledgling freelancer or the head of a huge corporation, your reputation - your brand - is really all you have. Companies will come and go. Jobs will change. Titles will shift. The rest of it is, for a large part, out of your control and highly volatile. What is in your control is crafting the image people have of you, and creating a solid foundation to back it up. It’s not enough to say you’re flexible or friendly or talented. You must do those things. Be those things. Embody those things 24/7. People are smart and they can suss out when you’re being inauthentic or embellishing or just telling them what they want to hear.

Unfortunately for you, this means that there’s no easy way out, or up. That being said, there’s a reason why they say the high road is never too crowded. While everyone else is busy trying to look authentic, you can just focus on being authentic. It takes some dedication but the payoff is worth it.

Innovation & The Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

Staying True vs. Being New

Innovation is defined as the process of making changes to something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. It’s also our content theme for the month here at Markon. I love it as a theme for April because this time of year makes me think of changing things up, dusting things off and really kicking that outside-the-box thinking up a notch.

It’s tough, however, when I try to put our theme into the context of personal branding because so much of what we’ve talked about so far is about the importance of consistency and of finding your voice and sticking to it. How do you shake things up and keep things fresh while still communicating that it’s you? It’s easy! We’re going to focus our innovative minds on social media because if you’re like anyone else, it’s where you spend a ton of time interacting and (let’s be honest here) where we all go to stalk someone new when we’re deciding if we want to work with them. That being said, by all means, use some of these ideas to explore new methods in other areas of your real, non-digital, life as well!

Launch a short-term series or contest.

This is something we’re doing this month on our own Instagram; each of us is taking over the channel for a week to share week-in-the-life pics instead of the normal routine of stuff we usually post. It’s a nice little break from our usual content but still stays true to one of our core brand values: embracing everyone’s individuality. A contest would have the same effect of giving you something new to post about but still allowing you to incorporate your tried and true branding.

Get some fresh graphics.

A quick and easy way to liven things up on your social feeds is to update your cover photos or other graphics. You don’t want to change your profile pic too often because you want people to learn to associate your face with content they like but your cover photo or other shared graphics are a great way to show that you’re keeping things fresh and current. We recommend updating these items at least seasonally, but ideally monthly. (Although if it’s been a while… like YEARS… springing for a new headshot is probably not the worst idea.)

Challenge your metrics.

Sometimes all it takes to be truly innovative is to be open-minded enough to try new things. If you’re sharing high-quality content regularly, good for you! But we’re not here because we’re satisfied with the status quo. If you know that videos, for example, always get you lots of new attention and you post one per month, what if you posted two? If you post four great blogs per month, what if you tried doubling that? Sit down with some of your sharing stats and see where you could dial it up to 11.

Try a new schedule.

Along the same vein as challenging your metrics, being open to a new schedule can have lots of positive impacts on your exposure to new faces. At Markon we love using scheduling tools to automate posts but I also use them personally to help me manage my own social media. One time, I accidentally scheduled a post to go out in the middle of the night in my own time zone and thought I had really screwed things up… until some of that content got me lots of new love from the other side of the world! Apparently I’ve got some friends in Australia and NZ (hey guys!). Being open to a different posting schedule allowed me to gain new followers and connect with new people. Bam!

Try a new medium.

While you’re out there trying new things, how about a whole new platform??? I know, it’s super scary. But it’s time to be on more than Facebook. And, no, automatically reposting your content to other platforms doesn’t count. If you have a Twitter account that you opened in 2008 and then have let sit defunct ever since people will notice (and not in a good way). If you’re in a particularly visual industry, try Instagram to share pics of your work and connect with customers. Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat… think about how you can express your brand in new ways and choose a platform that supports those goals. Whatever platform(s) you’re on, post frequently, with consistency and with your brand in mind.

Of course, the trick to innovating your personal brand is to have a well-defined brand to begin with. If you’ve taken the time to craft standards and values that represent your brand, you’ll find the fine line between staying true vs. being new much easier to balance. You’ll know how to incorporate new ideas and processes into your workflow that still genuinely feel like you and you’ll have a chance to connect with new people that you possibly wouldn’t have had you not decided to innovate.

Refreshing Your Personal Brand

Personal BrandingKristine NeilComment

There’s probably nothing harder to do than get up and head off to work when you’re burnt out.

All the things we’ve been talking about in the last two months: being authentic, conveying your passion, consciously projecting your most professional self … they become like mountains way too big to climb. When you’re at burnout phase, it’s like sitting at Everest basecamp and feeling defeated by the enormity of the challenges in front of you. You can’t imagine stepping one foot outside of your tent, let alone reaching the summit. It’s going to take all you have to shower this morning, let alone show up at work with a smile on your face. Trust me. I’ve been there.

I know how hard it is to take care of yourself when you don’t have the energy to. But here’s the thing: spending that small amount of energy doing something to refresh your body, mind or spirit will somehow magically create ten times more energy to do all the other things. And then you can get back to work being your best self. So how do you do this? Simple. I recommend that you find a hobby, a passion, or a side gig that you truly love. For me, that’s either travel or cooking.

Lacking an interest in anything else, I would definitely be one of those crazy workaholic people who never leave the office. Mostly because I’ve worked hard to build a career for myself doing stuff I truly love, but also because I’m one of those people that doesn’t relax very well. Unplugging usually requires traveling several time zones away, often to the other side of the world. But since that’s not necessarily a practical hobby to take on every single weekend, I cook.

When I can’t travel to Japan, I breathe in the earthy aroma of Soba noodles in a savory broth and recall the time I spent standing in silence at the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. A chocolate croissant can transport me to the time I spent in the French countryside, meandering through small villages without a care in the world. A simple homemade cappuccino sends me back to the morning I rushed through St. Peter’s square in Rome with all of the other hurried Italians on their way to catch a train. Digging my spoon into a ripe avocado, I recall the lazy days I’ve spent on Ambergris Caye, Belize - an island so remote it takes 3 planes, 1 boat and a whole day to get to. That’s my kind of unplugging.

So when I can't travel, I cook. And that is what refreshes me. The process itself refreshes me. It gives my brain time to focus on the immediate task at hand. The planning, the sourcing, the cutting and prepping - all these tasks require my attention. And it is because of it that I am better at work. Truly. There are lessons learned in cooking that I apply every day in my professional life; so much so that they are now an ingrained part of my own personal brand. Cooking has taught me the following important things:

Have a plan.

Part of the joy I get from cooking is the planning, the learning and the strategizing over what to make and when. I read cookbooks the way others read novels. I love trying to figure out how to make the most efficient use of my grocery budget and ingredients. If I make something with half of a sauce on Monday, how can I use it again on Wednesday in a different way? Is there a cooking class somewhere I can take to learn a new technique? How can I make my favorite dish just a bit healthier? This strategizing mindset obviously suits me well at work too. I’m always learning, reading and plotting. If I’m helping a client with a budget of X, how do we get the most bang for their buck? What do we do first, second, third? Can I learn about a new tool that might help us all do something in a different way than before?

Get it ready.

In cooking, this process is called mise en place and it’s just a fancy French way of saying “get your shit together”. If you’re making a risotto, which requires nearly constant stirring, you’ve got to spend the time in advance cutting, dicing, prepping and laying out all of your other ingredients. Doing so allows you to focus on making the final dish amazing, instead of focusing on stirring and chopping and measuring all at the same time. This process teaches us that the final dish is always better when we get all of our materials organized in advance first. It reminds us that multitasking isn’t always best. Sometimes it’s best to just focus on the task at hand, and have enough forethought to give yourself the ability to do so. When in doubt, make a list and start checking things off.

Expect the Unexpected.

I like cooking from recipes. They are my road map to a great dish. But sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. Maybe my produce is a little overripe or I had to sub a dried herb for a fresh one and the flavor is just a little different. Sometimes mistakes happen, like the time last week I accidentally put 2 TABLESPOONS of crazy hot chili powder into my tortilla soup instead of 2 TEASPOONS. Yikes. I like things spicy but my mistake rendered the dish inedible and it had to go down the garbage disposal. Thank goodness for having frozen Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pies from Costco in the freezer ;) At work, the same problems often arise. The package didn’t arrive on time. The client needs the work done yesterday. The file won’t open. Look, things go wrong. And if you just expect that to be the case, you can focus on being a problem solver and not one of those people who dwells on the fact that things didn’t go your way. Be flexible enough to go to plan B.

Break the Rules.

When things go wrong, like above, or maybe when things are going right and I’m just feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen, I love the feeling of leaving a tried-and-true recipe in the dust and entering unknown territory. Whether I’m troubleshooting a sauce that just won’t thicken or trying a new ingredient that I’ve never worked with before, sometimes I just let my creativity run wild. Who cares if everyone says the best way to make mac-n-cheese is to start with a roux? Maybe I want to puree butternut squash and add greek yogurt as a base instead? (Damn good, BTW.) Challenging the status quo is in my blood, both in and out of the kitchen. Oh, you say there’s no way I can make an amazing batch of brownies that are also vegan and gluten-free? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. You say I can’t buy a run down business, turn it around, make it a career and grow it like crazy? BRING IT ON.

Make it Beautiful.

All of the hard work that leads up to the moment a dish hits the table means nothing if it’s not Instagrammable, right? There is so much pleasure in presenting a beautiful plate that makes my husband say he feels like he eats at a five-star restaurant every night. We eat with our eyes first so I love plating as much as I love cooking what’s on the plate. Blame it on my Food Network obsessions but even when it’s just the two of us at home, I wipe up any drips or splashes from the edge of the plate, add a bit of garnish and make sure things are arranged just so. It just makes the whole thing an experience, even if it’s something as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup. The beauty of the food is what gives me pleasure and allows me to be grateful at how lucky we are to have access to it all. At work, I spend the same time perfecting every last pixel, adorning the presentation with something a little extra or doing my best to WOW a client with what we’ve created.

All of this is to say that when you work all the time, as most small business owners do, it’s easy to get burnt out. You need an outlet. Work can be all-consuming. It can take over your personal life, affect your relationships, your health and your overall well-being. There a zillion upsides to being a leader but it does require balance in order to be your best.

So what do you do to refresh? Is it cooking? Is it knitting, or crafting, or racquetball? Are you a photographer, a cyclist, or an avid reader? Do you spend your free time volunteering at the animal shelter or reading to kids? Do you garden? Whatever it is, make time for it. Let it refresh and recharge you. Don’t do it for money, despite the urge to do so. You need to have something you do just because it’s good for your soul. And then, when you’re rested, get back to work. You and your personal brand will be all the better for it.

It's Time to Refresh Your Brand

DesignKristine NeilComment

Time for a little spring cleaning

You may have noticed by now that we're devoting each month's content to a particular theme. It made good sense that January was focused on strategy; everyone sets off with great intentions at the first of the year! In February we focused on passion and how it can really fuel your work. This month, our theme is one of rejuvenation; or more simply just the idea of a REFRESH! March feels like a great time to step back from the work we've done so far in the year and evaluate if it's hitting the marks we set for ourselves in January. It's also a great time to reset, renew and refresh branding.

You may think that branding is one of those things that you can do once and call good. But just like you'd never get away with painting your house once and never again, your branding occasionally needs a refresh. Maybe it's just a "fresh coat of paint" like some new business cards or an updated sign. Or maybe you want to do a more intensive overall - a new logo, an improved website or some refreshed marketing materials. Whatever it is, it's never too late to start again heading towards where you want to be.

We recommend that your entire brand gets refreshed every 2-3 years but that you update individual elements on a quarterly basis. Taking this approach spreads out your investment in branding over time and also allows your business to always look fresh and current with something new. We also recommend that you evaluate your brand any time your business goals, objectives or target demographic changes. If you'd added new products and services since your customers last heard from you, it's time to make some updates!

Our team is great at working within specific budgets and timelines to help you update your branding. We can even help develop a marketing strategy to help you tackle projects in a way that makes sense for you and your business. And, of course, we'll make sure you always look fresh!