41 mindsets, tools, and systems I'm using to reboot my creative online business
Every tactic I'm using to make 2018 my best year yet
by Brittany Taylor
Last updated July 1, 2019
When I started my own business in 2015, I thought it would just come. I thought I could pull bits and pieces that were working for other people, incorporate them into my life and work, and I would find success.
Success didn’t come.
And, as the years passed and I watched other business owners thrive, I grew frustrated—but with my frustration came complacency. I had a roof over my head and my bills were paid, so instead of digging in and pushing forward, I sat back and sulked. It was comfier to bask in busy work than it was to go after my dreams.
Then I turned 30.
It was like a lightbulb being turned on. I felt different. It was like I woke up and realized that this thing I’m stewing in is my life—my one life, the one chance I get to become the person I dream of being. And that person who spent years feeling guilty about being unsuccessful while wallowing in do-nothingness? That wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
My birthday week, I knew what 2018 was going to be about. I knew what I wanted from the year ahead. And I knew that I’d have a better chance of achieving those things if I started now. I talked about it then (read more about that here), and in the 6 weeks since, I’ve planted those seeds and already seen some growth.
Now, I’m tending the garden and keeping my eye peeled for buds and blossoms, baby.
Every single way I'm going to make 2018 my best year yet
There are tools. There are systems. There are mindsets and behaviors. There are words. There are things I really, really love. And they’re all a part of what’s keeping me on track this January and for the 11 months that will follow.
Here’s what I’m bringing with me into 2018 to make this year my best one yet—for real, this time.
A word of the year
Last year, I scoffed at the “word of the year” craze. This year, I’m embracing it. I knew exactly what my word needed to be as soon as my friend, artist Lizzy Russinko, called for words of the year for her annual lettering poster.
My word for 2018 is accountability. It’s time for me to own up to mistakes, my guilt, my avoidance, and my dreams. It’s time for me to push myself to my limits. It’s time for me to do. And accountability will walk with me as I get the ball rolling.
Web services that let me work the way I work best
I’m not a designer and I’m not a tech wizard, but I’ve been tinkering with computer programs and websites since I was in middle school. Angelfire and basic HTML let me run the world exactly how I wanted—and when I began playing with website themes, I felt stifled by their limitations.
So, I began seeking out themes, hosts, and services that would give me back my freedom. My current combo isn’t the cheapest out there. It’s not the most popular. But it lets me do things my way and it offers the support I need when I come across the inevitable roadblock.
Here’s what I’m using:
- 1WordPress. I’ve been using WP since I was a wee teenybopper intent on sharing all my personal thoughts with the world.
- 2Thrive Themes and plugins. It’s not cheap, but it’s all-inclusive and everything works together seamlessly. Thrive includes built-out themes, landing pages, lead forms, light box creators, a headline analyzer, a quiz builder, a countdown plugin, and all sorts of things I’m forgetting about. And their support is snappy and 24/7.
- 3Green Geeks hosting. Not the cheapest offering, but I like that the servers are conservation-friendly. And they just expanded, offering more server locations for more security and stability. And it makes setting up new emails, subdomains, https, FTP, errors, redirects, and anything else I can come up with easy-peasy.
Putting my accountability tools front-and-center
The most significant problem I face with sticking to planners or productivity systems is using them every day. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life, from elementary school onward. I go through good patches and bad patches, and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me talk about my Bullet Journal travails and triumphs.
Last November, I decided to shove all of my tools right under my nose, 24/7.
I did three things to make this happen:
- 1Launch my Style Guide and Activity Tracker automatically on start-up. I had to Google my way to finding my start-up folder in Windows 10, but once I did (and put short-cuts to these documents in it), it’s been easy to maintain and reference both of them.
- 2Open my Trello to-do list when starting Chrome. This is the newest addition to my system, and I think it’s the one piece I was missing in December. Originally, I was using a list posted on my bulletin board, but it was just...it was too much. It was sensory overload and it was stressing me out. And because all of the items on it were ones I do on my laptop, it made sense to have it on my computer somewhere rather than on paper.
- 3Keep my desk de-cluttered. When I hit 30, I was tired of looking at all the shit I had accumulated. My desk had turned into a shelf piled high with paper—so much paper, I didn’t even know what was on there! I spent one while Saturday cleaning it off, filing what I needed, shredding what I didn’t. And now, it’s this zen space that has just what I use on a daily basis. If there’s more, then I know that stuff sitting there is stuff I need to take care of ASAP.
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Giving myself grace
My months are peppered with personal days and sick days. That’s what happens when you’re a boss with a chronic illness (more on that here) and a creative person who draws inspiration and motivation from emotions and intuition. Sometimes, I just can’t do it.
I always—always—remind myself that it’s OK to have an off day. When I worked full-time, I didn’t go 100 percent 24/7/365. There were plenty of days when I was sleepwalking from 10 to 6, but it was OK because I had a salary to fall back on. Now, I don’t have a safety net, so it’s very easy to hate myself for the times I can’t get the work done.
I’m trying to be gentler with myself in these moments. What helps is having my accountability tools, like my Activity Tracker spreadsheet, to push me when I can handle the push and to reassure myself with when I can’t. Looking at the hours I have clocked and the goals I have met makes taking an unplanned day off easier to swallow.
Processes that make life easy for my clients
Last year, I jumped on the on-boarding systems craze. I created this complicated system that required a lengthy how-to PDF...and, surprise surprise, it bamboozled my clients. I dropped it after one half-heart attempt at adoption. It was so complex, even I hated it.
Because I don’t work with a high volume of clients at one time, I don’t need on-boarding systems that work like well-oiled machines.
Here’s what works—and doesn’t require my clients to learn new programs or sign up for new accounts:
- Email for communication. If my client prefers Slack or another messaging service, I’m happy to use their platform of choice. Unless it’s a big project with a lot of people involved, email works just fine. I use Gmail, which I’ve done since college. I forward my website account to my Gmail address and have it authorized to send mail from that address. Cinchy and free.
- Hellosign for contracts. Hellosign is the first digital document-signer I tried, and it was so simple to use that I never tried another one.
- Google Docs for document sharing. Some of my clients like to work off a shared brainstorming list. In that sort of situation, we keep the document on the Google cloud. It’s the only thing I use Google Drive for.
- Wave for invoicing and electronic payments. This is the first year I’m using Wave for all of my invoicing. Before, I used a mix of Wave, PayPal, and Microsoft Word templates + paper checks. My tech-savviest client has already complimented me on it, so I think it’s going well.
Surrounding myself with joy
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up changed my life.
Stop laughing, I’m serious. It changed the way I approach my items, the way I care for them and the way I buy them. It changed the way I store things and the way I organize things. And it changed the way I feel about throwing items away.
Take the sand sculpture I made when I was 6 or 7. My friend and I each made one at a street festival, and I ruined mine almost instantly by shaking it. But I kept it. I kept it for more than two decades, you guys, this ugly blend of sand that held no sentimental value other than the fact that, darn it, I made it when I was 6.
I threw the thing away, and the act of throwing it away made me feel so much lighter, like I had one less weight to carry around.
Since then, I’ve thrown myself into this feeling. I tossed stuff I wasn’t ever going to read or watch or listen to again. I packed away stuffed animals and framed pictures and souvenirs, putting them out of sight to see what I miss and what I don’t.
Now, my surfaces are clear. I can dust them like a proper adult. The things that are there are the ones that really light me up. And because there’s so little for my eye to focus on, I linger longer on these odds and ends—a card my best friend sent me just because and a tiny Buddha I bought when I went to China with my father.
Less stuff. More joy. Marie Kondo was totally right.
Paying for programs and services that save me time and frustration
There are lots of things that take me a lot of time to do that I DIY because I enjoy the process. Designing my own website is one of those things. But remembering my hex codes and font sizes? Transcribing my own interviews? Yeah, no thanks. I tried it, I really did. The hatred was not worth it.
Here's what I use:
- 1Canva for Work. I tried dropping my subscription for a few months to save some money and I regretted it. And I actually thought it was a $30-month subscription and it’s not. It’s $12.95 (and cheaper if you sign up today with a limited-time offer). Good thing I fact-checked, eh?
- 2Rev.com transcribing. I loathe transcribing my own interviews. It’s worth it to me to pay $1/minute to have someone else do it. I send them off as soon as I get off the phone and get them back within 24 hours, and I don’t have to do something I hate doing.
Using what I have
There are so many exciting new products and services out there, so many shiny new things I’d love to try. But in almost every case, I don’t need those things. In almost every case, what I have is fine. In almost every case, what I have is what works best for me.
Some people place value in the new. I’m not one of those people. I find comfort in the familiar, and I remind myself of that when FOMO starts seeping into my brain.
Here’s what I’m sticking by until it stops working:
- 1My iPhone 5. It was my first smartphone and it still works. I’ve never cracked the screen and I’ve never had a problem. And I like my earphone jack, thank you very much!
- 2Microsoft Word and Excel. I’ve been using them since, I don’t know, 1995? I know them. I like them. I get them. And I paid for the damn things, so they’re mine, period.
- 3My cheap Sony headphones. I had two pairs of expensive Urbanears headphones. You know, the chunky ones that are very ‘80s. They both broke within a few weeks, sigh. So, I went off to Office Depot a few years ago and came hope with a ten-buck pair of Sonys. And they’re still kicking, so...
Allowing my ideas time to simmer
The first idea I learned about in the online boss community was to launch. So, since I became my own boss, I’ve always tried to push my ideas into being faster than I could really figure out what they were and why they called to me and what I wanted to do with them.
After a few failed launches and even more dead-ends, I’ve learned to let my ideas sit. I write them down in a fury. I savor the energy that comes from birthing a new thing. And then I turn my attention back to the thing at hand, the thing that’s working right now, that’s paying the bills, that’s up and running.
I know an idea is one to explore if I keep coming back to it. It’s only in the last few months that I’ve come up with ideas that are echoes of ones I had 3 years ago, when I first started my business. The difference is that, then, I rushed it to fruition and it flopped. Now, it’s become more refined. I understand how to execute it and I know how it fits into my brand and my future goals.
That’s what a good simmer does. It lets the flavors develop. Is it tempting to take it off the heat early and dive in? Yep. But it’s worth the wait every time.
Picking my battles
When I don’t want to do something, I’m quite excellent at not doing it. So, picking a bunch of things I don’t want to do and blindly saying, “OK, Britt. Go do all these awful things you hate! Go on! Shoo!” is not a helpful tactic.
I just won’t do it.
Instead, I’m being strategic about the things I’m going to make myself do, and not just strategic in a “this will help you win at life! Do this!” way. This year, I’m also taking into consideration what I can reasonably motivate myself to do and which of those things will yield the best results.
Here are a couple battles I’m fighting—and some I’m not—in 2018:
Simplifying my life
“If you love it, buy it in every color.” That’s what my mom taught me growing up, and that’s how I approach my wardrobe. While it’s not pared down enough to be considered a “capsule wardrobe,” I have a work uniform I stick with: jeans paired with a neutral tee and sweater, ballet flats, and a delicate necklace.
What I love most about my uniform is that everything goes with everything else. I don’t have to think about which jeans will be most comfortable or what shirt goes with what jewelry. It’s mix-and-match at its simplest. I feel good in all my clothes. They all fit. They all look good. And they all look good together. I slip on a shirt and I pull on some jeans and I grab a necklace and boom, I’m ready for the day.
I make the choice once, when I buy the item. Will this work with what I own? Can I wear it every day? Do I feel confident in it? Is it comfortable? If the answers are easy affirmatives, it’s a good choice. Dressing myself this way means I have fewer choices to make in my day-to-day life and can save my energy for the decisions that matter more to me than what I put on my body.
Here’s what I’m living in right now:
I use the same system for other weekday staples. I have one skincare regimen, one makeup look, one dog walk option, a handful of go-to lunch options, a gym routine for each day of the week. I never realized how much time and energy I spent deciding these trivial things until I stopped doing it.
Leaning in to my intuition and inclinations
I’ve fought hard against my nature. I’ve read the same Lifehacker articles you’ve read about productivity and habits and routines. I’ve heard that all successful writers (apparently) wake up with the sun to write for a few hours before they do anything else. I’ve been guilted into getting up early because sleeping in wastes a chunk of your day. I’ve strived to create strict daily routines, coaching myself to form habits that CEOs swear by.
And what I’ve learned is this: good for them, not for me.
I’m a night owl. I feel sick and groggy and grumpy when I get up early. I feel more creative, more alive, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. That’s when I want to write.
I resent strict routines. While I do like structure, I don’t like being forced to do the same thing at the same time every single day. That’s not why I wanted to work for myself.
So, good for them, not for me. If those work for you, great! They don’t work for me.
What does work for me is doing my creative work when I feel most creative. What does work for me is letting my body sleep and wake when it wants to. What does work for me is creating guidelines for myself rather than routines, bars to meet and exceed instead of inflexible plans.
Blending digital with analog
If the media world was a Venn diagram, with print in the left-hand circle and web in the right-hand circle, I’d be shacking up in the overlap. It’s always been that way for me. In high school, I ran the newspaper’s website and produced its print paper. In college, I interned at websites and print outlets. At the Magazine, I wrote for the glossy and edited the website.
It shouldn’t surprise me that I continue to float between the two, but I’ve spent years struggling to push my brain wholly into digital. Life would be so much easier if I was satisfied using a laptop 24/7. But I’m not.
Sometimes, I want to hold a pen in my hand. Sometimes, I want to watch ink flow over a blank page. There’s something about the physical act of writing rather than typing that makes my brain think differently.
Other times, I crave the words-per-minute typing allows me, the ability to copy-and-paste and Google.
The systems I listed above help me meld the two worlds together. I’m still working on bringing the two sides of myself and my work to my visual branding. (You can follow me on Instagram to get a feel for how I’m doing on that front.)
Here are my go-to digital writing tools:
- 1Lenovo Yoga 2 laptop
- 2Microsoft Word
And the analog tools I reach for every day, too:
- 1Post-it Notes
- 2Washi tape
- 3Uni-Ball Air pens in black
- 4RSVP pens in blue
- 5Small legal pad
- 6College-ruled composition books
- 7Professional Moleskin notebook
- 8Index cards, both 3”x5” and 4”x6”, lined and unlined
- 9A 9”x11” drawing pad
Resisting the urge to assimilate
There are so many tempting clichés and trends in the world of online business. Rose gold! Teal! Instagram props! Online courses! Masterminds! Conferences! So many shiny, pretty things and so many people telling you to go ahead, follow in their footsteps.
I don’t want to look like everyone else, though, and I don’t want to offer the products and services everyone else is offering just because they’re finding success with them. I want to look like myself. I want to create products and services that are the best use of my talents. I want to help other people in a way that only I can help them.
I want to be original. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get there, and I’m always checking the course.
Finding a balance between rituals and observance
A few days ago, I felt manic. I was driven to my desk, itching to work, needing to scratch to-dos off my list. I felt bright and electrified and buzzing with ideas.
And then I looked up and there it was: a full moon.
I don’t pretend to know what the connection I feel with the moon is. All I know is that I find it majestic and that my moods and inclinations coincide with certain phases.
For me, the full moon and the new moon are something just short of spiritual. I don’t need a ritual to recognize them. I just need to look up and close my eyes and breathe, and then keep going.
Does that count as a ritual? I don’t think so. Part of me wants a ritual—there’s something so spooky and delicious about that word. The other part of me doesn’t want the pressure of a ritual, though. There’s a voice within that tells me that missing a moon phase would be like skipping church on Sunday. Guilt, guilt, guilt. No thank you!
Hello! My name is Brittany Taylor, and I am a ghostwriter based in Charleston, S.C.
Hello! My name is Brittany Taylor, and I am a ghostwriter based in Charleston, S.C.
Hello! My name is Brittany Taylor, and I am a ghostwriter based in Charleston, S.C.