My Favorite WordPress Tools and Plugins

Running a blog can be a lot of hard work, so today I’m sharing my favorite WordPress tools and plugins to help improve your site and simplify your life!


7 essential wordpress tools and plugins to  help improve your site  and simplify your life

1. Click To Tweet

This is the easiest way to get more shares for your content! This free plugin allows you to easily create tweetable snippets for your readers right from WordPress. Whoever clicks on the link will have the message automatically added to their Twitter status box. This makes it easy for people to share your content and grow your traffic.

2. HostGator Optimized WordPress

Optimized WordPress is a new hosting platform from HostGator that is specifically built for an optimized WordPress environment. Packages will come pre-loaded with PHP 5.6 by default (the most recent PHP version offered). HostGator will handle all of the core, theme, and plugin updates without the need for any action on your part. In other words, you won’t have to worry about logging into your WP-Admin panel to handle common updates. Additionally, Optimized WordPress does not provide cPanel access, allowing you to install and access your WordPress sites without needing to access or navigate an extra control panel to do the things you want to do.

3. Genesis Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. It’s well-coded and well-supported. The Genesis framework uses child themes so you can update without losing your customizations. It’s inexpensive with tons of possibilities and dedicated plugins. It comes with built-in features like multiple layouts, custom body post classes for each post, breadcrumbs and numeric navigation. Unlike other theme companies, StudioPress’s Pro-Plus Package is a one-time fee for life-time membership.

4. CoSchedule

I know I’ve mentioned CoSchedule here before, but it is one of my favorites and worth mentioning again. CoSchedule is a drag-and-drop editorial calendar for WordPress. With it, you can schedule blog posts and automatically send messages to your social. You can use this plugin to view the posts you have published for the month, posts that are in the works, and the posts that you have planned. My favorite part is that you view your content and social media schedule all on the same calendar.

5. Tiny MCE Advanced

Ever wish the visual editor in WordPress offered more options? Well, this plugin is for you! It will let you add, remove and arrange the buttons that are shown on the visual editor toolbar. It includes 15 plugins for TinyMCE that are automatically enabled or disabled depending on what buttons are chosen. I’ve had this one installed for so long I can’t even remember what the original Tiny MCE looks like.

6. Broken Link Checker

If you’ve been blogging for a while, I bet you have tons of broken links in old posts. Dead hyperlinks are not just annoying to your website visitors – their existence can result in a negative impact on your website’s SEO rankings. This plugin will monitor your site (blog posts, pages, comments, etc.) looking for broken links and let you know if any are found.

7. Google Analytics Dashboard

Google Analytics Dashboard gives you the ability to view your Google Analytics data right in your WordPress dashboard. Sure, you can open up Google Analytics every time you want to look at your stats, but if you just want a quick glance, this plugin is certainly convenient. You can also allow other users to see the same dashboard information when they are logged in.

Ciera-Design-Studio-Computer

I hope these resources enable you to simplify your processes and improve your site! Learn more about HostGator and check out HostGator Optimized WordPress for yourself!

Thank you for supporting this blog by allowing me to post occasional sponsored content. All sponsored posts feature products or services that I truly feel would be of interest to you. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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8 Steps To Set Up Your Files For Print

How To Set Up Your Files For Print Using Adobe InDesign and Illustrator

If you have worked with printing projects, you most likely have felt overwhelmed by the entire process. What paper to choose, color modes, setting up your files, the list goes on. Today I wanted to share a few simple steps to double-check once you are ready to send your file for print! I hope these steps to set up your files for print are helpful for your process, and ease that overwhelm!

Colors

Pantone Spot Colors
If you are printing with a limited amount of colors (1-3 colors) or have specific brand colors that need to match exactly, then printing with Pantone colors is most likely the best option. Here is how to locate your pantone colors:

InDesign: Select a new swatch, then under “color mode” select which Pantone library your swatch is in (typically either Pantone Solid Coated or Uncoated, depending which type of paper you are printing on).

Illustrator: Under the “swatches library menu” on the color panel, select “color books” then select the Pantone color book your project uses.

CMYK
If you do not have a need for specific Pantone colors, than your file should always be set up using CMYK colors, instead of RGB. If you print something in RGB, your images will most likely not match your intended color. They often turn out dull or darker. This is how you can check to make sure your file is set up in the CMYK color profile:

InDesign: Select the swatches that you want to convert to CMYK (spot or RGB), select “Swatch Options” from the drop down menu on the top right. Change the color mode setting to CMYK, and click ok.

Illustrator: Go to “File” > “Document Color Mode” and check CMYK.

Remove Unused Colors
This step is not necessary, but it does help clean up your file and make your printer happy! When I am ready to send a file to print, I always clean up my colors by removing the unused colors. This helps to make sure you aren’t using two similar colors, when you could combine it to one color.

InDesign and Illustrator: In the swatches panel, click the drop down menu and check “Select All Unused” and then delete the unused swatches.

Photos

All photos in your file should be converted to CMYK prior to handing off to the printer. To do this, you simply open the photo in Photoshop and select “Image” > “Mode” > “Convert to CMYK”. If you have several images in your file, you can create an action in Photoshop to convert to CMYK, and then batch process those images. Make sure you don’t save over your original RGB photos, and instead create a new file with the added “-CMYK” in the file name. This prevents you from overriding the original file. Once all of your images are converted to the proper color mode, you just need to make sure they are linked up in InDesign or Illustrator through the “Links” panel (Window > Links).

Set up Bleeds

If your project has an image or color that goes to the edge of the file, you will need to set up bleeds. Bleeds allow for additional space beyond the trim mark, to make sure that when the piece is printed it has a bit of tolerance for the edge of the paper. To set up the bleeds simply click “File” > “Document Setup” and adjust the bleeds there. Typically 1/8” will suffice. Once you have the bleeds setup, make sure all of your artwork that goes to the edge extends to the bleed lines.

Packaging Files

Once you have your file ready to send to the printer, you are ready to package. A packaged file includes the InDesign or Illustrator file, the IDML (for InDesign: compatible with older versions), linked files, fonts and the output text file.

To package your file simply click “File” > “Package”. Double check the “Colors and Inks” as well as the “Links and Images” to make sure you have the correct profiles and didn’t miss any RGB images or wrong color settings.

PDF

If you are sending your project to a printer, they typically prefer the packaged InDesign or Illustrator file, however it is nice to include a PDF for reference. If you are printing from a vendor online, they will have specific instructions on how to export your PDF for their printers. For a reference PDF for the printer, I typically export as a Press Quality PDF, and include trim marks and bleeds.

Notes to Printer

Once you have your packaged file, and are ready to send to print, you can create a zip folder of all of the files in the folder. Depending on the project, you might want to include a diagram showing how the printed piece should look. This is great to have if your project has complicated folds, die cuts, etc. You can also include any notes specific to your project in the email with your final zip file.

I hope this tutorial was helpful for you, and eased the pain of setting up your files for print!

Jamie is the designer and blogger behind Spruce Rd., an independently run boutique design studio specializing in crafting brand identities and websites for creative entrepreneurs. When not collaborating with awesome people, she can be found whipping up a new dish in the kitchen, or exploring local coffee shops. She loves all things chocolate, Wes Anderson and Rifle Paper Co. 

5 Tips for Building a Successful Freelance Business

5 Tips for Building a Successful Freelance Business

It’s pretty unbelievable to think about, but I have been running my business for five years now! I have learned a ton along the way, but it never ends, I’m continuously striving to improve both my work and my business. Today, I want to look back and share a few key things I’ve learned as a business owner and entrepreneur over the years. I hope they can help you build or grow a successful freelance business.

1. Find a Supportive Network

In the beginning, I tried to do everything myself. I filed my own taxes, started to learn web development, and basically just created stressful situations and wasted a lot of time. I realized I should focus on what I’m passionate about, visual brand development for creative businesses. I’m not passionate about learning code or figuring out how to file taxes.

Your support network can include many different types of people from your family and friends to fellow freelancers and blog buddies. Check if there are any local communities that you can join. If you don’t have any local meet-ups, you can start your own or participate in online networking like twitter chats, Facebook groups and resource centers for freelancers. Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone!

Your support network can include many different types of people from your family and friends to fellow freelancers and blog buddies. Check if there are any local communities that you can join. If you don’t have any local meet-ups, you can start your own or participate in online networking like twitter chats and Facebook groups. Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone!

 

2. Create an Effective Portfolio

A portfolio should showcase the work you want to do more of and NOT everything you have ever created. Don’t make the mistake of trying to show off too much of your work. Potential clients don’t need to see everything, be selective. Focus on your best work and consider the sort of projects that you’d like more of in the future.

 

3. Go the extra mile

This is one of my top pieces of advice. Word of mouth is powerful, nothing can help you or hurt you more. While I still had my full-time job, I started getting connections by doing pro bono work for a few New Orleans non-profits.  When I decided to make the leap out on my own in 2010, I let them know that I would not be available to work pro bono any more, and guess what? They decided to continue working with me anyway and I still work with many of them five years later! Just because I was doing the work for free in the beginning, I was never lazy and I did my best work. These clients have recommended me numerous times and continue to reach out even when they move on to new positions or totally different fields!

 

4. Learn to Say no

In business, what you DON’T do is just as important as what you do. Knowing your ideal client and the type of person you enjoy working with can make a huge difference in the success of your business and your sanity. Turning down work is scary but saying no to something that isn’t a good fit (or you just dislike) gives you the time and energy to do the things you love!

When I first starting freelancing, I said yes to just about everything but I quickly learned that there’s just not enough time for that. Take a look at your business. What is it that you LOVE doing? For me, it’s branding, art direction and invitation design. They’re my favorites, so that is what I want to make sure I have time for. You may not know your ideal client immediately, it can be a slow process and can also evolve over time.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs

 

5. Establish Systems and Processes

When I first started, I thought I could just jump right into freelancing since I had design experience in the real world. I didn’t really think about the business side. How I’d have to spend less time designing and more time networking, pursuing new work, meeting with clients, invoicing, updating my portfolio, accounting and lots of other things that I don’t necessarily enjoy doing. I didn’t know anything about business and I am still learning as I go.

I slowly created processes (client questionnaires, invoicing, contracts) as things came up. I didn’t even have a separate business bank account for my first few years. It would have saved me lots of time and headaches in the long run if I would have spent some time up front to get all of this in order. A lot of my processes get updated as time goes by, and that is okay! For me, the most important is to always use a contract no matter how large or small the job is, whether it is your best friend or a complete stranger. It is the only way that both designer and client can be on the same page.

I hope these tips can help you if you are thinking about ditching your 9-5 or looking to grow your own small business!

Do y’all have any other tips that I left out?

Related: 10 Ways To Expand Your Small Business and 4 Way To Make Your Brand Stand Out

Steps to Refining and Setting Mid-Year Goals

Mid-Year Goals Free Worksheet

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly believe that it is June already! The year is certainly flying by, and it is easy to start to feel panic that the year is almost halfway done when thinking about the goals you have set for your business and all that you want to accomplish in 2015.

Rather than panic, use it as a chance to evaluate the goals you set in January and see if they are still relevant. Didn’t set any? Now is the perfect time to gain focus for the second half of your year. Here are some simple ways to set or refine your goals:

Which aspect of your business is most important to you this year?

You may have a monetary goal for the year, or perhaps you want to achieve a work/life balance that suits your lifestyle needs. Whatever your ultimate intention for your year is, keep that front of mind while evaluating and setting your goals!

Which goals have you already met?

Look back at the goals you set at the beginning of the year and see which ones you can cross off. Whether it was a single item, like finding a new office space, or simply something you are ahead of schedule on, such as booking 15 new clients, take a moment to celebrate, then see how you can either update that goal or expand it for the second half of the year.

Which goals are you not on track to meet?

If you have any quantitative goals, such as “photograph 10 weddings” or “book 20 branding clients,” you should be close to reaching half of that value at this point. If you’re not close, it might be time to step up your efforts to meet that goal! Or, you may wish to adjust that goal if it no longer feels right. If you have a certain time of year that is your busy season, be sure to take that into account when calculating anything quantitative.

What has changed since the beginning of the year?

You may have had a change in your personal life that affects how much you can work. Perhaps you examined your business and started offering additional or new services. Major changes like these will alter the goals you have for the remainder of your year, so take the time to see how the changes in your life or business are affecting your goals.

How can you streamline your work?

A goal for anyone should be to operate in a way that doesn’t waste your time – or your client’s time. Take a look at your systems and see what items could be refined or made more efficient, such as finally writing those canned email replies, updating your website’s contact form to ask better questions or actually hiring that VA. Make it a goal to accomplish those smaller items that have big impact.

Download this free mid year goals worksheet to get you going.

While different businesses require different types of planning and goal setting, it is always crucial to have an objective and develop a plan to get there. Need more help with goal planning? Check out 3 Steps to Planning & Accomplishing Your Goals.

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design. 

The Best Social Media Marketing Tools That Every Blogger Needs

Social Media Tools for Bloggers and Small Business Owners

It seems like a blogger’s work is never done. You write your post, edit, create graphics, insert screenshots and examples, promote your posts, engage with followers, and then rinse and repeat. So to say that we need a few tools in order to make things even the slightest bit easier for us is quite the understatement. And since social media is such a prevalent marketing avenue for those of us in the online blogosphere, I’m sharing with you my top eight favorite social media marketing tools for bloggers.

1. Buffer

Buffer is a social media scheduling app and I seriously cannot sing enough praises for it. I have said this time and time again. There are a number of reasons that I choose Buffer as my personal scheduling app:

  • Interface: I have used other scheduling apps before and the interface isn’t nearly as pretty or user-friendly as Buffer’s is.
  • Analytics: I love the analytics in Buffer–you’re able to see how many clicks, retweets, shares, etc., that each of your posts got. It shows you your top posts of the week and even emails you a weekly summary comparing this week’s posts to the previous week.
  • Bookmarklet: This is probably my favorite part. If I’m reading an article that I want to share (even on my phone or tablet), I can add it to my Buffer queue directly from the article. I have a browser bookmarklet on my computer and can add the app to my preferred sharing tools on my mobile devices.
  • Scheduling: One thing that is extremely time-consuming with Hootsuite is having to individually schedule each one of your outgoing posts. Buffer allows you to create a preset schedule so that each time you want to schedule an article, you only have to add them to your queue and they automatically go out at their specified time.
  • Pricing: They have both free and paid options

2. CoSchedule

This is probably one of the coolest scheduling apps because its interface is a freaking calendar. Um, genius? Yes, I think so. And it has multiple uses. You can use this plugin to view the posts you have published for the month, posts that are in the works, and the posts that you have planned. Not only that, but you can also share your blog posts to your social media right from the CoSchedule plugin! AND (this is my favorite part) it can be integrated with Buffer to up the social sharing ante even more.

3. Click to Tweet

One great way to encourage social shares in your blog posts is to include a one-click, pre-made tweet for your readers. CoSchedule has a really great FREE Click to Tweet WordPress Plugin that allows you to insert said pre-made tweets right into your blog post! Here is a sample, go ahead and try it out!

4. TweetDeck

Are you a Twitter chatter? If not, then you need to be. Check out this fantastic calendar for Twitter chats for creatives. (or join my favorite chat, #createlounge, every Wednesday at 7PM CST!) If so, then you know how incredibly fast those things move. TweetDeck is my absolute favorite way to keep up with the craziness.

Simply login with your Twitter handle and then create a separate column for: your notifications (so that you can see when someone replies to your tweets or directs a question/comment to you), the Twitter chat’s hashtag (so that you can see all of the tweets for the chat), and the host(s) of the chat (so that you never miss a question). I participate in Twitter chats once or twice a week and have found that this is the best way for me to not miss any of the action!

5. OnePress Social Locker

I personally have never used this plugin, but I think it’s a fantastic idea and I keep it on standby. This free WordPress plugin allows you to lock certain content until a reader shares it on social media. This guarantees a social share for each person who wants to read your post.

6. HelloBar

This is an awesome app to include on your blog and it has several different uses. I started a new Facebook Page when I rebranded my blog (one, because I couldn’t change the name of my old Facebook page and two, because I plan to do a case study of how I gained likes and exposure to my page), so I use the HelloBar social converter to add a box in the lower righthand corner of my blog that allows readers to easily like my Facebook page. It’s done really well so far, so I highly recommend it.

However, you can also use HelloBar to drive traffic to another page of your site or to gather email addresses for your e-newsletter. They also have both free and paid options.

7. Topsy

This tool is amazing for so many things:

  • Searching for relevant content to curate.
  • Searching for social media analytics on specific users, hashtags and keywords.
  • Checking out current trends on social media.

It’s seriously an all-in-one for any kind of social media information you could possibly look for. Search for a topic that you’re interested in finding good articles to share on your own social networks. Check out your own replies or the replies of fellow bloggers in your niche. And see what’s currently trending that you could play off of by writing your own blog post or social media post.

8. Google Docs

This is one of my favorite ways to create my social media editorial calendar. I create a document, add a table with seven columns (one for each day of the week), then I put all of my statuses, links, and images inside of the table before scheduling them all out. This makes it easy for me to visually see what content I have planned all at once. And you can use it fo’ free.

Haven’t started blogging yet or in a rut? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention and How to Give Your Readers Exactly What They Need.

Do you have any favorite tools that we missed here?

 

Chloe is a blogger and social media manager who creates content meant to help bloggers and small business owners learn how to DIY their own social media marketing.

6 Simple Ways to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas + A Free Worksheet

Free Worksheet to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas

Blogging can be a great tool for small business owners. It provides a way to connect with your audience, share your expertise, and even help convince people to work with you. It can also be a fun creative outlet or provide a needed break in your daily routine.

While the pros are easy to count, that doesn’t mean it is always easy to come up with new blog post ideas! Especially if you’ve been blogging for a while, you may feel like you’ve hit a wall with new post ideas. Luckily, there are several simple ways to generate some quality post ideas.

Why do you blog?

The first step for any blogger is to identify who you are trying to reach. Many bloggers get overwhelmed or feel unfocused when they aren’t sure who to write for. If you are a business owner, you might be writing to attract potential new clients. If you have a personal blog, you might be hoping to connect with fellow fashion lovers or food connoisseurs. When you identify this, it makes your focus that much clearer and the ideas easier to form.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Think about the blogs you read, and make a list of ones you can’t wait to dive into when you see a new post. What about their posts attracts you? Perhaps they share knowledge, share personal stories, or use a unique voice to tell their story. When you identify what attracts you to your favorite posts, it will help you write your own!

What is a problem you recently had and then solved?

People love reading free tips and learning from their peers. A great way to connect with your readers and contribute to your community is to share something you learned. Not only might you help someone with the same problem, it helps you relate to others by showing you are human and don’t always have all the answers right away either.

What is a question you get asked all the time?

Do you find yourself receiving similar emails, tweets, or queries often wanting to know the same things? Make the answer a blog post! Not only will this help position you as an expert with the answers people are looking for, it will make your responses oh-so fast by simply directing people to your post for an answer.

 

What is something you wish people knew about your business, industry or passions?

Is there a misconception about the industry you are in? Share your perspective and experiences! Do you find yourself running into the same problems with clients or customers? Write a post sharing your advice on dealing with the issue. Instead of feeling frustrated, use the energy to share a positive post and help others who might be fighting the same battles.

What resources or tools that you’ve found could help someone out?

Making a list of helpful resources is a great post generator. You could include tools you use to run your business, people in other fields that could be resources for your clients, or even podcasts within your niche that you love. As with many of these points, being generous with your knowledge not only builds trust with your readers, it will bring them back time and again.

To make this even easier, you can use this free brainstorming worksheet to get your creative vibes flowing. There is also space for those moments when you have a post idea and need to jot it down somewhere before you forget! Try setting aside a small amount of time each week to knock out your ideas, and writing will become even easier.

Download the Free Brainstorming Blog Post Ideas Worksheet

While blogging can seem overwhelming, it is a great tool for connecting with others in your industry, with clients, or with your community. When you look at it as a way to share and have fun, it won’t seem like a daunting chore anymore! Need even more help getting started? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention.

 

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design.