Picmonkey is gone – what do I use now?

what's the alternative now picmonkey is gone

I want a transparent background, but I can’t use PicMonkey anymore.

Because it’s no longer free.

There’s nothing surer on the internet than constant change (and usually in the pursuit of the dollar). We all struggle to keep up. Remember Periscope? Whatever happened to that? And Snapchat – seems after an initial blast, Snapchat has quietened down too and I’m wondering if it’s on the way out as well!? Facebook’s algorithms are constantly changing and I NEVER know what’s going to be in my newsfeed or how I can best reach my audience there. And since Facebook took over Instagram, I get stuff in my feed that’s a week old. Pinterest is chock full of sponsored posts too.

There’s nothing surer on the internet than constant change (and usually in the pursuit of the dollar). We all struggle to keep up. Remember Periscope? Whatever happened to that? And Snapchat – seems after an initial blast, Snapchat has quietened down too and I’m wondering if it’s on the way out as well!? Facebook’s algorithms are constantly changing and I NEVER know what’s going to be in my newsfeed or how I can best reach my audience there. And since Facebook took over Instagram, I get stuff in my feed that’s a week old. Pinterest is chock full of sponsored posts too.

Now PicMonkey has gone by the wayside as well.

In the last couple of weeks, PicMonkey announced that it’s no longer a free platform – not even a tiered one, like it used to be. The only way you can use it is to pay (which is pretty sad, because I used to love how you could combine PicMonkey with Canva and do just about any kind of graphic you wanted!). My good friend Karyn Sealby is using the paid version and still loves it – she says there have been numerous big improvements in functionality lately that she says have made it even better.

If you’re on the paid version of PicMonkey, I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

But where does that leave us, who just want to use a few of the basic tools, such as being able to use your own fonts, and create shapes with a transparent background?

Well, now that PicMonkey is gone, we head right on over to Gravit Designer, that’s where.

It’s a step up from free PicMonkey – besides all the image-editing stuff, being able to create things with a transparent background, and able to use your own fonts, you can also create your own vector shapes as well, AND download them as .svg files too! If you’re not sure what that means, it simply means you can create shapes that never lose their crispness, no matter what size they are – which is PERFECT for logo design, and pattern design too.

How good is that?

And they’ve promised that “We will always keep it as a professional yet free design tool”, so that’s excellent news for us! You can use it online, or you can download a desktop version as well.

While Gravit Designer is a bit more complex than PicMonkey, they also have a simpler version called Klex – which at first glance looks a LOT like Canva. And while there are things that Canva can do that it can’t (and I must admit, I find some things in Klex a bit “buggy”), there are also lots of things that it can do better than Canva as well – for instance, flexibility in its vector illustrations, and font alternatives.

However, if you’re feeling OK about the tech side of things (and honestly, you don’t have to be a tech whizz or anything), I’d go for Designer. It can do just about everything you’d want – crop, import your own fonts, create vector illustrations, and a whole lot more. It’s got lots of alignment tools (snap functionality, grids, auto alignment), and image editing.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be doing some Facebook lives on tips and tricks for Gravit Designer – so I hope you can join me! Every Friday at 10.30am AEDT and you’ll get the low-down. It’s quite new to me too, so you can join in as I discover what it can and can’t do – and as always I’ll be getting inventive, so if there’s something it can’t do, I’ll figure out a way around it.

Just you wait and see 😉

You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/tractorgirl.viz.biz. See you there for Friday morning Facebook Lives!

Julie x

That time I sat in the car and …

 

As anyone who’s ever started a business knows, there are moments when you doubt yourself. A lot.

But when you keep going because there’s that thing you’re utterly passionate about, you’ll never know where you might end up…

Look. I was trawling through my memory for a story or two to share with you about my ongoing love-affair with the Artful Business Conference (aka ArtfulBizCon), because it’s so darn freaking good for women in business like me and you. Like that time Elle showed us the video of the lone dancer and demonstrated the power of community. Like that time Sonia told us about growing up in a family that always reinforced the idea to “Do things that make other people happy”, but eventually realising that when we do things that make US happy, the happiness flows out of us to others anyway. Like that time Karen told us to start a revolution, by sharing your gift with one person – because who are YOU not to share?

And that time I spent sitting in the car in the carpark in tears of overwhelm for an hour, because I felt like I’d finally found my tribe.

I’ve come so far.

So when I was going through what I’d written about last year’s Artful, I noted with interest this little gem:

“Thanks to Elle, I’m facing my fears and doing it anyway. (F’rinstance: before, I struggled to find photos of me that I even liked. Now, I’m the selfie queen, and I’ve got a good dozen videos under my belt (yeah yeah, I know they’re short, but it’s a start!)). And I’m pushing myself out there in lots of other ways – new products, and a (ahem) webinar in the planning stages.” (note the self-doubt still hanging around there?)

Only last year’s conference, and yet it feels so long ago!! Since then, I’ve given several webinars, run 4 x 5-day challenges, currently post a selfie on my page at least a couple of times a week, got a bunch of new services to offer clients in graphics and training, and served LOTS of beautiful clients (new and old) who say fabulous things about me.

I’m kinda not the same person I was.
And my business has grown a lot.

 

The Artful Business Conference is only a couple of days away, and I’m a teensy bit excited (because you know I’m speaking there, don’t you!? Check out my workshop and other details on my event page). Tickets start at $117 for a virtual – you can join in from the comfort of your own couch and you get full access to the recordings afterwards, forever (and you’ll get bonus stuff from me if you book through my afflink).

 

If you come, you might get to meet someone fabulous.
(Here’s me and Jess Van Den from Create & Thrive)

See you there?
Grab a ticket.

Julie X

What even IS ‘branding’?

What the hey is ‘branding’?

I get asked this question a LOT, so thought I’d do a quick video to explain. No, it’s not just your logo.

 

 

Basically, branding comes down to being consistent in what you put out into the world, curating your customer’s experience of you.

In the video, I mention Nike and Adidas as fabulous examples of branding, and how they differentiate themselves – because, as we know, they actually sell the same stuff. But they target their markets very differently – Nike is about heroic striving; Adidas is a bit more down to earth and ‘real’.

What do you think – does your customer’s experience of you stack up? Or are there things you can improve?
Let me know in the comments below – what one thing are you planning to fix in your branding next?

(Oh, and if you’d like to grab the free workbook Build Your Brand, you can grab it here.)

Branding 101: Why you need to start with a mood board

mood board

 

I confess: if someone were to tell me I should put together a mood board for my business a couple of years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and ever-so-politely ignored them. Pfffft. I already KNEW what I liked; I had a strong sense of design, I had some colours and fonts sorted for my brand and I figured I was good to go. Well of course, how totally arrogant of me.

A mood board does a whole bunch more than help you choose your colours and fonts – it sets the complete tone of your brand, and will guide you for every piece of content you put out in the world. Think carefully about your current collection of images for social media and web – does everything all look like it comes from one place? Does it all carry your brand ‘voice’? Just using whatever takes your fancy on the day and then stamping your logo over the top of everything certainly doesn’t make it all hang together, and even when you use the same fonts and colours throughout, you can still have an awful lot of variation.

If you’re in a creative business, if you’re running things on your own, YOU are a brand, and you need to project something cohesive.

To help you figure out just what that ‘thing’ is, mood boards are ace.

 

Mood boards help you create a visual language.

 

Your visual language includes colours, fonts and image style, as well as projecting the overall vibe of your brand.

And they’re not just for when you’re starting out – they continue to be useful throughout the life of your brand! They’re your starting point for when you’re pulling together your branding elements for sure, but they also double as inspiration and focus every time you go to put out something new for your brand – a new social media graphic, a new blogpost, designing you new business card or packaging – your brand mood board keeps you focused and gives you plenty of clues on how to do that.

Putting a great mood board together is a scavenger hunt, and it’s just about the best fun scavenger hunt there is I reckon! Because it’s all about you, and you can spend lots of extended time on it. You don’t need to put it all together in one hit; there’s always more you can add in. Take your time, do it as you go about your day to day business; add in bits and pieces as they appear – it’s a work in progress.

So where do you start?

 

1. What’s the purpose of your board?

What’s your mood board for, specifically? Is this board about your business brand and what you want to project? Is it to help you identify your ideal customer/audience and what their expectations are? Is it to share with your designer, so they can interpret it to put your website together? Or to share with others on a collaborative project so they get a sense on where YOUR ideas are headed (which can save a whole lot of angst further down the track when you present a finished ‘thing’ and they say they don’t like it…)?

The more specific you are about your purpose, the easier it will be to choose elements that relate to that.

 

2. Get some keywords.

Keywords will help you drive the direction of your mood board and keep you focused (and not disappearing down the pinterest rabbit hole).  These should be chosen VERY carefully, as each impacts on the other (context is everything). For instance, “sexy” can mean very different things to different people; combining it with “whimsical” or “electric” will point it in different directions, and adding in “cool” or “vibrant” will shift and define its meaning even further.

 

3. Where can you find the best source material?

If you’re making a mood board for your brand, sure it’s useful to look to your competitors to see what they’re doing, and see what your target audience is responding to. But take what you find as a springboard – you don’t want to copy, because that just means you’ll end up looking like everyone else. Use your personality, especially if you’re a solopreneur – you are what sets you apart from others in your field.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Don’t limit yourself to Pinterest (and I KNOW there’s oodles of fabulousness on there so it’s definitely one important avenue to investigate). But inspiration can come from many other places too – use images from magazines and books, and old photos (just scan ’em in if you’re making a digital mood board; print out your scan if you’re working with scissors and paper).

And PLEASE don’t forget to look around you in the real world. Pick up things that interest you, write down ideas that capture your imagination, keep your fingers ready for gorgeous textures, and always take your phone camera with you.

 

4. What do you need to include?

Well, inspirational imagery of course. You don’t have to stick to your niche for imagery either. If a sad clown pic expresses what you want even if you’re in the tech industry, go for it. If a cute puppy does it for you even though you’re in the wellness industry, stick it in. Don’t limit yourself, especially when you’re in collecting mode – you can always cull it later.

 

Collate, then curate.

 

There’s lots of other things you can include as well that are evocative of the mood you’re after. Examples of fonts you like would be great for your branding mood board; and especially if you include your keywords in some of the fonts you’ve chosen.

Textures are fabulous too – a crinkly leaf, a gorgeous bit of velvet or brocade, a piece of bark from a tree, a scrap of leather, a pretty carved button, a fragment of patterned ceramic, a shell from the beach…

 

Colour is one of the most important factors in tying a mood board together – you might have to work at getting a cohesive colour scheme, so keep searching and adding in more things that speak to the style you’re after, and culling out things that don’t fit – you’ll get there eventually!

And when you’ve got a harmoniously colourful board happening, then you can start pulling out particular hues – if it’s for your branding, I would recommend including your palette somewhere in your mood board, and don’t forget their hex codes. Also, if particular colour combinations are going to be a key element of your brand, emphasise them.

 

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Inspired? Get onto it! If you’re still a teensy bit unsure about what/how, check out what google brings up.

But wait, I’ve got more!! Next week, I’ll write about the different tools you can use to create your mood board (believe me, a real-life one that you can touch has a different feel to it than a digital one) – including a bunch of tech and styling tips to make yours sing.

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Got any questions about mood boards? Pop ’em below.
Do you have one for your brand? Are you happy with it? Share it on my FB page – I’d love to see! If you’re not happy, what specific aspect are you struggling with?

J x

Small biz how-to : make a great “About” page

 

your-about-page

 

The Number One rule about your About page is – it’s not about you. It’s about your AUDIENCE. They want to know why you’re right for them – so make it easy for them to decide! And of course, there’s a heap of different ways to create a standout About page – videos, graphics, animations… but whatever the format, here’s my checklist of things to remember.

Don’t ever underestimate your ‘About’ page’s importance – next to your home page, your About page is the 2nd most looked-at page on your site. Don’t believe me? Think about what YOU do when you’re checking out a new site. Ha! We ALL do it.

Let me say it again: it’s about your audience, not you. Especially when you’re a small business, and ESPECIALLY when you’re a solopreneur. And your audience want to make a personal connection – so don’t write in the third person; it’s stiff and formal. Always be a human, and always write in the first person – it’s about you and me. See?

Your audience wants to see you. Speaking of being human – we connect to faces, so show yours! Make sure your image is well-lit and crisp. You don’t have to use a professional photographer (although a good one can be ace!) – just no blurry late-night snaps taken at that friend’s BBQ 5 years ago PLEASE.

So who’s it for? Think very clearly about this – who exactly is your audience? What’s their exact problem? ALWAYS keep this in the back of your mind when you’re writing.

What value do you give your readers? There’s a point to the about page – it’s about what you can do for your audience.

People are looking for specific information. What sorts of questions do people ask when they get to your about page? They want to know if you’re a big company or small; and is it just you, or are there other people involved? How long have you been in business? Where are you based? What are your core values? Why should they buy from you and not from your competitor?

Social proof is awesome. Because your potential customers not only want to get to know you, they need some kind of guarantee that you can actually solve their problem for them. Include some testimonials from happy customers! They’re most effective when the happy customer talks about how they were struggling, what they were looking for, how you helped them, and what the result is.
There’s lots of other ways to include social proof too. Press mentions (Remember that article in the local paper with the great photo? Include that magazine article too!) and mentioning that you’ve guest posted on that high profile blog are always good.

Visuals are important, but they’re not the only thing. Visuals are your first-line defence seduction. They’re there to grab your audience’s attention; they’re there to set the mood; they’re there to support what you have to say. Make them count, but remember that the words add substance.

How to write? The tone of your Brand Personality will be your guide when you write your About page, so you can be as down to earth or as quirky as your brand suggests. Branding is all about conveying a consistent message in everything you do – so how you write when your brand is whimsical or ethereal will be quite different to how you write if your brand is boisterous and fun.

Think about the About pages you’ve read. The ones that really grab you are not the factual ones, the ones that simply list qualifications, or the ultra brief ones that say “I’ve got three kids and in my spare time I like cooking and listening to music.” It’s the ones that tell a story about that person – what they think about and how they got to where they are now.

For instance, my About page includes “I live on a farm in the middle of NSW, and I love this space. But I’m not just a farmer – because the world is a place full of endless ideas and things to investigate.  If I disappear for a moment, it might be because I’m researching the latest tech-gadgety-thingy that I’ve seen on the interwebs; or it might be that I’m admiring the tiniest flower bud at my feet; or I might just be curled up in a chair with my nose in a book.”

Tell a relevant story – snippets from your life can ground a sense of who you are and what you’re like to work with. It could be a story about your humble beginnings, and about your dream. Bring your readers into the story of your vision for the future. And yes you CAN include the odd random fact about you – shows you’re a real person and just as weird as the rest of us (psst: Don’t include your whole life story – it’s too long, and the vast majority of it’s probably not relevant to what you’re doing in your business. Save it for your autobiography when you’re a squillionaire.

Include your call to action on the page – if people like what they read, they’ll want to maintain the connection. Don’t get them all interested and them leave them hanging for more… because chances are once they click away, they’ll get distracted by the next shiny interweb thingy and forget all about you. Once they’ve given you their email addy, you can maintain the connection and build on the sense of expertise, familiarity and trust by sharing beautiful, relevant and useful information.

Break your text up. We’re a culture of skimmers. ONLY if something grabs our attention will we be bothered to stop and read the whole damn thing. Break your text up with headings, highlighted text etc. And add images – photos of you!

Don’t include everything and the kitchen sink. Include your social connections here if you like, but ensure they’re secondary to your call to action. And don’t include EVERYTHING unless you intend to regularly check on everything…

Check and update regularly. Don’t use that 5 year old photo of you. Don’t include your Blab connection or your Periscope or any of your other out-of-date-social-media-that’s-disappeared-into-a-black-hole.  And of course, make damn sure that what you say in your About page is still aligned with who and what you are, and what you have to offer.

 

Have I convinced you how important this page is? Good! Now, go back and plan out your About page, and get writing.

 

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Not your average stock images : The Photo Forest

I’m SO excited to announce that my ridiculously talented friend Nora is launching a wonderful new not-your-average stock photo site – The Photo Forest.

 

everybody-needs-beautiful-photos

 

Nora first came up with the idea when searching around for good stock photos and yet again being disheartened by the lack of quality, REAL-looking photos. Stock photos seemed to be always too slick, or too bland, or… something. And the good ones were being used by EVERYONE.

Nora is a photographer herself (besides being a totally kick-ass graphic designer at norawendel.com), and went out in search of real scenes and real people doing real things to fill that gap. But as many photos as she could take herself, she wanted to build something bigger and create a community at the same time.  So, she dreamed up the fab idea of creating a membership site where other photographers could contribute, and visitors could put in requests for whatever photo they wanted! So, if you want a picture of a teddy bear sipping a pina colada next to a swimming pool – request it, and someone will take that photo for you. How good is that!? It’s a fantastic concept, and nothing like it anywhere else.

 

what-photos

 

Here’s what Nora has to say –

“I’m on a mission to revolutionize the stock photography industry by providing custom on demand stock photos to lifestyle, wellness and smaller niche businesses that are underrepresented in big name stock photo sites.

At The Photo Forest we are about DIVERSITY -in all forms of the word! Race, size, economics and more! Our aim is to provide Real Life Stock Photos through our platform so that every business can have beautiful imagery to market themselves with.

The other important aspect of The Photo Forest is the community that I want to build and engage with – there will be a members only community where we can share what we are looking for, how we have used the stock photos, ask for advice and also talk to me and my team on how to make The Photo Forest better in terms of design, functionality and usability! I will be open and honest with all members about the inner workings of The Photo Forest so that everyone can understand how it works and feel included in some big decisions. It’s totally going to be community over competition.

So far there is no other stock photography site like this out there and that makes it even more exciting as I and all our members get to decided on how we want this to work!

What started your interest in photography?

I have a passion for photography – when I lived in India I used to do real life situational photoshoots for travelling yoga teachers and I really loved that – but that was location dependent and I have since moved to Cape Town in South Africa – so for the last year I have been trying to come up with a way to still be a photographer but be able to work from anywhere. Yep a total digital nomad 🙂

I started making some photo packs and sold them through my website norawendel.com. As part of that I did some market research into what type of photos people where looking for and couldn’t find. I called it #RealLifePhotography as that was my style – shooting situations as they were in life. – When I  started to get more and more feedback from my market research about the struggles people were having finding niche photos or photos that represented diversity like coloured women, or women over 50, or photos of plus size people – I knew I was onto something.

How does it work?

The whole idea of the platform is that members get to request the themes of the photos they really need and can’t find anywhere else. Since this has never been done before I can’t say exactly how long it will take from request till download of the photo to your computer- however I am estimating that it can take anywhere between a week to three weeks – it really depends on the photographers and how many photographers pick up the request! Each photographer can choose which request they want to go out and photograph and every photograph is reviewed before it is released to the members. As much as possible will be automated but we will still be reviewing each photo submission form the photographers to make sure they align with what we represent  – reality and diversity!

How soon are you launching and what have you got already?

Keep in mind though that there will already be more than 1000 photos ready to be downloaded when we do launch in October, and this number will be increasing as the requests come in and the photos get taken. It will be a continuous cycle of new content on a monthly basis, likely even a weekly basis depending on the amount of request that come in and the amount of photographs our carefully selected photographers submit to the platform.

Overall it’s going to be one juicy platform!”

 

the-first-community-stock-photo-site

 

Want to find out more? Check out The Photo Forest here! ->

www.instagram.com/thephotoforest

www.thephotoforest.com

www.facebook.com/thephotoforest