How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: 7 Tips for Having More Productive Discussions

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George S. Patton once said: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

In business, stirring the proverbial pot can be a good thing. And while negotiating these matters can be challenging — especially when they involve our teammates or bosses — differences in opinion will often lead to progress. 

The most important thing to remember is that there is a big difference between healthy, productive disagreements and heated arguments. In order for two parties to come to a mutually beneficial agreement, there has to be a level of professionalism and respect. Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your  productivity at work.

While navigating this territory can feel like a slippery slope, we’ve defined a few tips below to help you speak your mind, without letting the situation spiral out of control.

How to Disagree (Without Being Disagreeable)

1) Be mindful of your tone.

Research has found that the sound of a person’s voice has a lot to do with how he or she is perceived. In fact, the sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as their message, according to a study of 120 executives’ speeches.

So if you’re raising your voice during a disagreement, will it negatively impact the delivery of your message? Or will it help you command attention?

MIT research fellow, Michael Schrage, suggests that your tone is often dependent on the situation, as well as the person you’re disagreeing with.

“If you’re yelling because humiliating and demeaning people is part of who you are, you’ve got bigger professional issues than your decibel level,” he explains. “But if raising your voice because you care is part of who you are as a person and communicator, your employees should have the courtesy and professionalism to respect that.”

The lesson? Be in control of your own voice. If you feel yourself becoming agitated, take a moment to pause and think about the situation before choosing to raise your voice.

2) Don’t use “you” statements.

Falling back on “you” statements when you’re disagreeing with someone can easily be perceived as combative. Just look at the statements below to see what I mean.

“You always ask me to complete a last-minute assignment when you know that I already have my hands full” sounds more argumentative than, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of work on my plate. Is there anyone else that can take that on?”

Notice the difference?

Let’s look at a few more:

  • “You never fact-check your reports before sending them in,” vs. “I noticed a few errors in your last report. Would it help if I showed you my approach for fact-checking?”
  • “You always forget to attach documents when you send an email,” vs. “I had trouble locating the document you referenced in the email, mind sending it again?”
  • “You should pay more attention to what’s being said in the meetings,” vs. “I find it helpful to take notes during meetings to make sure I don’t miss anything.”

“Most people don’t like being judged or told what to do, and when we use ‘you’ language plus directives, it’s easy to arouse in others feelings of resentment and defensiveness,” explains professional communication specialist, Preston Ni.

While there are situations where someone should be held accountable for their actions, leaving “you” statements out of small disagreements can help to ensure things don’t escalate into an argument. 

3) Avoid filler words or hesitant phrases.

Filler words like “um,” “ah,” and “uh” tend to signal doubt. These disruptions can instantly take away from the credibility of your claim, and also serve as a distraction for those listening. 

Researchers John Sparks and Charles Areni set out to prove the influence of these hesitations by asking 118 undergraduate students to read a transcript of a testimonial about a scanner. One version of the testimonial used hesitations such as “I mean” and “um,” and the other was fluid with no filler words. The results of the study revealed that when hesitant language was used, it was more difficult to convince the listener that the scanner was worth buying — even when it was positioned as a better, lower priced scanner. 

Point being, it’s important to be aware of these placeholders — and limit the use of them during disagreements. One way to work these fillers out of your speech? Try wearing an elastic band around your wrist and shifting the elastic to your other wrist any time you catch yourself using “um” or “uh.” 

4) Do your research.

To make a strong case against your opposition, it’s important that you do your research. 

Let’s say, for example, that you and your team are planning your marketing strategy for the quarter. Your boss is set on keeping up with your direct mail and print efforts, but you think it’s time that the business head in a new direction — an inbound direction. 

Rather than base your suggestions on what you think could happen if you shifted gears, start the conversation with a data-backed assessment of why the current strategy isn’t working and what you can do today, next month, or next quarter to fix it. 

But don’t just throw around numbers. “Tie data like this into the overall vision and goals of the business,” explains John Bonini, Growth Director at Litmus. “A statistic in and of itself isn’t all that impressive. If you’re looking to resonate with your more traditional boss, provide context.”

This type of strategic preparation will make it difficult for others to poke holes in your assessment. It will also help to communicate that you’re passionate about your resistance and that you’re not just disagreeing to disagree. 

5) Don’t get personal. 

When a disagreement gets heated, it’s easy for people to call upon “low blows.” These personal attacks are often used as an intimidation tactic or defense mechanism, but that doesn’t make them appropriate in business situations — or any situation for that matter. 

When disagreeing with someone, your claims should be based on the outcome over that you are debating, not on what the other person has done (or not done) in the past. 

“Try to make sure the conversation stays focused on facts, not personalities,” management professor Nate Bennett told QSR. “And if the other person gets personal, remember that you are not your job.”

“It’s a lot easier to embrace criticism of your work when you don’t let your work define who you are,” insists Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. “Even if someone says something out of line, avoid the itch to retaliate by keeping this notion in mind. Instead, refocus the discussion back to the subject matter at hand.”

6) Be mindful of your body language.

When communicating disagreement, it’s important to be aware of our non-verbal body language. You might be saying one thing, but if your gestures or facial expressions suggest another, it’s easy to rub someone the wrong way. 

“Avoid putting up a barrier like a hand, your bag, or whatever else you have between yourself and the person with whom you are speaking,” urges former U.S. Army interrogator and body language expert Greg Hartley

If you want to disagree politely, try raising your eyebrows slightly to convey receptivity, or smile and nod along while others are speaking. This way, when it’s your turn to talk, those around you will feel that you’ve actually listened to their take on things.

7) Know your non-negotiables. 

When you disagree with someone or something, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be well received. In fact, often times, it probably won’t be. But then what?

In an effort to disagree respectfully, you’ll need to learn how to compromise. Aside from the obvious differences, business relationships are a lot like any other relationship we share with someone — even a significant other. 

“Lots of happy couples have differences in relationships — the trick is to learn which ones are more important to you than the relationship,” explains relationship expert April Masini.

That said, go into every disagreement knowing your non-negotiables — things that you absolutely aren’t willing to compromise on. While this approach may vary depending on the exact situation, it will often make it easier for you to prioritize what matters and what you’re willing to reconsider. At the end of the day, it’s all about give and take.

8) Assume best intent.

Here at HubSpot, our Chief People Officer, Katie Burke, has a great guiding principle: Assume best intent.

Taking a page out of Pepsico Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi’s book, Burke believes in the importance of coming into discussions, meetings, and relationships assuming the best in your fellow colleagues, friends, and family members. As Nooyi puts it:

When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed … You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.'”

If you know you’re headed into a conversation, a meeting, or an email exchange where you might disagree with someone, pause before reacting immediately. Instead, take a moment to assume the best of the people around you. For however strongly you feel about your position, the other person you’re engaging with does as well, and working together from a place of mutual respect and kindness will ensure better results — and relationships.

9) Know when to take a break.

In many cases, a disagreement or challenge won’t be solved in a matter of one email chain or one 30-minute meeting. It might take several meetings, email follow-ups, or looping in other people to get to the bottom of a contentious problem or a bigger challenge.

In these cases, it’s important to know when to step away from the disagreement, regroup, and press pause. We suggest the Pomodoro technique and keeping meetings to 25 minutes and under — any longer, and participants should take at least a five-minute break to regroup and decompress.

Learn to recognize when you’re reaching a point to stop your disagreement — especially if the matter at hand doesn’t need to be resolved all in one day. Recognize breaking points in your own behavior — such as negative body language and emotional impulse reactions — and suggest taking a break. This will help the conversation stay more positive and more productive in the long run.

What are your top tips for disagreeing in the workplace? Share them with us below.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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Side Projects: How to Start (and Finish) One

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It might be an unpopular opinion, but I do believe that having tons of great ideas isn’t always a good thing.

There just isn’t enough time in a single day to tackle all of them — let alone while also doing your day job. So how do you choose just one — and once you do, how do you make time to work on it, and see it through to the end?

That, my friends, is why we get search results like these:

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We get it: Finishing a side project is really, really hard. After all, when you put in long days or weeks at work, the last thing you want to do is, well, more work — even if you have a remarkable idea. New Call-to-action

But it’s not impossible. In fact, with a few changes to your outlook and approach to your side project, it might actually be what you had originally imagined — fun. That’s why we compiled this list of tips to complete those side projects that you’re determined to see through to the end.

6 Tips to Start (and Finish) a Side Project

1) Make sure the novelty isn’t going to wear off.

Many moons ago, I was having a career chat with my then-editor about some business ideas, when she introduced me to my favorite term: “shiny object syndrome.” I use it to describe my tendency to think of a great idea, jump into it with full force and excitement, and after a month or two … lose interest.

From what I’ve observed, it’s a common phenomenon among creative people, which makes it that much more difficult to actually finish a side project before you think of another one that’s, well, “shinier.” So to prevent that, we’ve established a few steps to follow:

  1. Make sure you’re really excited about the idea — really excited.
  2. Give it 10 days, and see if you’re still excited. If you are, proceed to the next step.
  3. Acknowledge just how difficult this project will be. How much time will it require? Are you actually going to be so excited about it that you still want to give it your attention after a terrible day at work?
  4. Give it a trial run. For one work week, schedule an hour each night to do research on the project.

If your responses to each step are pretty much affirmative, then that’s a good sign. Proceed — but not without caution.

2) Be respectful of your employer’s time.

Sometimes, your employer might encourage you to execute a side project on the company’s behalf. It might be an experiment with new types of blog content, or starting a branded podcast. But never forget about your “day job” — you know, the thing you were hired to do because of its ultimate impact on the product and customer.

In other words, even if the side project is something your manager signed off on, be respectful of the company’s time and resources. Here at HubSpot, we approach everything we do with a general formula:

customer > team > individual

If your instincts tell you that you might be neglecting your “normal” work for the sake of your side project, they’re probably right — and that can have a negative impact on both your team and the company. Until you can provide evidence that your side project will have equal or greater impact, always give priority to the job you were hired to do. After all, it’s called a side project because it’s something you do on the side.

If the project isn’t being carried out on behalf of your employer, then it’s best not to give it much, if any of your attention during work hours. Many times, employees are required to sign documents agreeing not to use company resources — like computers or other supplies — to work on anything other than the work they were hired to do, so it’s better to be safe than sorry, and work on your project during your own time.

3) Wave your “nights and weekends” white flag of surrender.

If you really want to see your side project through to the end, be prepared to lose the vast majority of your nights and weekends to it. Of course, watching another episode of “Orange Is the New Black” might be easier and more enjoyable — in the moment. But is it going to lead to something that’s ultimately fulfilling in the long run? Probably not. Sorry, pal, but step away from the Netflix.

But even that might not be enough, and you might have to treat your nights-and-weekends dedication the same way that you would treat anything with longer-term benefits, like a healthier lifestyle, or saving to buy a house.

“If you’re planning to work on your side project ‘whenever you get a chance’,” says Dmitry Shamis, HubSpot’s senior manager of web development, “you’ll never touch it.”

It might mean that you have to stay up later or skip happy hour, but build time spent on your side project into your routine. If you go to the gym after work, schedule an hour after you get home and make dinner to work on it. Or maybe you’re an early bird — I am, and I’ll be the first to admit that the hour I spend each morning drinking coffee and scrolling through Instagram could probably be spent more productively.

In any case, make your side project part of your day-to-day activities. It’ll feel less like a burden, and more like something that you just naturally do.

4) Tell other people about it.

A few years ago, researchers at Dominican University conducted a study to see if writing down goals or sharing them with a friend correlated with a higher rate of meeting them. In short — it did.

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Notice how the groups that wrote their goals down and committed them to a friend outperformed on accomplishing them, compared to the groups with unwritten goals. Putting our ideas on the record, even if just by writing them in a notebook, gives them life, and makes us that much more likely to follow through on them. Plus, by telling a friend, you’ll avoid those awkward moments of stammering for a response when she asks you how your project is going.

“Hold yourself accountable by telling other people about your project,” says HubSpot ‎Senior Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich. “Better yet, tell other people about the smaller parts of it you’ve vowed to complete by a certain time. I always find a little external pressure to be a helpful motivator.”

5) Join an industry community.

Depending on the category your project falls under, there’s likely an online community or Meetup group for it. Let’s say I wanted to find a meetup where I could talk about an SEO side project. Even with this fairly narrow search criteria, I still managed to find three relevant groups:

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Much of this goes back to the idea of accountability through others. And by sharing your side project with a community of others who are interested in the same topic, not only are you getting the motivation of external pressure that Kolowich mentioned — you’re also improving your chances of getting objective insights and feedback on your ideas.

6) Reward yourself for progress.

Finally, if you’ve followed the above five steps, it’s okay to independently recognize your own hard work. External praise is great, but sometimes, it’s nice to reward yourself for your accomplishments.

“I pay myself in cookies and mozzarella sticks for completed tasks,” says Niti Shah, a senior growth marketing manager at HubSpot.

Hey — whatever it takes.

Whether it’s a nap or a special treat, sticking to your resolve to see a side project through to the end deserves recognition.

What are some of the best ways you’ve found to finish a side project? Let us know in the comments.

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The Greatest Marketing Growth Hack of All Time (Hint: Cupcakes)

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A few years ago my team at RJMetrics was launching a short survey over the holidays. It’s a tough time of the year to get attention, especially when you’re a B2B SaaS company. At some point, someone suggested a cupcake giveaway.

So we did.

Ten participants were randomly chosen to receive a dozen cupcakes, and people LOVED it.

  • They sent email responses to the request saying they hoped they got the cupcakes.
  • They tweeted delighted responses about the campaign.
  • When we delivered them, they tweeted pictures of them and their co-workers enjoying the cupcakes.

The response to the cupcake campaign was completely out of proportion to the $50 cost to us.

So we decided to make cupcakes a bigger part of some other marketing initiatives. Prior to this first cupcake encounter, we would use iPads as an incentive to promote our webinars. You know, that post-registration page that says “Tell your friends you’re joining us for a chance to win!” We decided to scrap the iPad in lieu of cupcakes…and our conversion rate skyrocketed.

No joke.

People would rather receive a dozen cupcakes than an iPad.

And inevitably we would ship the cupcakes and see a cupcake photo plus a tweet like: “RJMetrics has the best webinars, and you might win cupcakes!”

So there it is, the greatest marketing growth hack of all time. The next time you’re trying to motivate people to do something for you, offer the chance to win some cupcakes.

The Psychology of Cupcakes

Now, let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening here. There are a few good theories. I first shared a version of this post over on ThinkGrowth.org and the responses there aligned pretty closely to what I hear whenever I share this story. 

Cupcakes seem like a more achievable prize.

In the case of the survey, the odds of winning cupcakes were actually better than the odds of winning an iPad — we were choosing 10 winners instead of 1. But for webinars, the odds were exactly the same — only 1 winner. Still, there’s something about a dozen cupcakes that just seems more possible.

One commenter summed it up perfectly:

The Lake Wobegon Effect

As in Lake Wobegon of Prairie Home CompanionThis theory was presented by HubSpot’s co-founder and CTO, Dharmesh Shah and is a variation on cupcakes seeming more achievable, but with a little more detail on the psychology of why they feel more achievable:

Valuing Experiences Over Things

Another theory on why this is so effective is that people actually want the experience of winning cupcakes more than they want the experience of winning an iPad. Winning an iPad is kind of a lonely experience, tell your co-workers and they’ll probably feel bored or jealous.

But winning cupcakes? That’s a community experience. You can gather your co-workers around to share in your success, eat cupcakes together, take a picture. And maybe on some sub-conscious level we all just want that feeling of community more than we want an iPad.

My hunch is that if you ask someone outright, they will always tell you they would prefer to win an iPad, but actual behavior reveals we might want something a little more meaningful.

The Element of Surprise

This is a less popular theory, but personally, I think it carries a lot of weight. In marketing, all strategies erode over time. Andrew Chen calls this “The Law of Shitty Click-Throughs.” He uses the example of the internet’s first banner ad: 

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But by 2011, Facebook ads were converting at .05%.

And we see this play out again and again in marketing. As more businesses adopt a tactic, the better people become at tuning it out, and the effectiveness of that tactic wears off:

We’re just not used to seeing cupcakes show up in marketing. It surprises us, forces us to pause and pay attention. And attention, after all, is what marketers are always chasing.

If the surprise theory is true, this holds implications beyond cupcakes. It means there’s an enormous edge given to marketers who can navigate the balance of being familiar enough that people feel comfortable, but surprising enough that people actually pay attention.

I’ve recently fallen in love with CBInsights newsletter. The author of the newsletter and founder of the company, Anand Sanwal, has an amazing sense of humor and I’ve found myself hooked on his storylines. Here’s one of this latest newsletters:

How many business communications lead with “I love you”? Or talk about bromances in a way that makes you want to keep reading?

And you actually want to read the copy because Anand is constantly dropping little remarks like “a not very useful graph” that are so refreshingly honest about the things marketers are often trying to hype. I mean this graph is interesting, but he’s right, it’s not very useful 😂

And of course, this is all held together by a core of content that is top-notch commentary on the tech industry.

Why do I love this newsletter so much? Yes, it’s providing incredibly useful information, but I’m constantly surprised and delighted by what Anand is writing. I read what he’s writing because it’s different from how everyone talks about similar things.

He’s not giving away cupcakes, but there’s still power in the art of surprise.

Now it’s your turn.

After I published this post on ThinkGrowth.org I heard from two marketers who were already implementing the cupcake test. So, the time to try this strategy is now. It won’t be crazy effective for too long!

But seriously, cupcakes or no cupcakes, keep your eye out for opportunities to share a little joy with your audience. We’re all busy and distracted and overloaded with information. Ask yourself how you can add just a little more humanity to your marketing, how you can create moments for your audience to connect with other humans, how you can make them pause and maybe … just maybe … how you can even make them smile.

Editor’s Note: This post was adapted for the Marketing Blog from ThinkGrowth.org, HubSpot’s Medium publication. You can check out the original version here

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How to Make an iPhone Video: A Step-by-Step Guide

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You might know that video is important, that your audience wants to see it, and you might even want to make it a part of your strategy. But you’re still asking the big question:

“How?”

If you aren’t producing video content because you don’t think you have the ability, time, or resources to do it, we have some good news: Your answer to the video content question could be sitting in your pants pocket. (Hint: It’s your iPhone.)Check out our interactive guide to creating high-quality videos for social  media here.

You or a member of your team most likely already owns a great video camera — one that’s easier to use than a traditional, high-tech setup. In this post, we’ll walk you through our tips and best practices for filming high-quality marketing and social media videos with your handy iPhone and a just a few other tools. And if you don’t have time to read them all, we’ve demonstrated how to do it in the video below.

P.S. We filmed it with an iPhone.

How to Shoot Videos with an iPhone

1) Find a quiet place to film.

This might seem obvious, but if you’re filming at work or out in public, the sight of a phone might not tip people off to keep the volume down if they’re nearby. If possible, book a conference space, hang signs telling people to steer clear of where you’re shooting, or bring a coworker with you to block off the area where you plan to film.

2) Make sure your iPhone has enough storage space.

Have you ever experienced the dreaded moment when you were unable to capture a video because you got this pop-up notification?

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If this notification pops up while you’re filming a video, your phone will stop recording, and you’ll have to start over. To prevent this, make sure you have enough space before pressing “record.” Delete as many unnecessary files and apps as you can, and if needed, purchase iCloud storage for files to free up more space on your device itself.

To do this, navigate to “Settings,” select “General,” “Storage & iCloud Usage,” and tap “Manage Storage” to buy more space for as little as $0.99 per month.

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3) Turn off notifications.

Another distracting iPhone feature that could interrupt your filming is how frequently your device receives notifications. Before you start filming, set your iPhone to Do Not Disturb mode to keep notifications going in the background so you can film uninterrupted.

Swipe up on your phone and tap the crescent moon icon to put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode, and tap it again when you’re done to return your phone to normal settings.

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Pro tip: Do Not Disturb is a great way to watch YouTube videos, play games, and sleep uninterrupted, too.

4) Use a tripod.

I don’t care how steady you think your hands are — they probably aren’t steady enough to film a video. 

Now, it’s one thing if you’re scrappily putting together a Snapchat Story, but if you’re filming a video for your brand — especially one that will live permanently on your blog, YouTube channel, or other social media assets — you’ll need the help of a tripod to keep the video steady and clear.

You can purchase full tripods, or smaller versions for your desk on Amazon, at Best Buy, or other vendors.

5) Light your video.

This point is especially important if you’re filming in an office building with lots of overhead lighting. You don’t need to buy anything fancy for this step — in fact, our friends at Wistia put together this guide to a DIY lighting setup. You need enough light to give the impression of natural light, which means it’s coming from a variety of different light sources, and not just directly overhead. 

If you don’t have the time or budget to purchase a lighting setup, find a room or location with plenty of natural light — and remember to turn off the overhead lights — to keep your video subject looking good.

6) Use a microphone.

Make sure you use some sort of microphone to minimize the impact of distracting ambient noise. The expression “the silence is deafening” is real — especially when it comes to video production. 

You don’t need a fancy microphone and boom setup like in the movies, although those would be a great investment to make if you plan to film a lot of videos. You can use something as simple as a microphone that plugs into your iPhone’s headphone input to get great audio for your videos — and you can buy one here.

7) Film horizontally.

When people view videos on mobile devices, the video automatically rotates according to the orientation of the device it’s being viewed on. So, it makes more sense to film horizontally so your video can be viewed if the user rotates his or her phone, or is watching on a large tablet or computer screen. If you film vertically and the viewer’s screen is rotated, the video will appear more constricted.

There are exceptions to this, of course — if you’re filming a video specifically for Snapchat or Instagram, for example, you should film your video vertically on your iPhone, because that’s how the videos will be consumed. But if you’re filming for Facebook, YouTube, or another video hosting site, film horizontally to help viewers get the best possible viewing experience, no matter what device they press play on.

8) Don’t use the iPhone’s zoom capability.

Simply put, iPhone’s zoom will most likely make your video look bad.

We’ll elaborate: Unless you have the ultra-fancy iPhone 7 Plus camera, zooming in on an iPhone will simply enlarge the image — it won’t get you closer to what you’re filming — so it’ll make your final video pixellated and blurry-looking.

Instead, physically move your filming setup closer to your subject to eliminate the need to zoom in.

9) Lock your exposure.

The iPhone does a fantastic job of finding the subject to focus your camera’s exposure — which is great for taking a photo. But when it comes to filming a video, its super-powered exposure will continue adjusting and readjusting according to movement — leaving your final video occasionally blurry and out of focus.

You can solve this problem by locking the exposure while you’re filming. Before you press record, hold down your finger on the subject of your video until a yellow box appears around the person or object and the words “AE/AF Lock” appear:

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10) Edit on a computer.

Once you’ve filmed your video, you need to edit it and get it ready for publication. And although the iPhone offers a lot of visual editing tools within its interface, it’s best to use editing software on your computer to fine-tune the images. Software like iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro let you add sound, captions, and adjust filtering to make your video look (and sound) as professional as possible. 

Lights, Camera, Action

You don’t need a ton of expensive equipment to film and edit engaging videos — you just need to follow the steps above to film something that looks professional with the help of your handy iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, never fear — we’ll create some guidance for Android devices soon. In the meantime, download our guides to creating videos for social media to get started distributing your content today.

What are your tips for filming videos on the iPhone? Share with us in the comments below.

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How to Write Catchy Headlines and Blog Titles Your Readers Can’t Resist

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It’s one thing to write great content, but it’s another thing to get it read and ranked — which is where nailing the title comes in.

Titles are what sell the content. They represent it in search engines, in email, and on social media. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the most common questions we get concern crafting titles.Ready to take your blog to the next level? Take our free inbound marketing  certification course here. 

How long should my headline be? What words should I use? What words should I avoid? Should I optimize it for search, or for social? Or both?

Luckily, we’ve come up with a simple formula for writing catchy headlines and blog titles that you can reference from here on out. So let’s just dive right in, shall we?

A Foolproof Method for How to Write Catchy Headlines and Titles

1) Start with a working title.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of coming up with a perfect title, start with a rough draft: your working title. What is that, exactly? A lot of people confuse working titles with topics. Let’s clear that up:

Topics are very general and could yield several different blog posts. Think “raising healthy kids,” or “kitchen storage.” A writer might look at either of those topics and choose to take them in very, very different directions.

A working title, on the other hand, is very specific and guides the creation of a single blog post. For example, from the topic “raising healthy kids,” you could derive the following working titles:

  • “How the Right Nutrition Can Strengthen Your Kids’ Bones”
  • “A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being”
  • “X Recipes for Quick & Healthy Dinners Your Teenagers Will Gobble Up”

See how different and specific each of those is? That’s what makes them working titles, instead of overarching topics. It’s also worth noting that none of those titles are perfect — they should just be specific enough to guide your blog post. (We’ll worry about making it clickable and search-friendly later.)

2) Stay accurate.

Accuracy is critical when trying to finesse a title, because it sets clear expectations for your readers. While I’m sure lots of people would love to click into a post that said “10 B2B Companies Killing Facebook So Freaking Hard They Don’t Need Any Other Marketing Channel” … it’s a little bombastic, no?

Unless, of course, you truly did find 10 B2B companies rocking Facebook that hard, and you could confirm that all 10 of them had stopped using other marketing channels. First and foremost, your title needs to accurately reflect the content that follows.

One way to ensure accuracy? Add bracketed clarification to your headline, like we did in this blog post:

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In a study of over 3.3 million paid link headlines, we found that headlines with this type of clarification — [Interview], [Podcast], [Infographic], etc. — performed 38% better than headlines without clarification. Again, it’s all about setting clear expectations. Thanks to the brackets, these readers knew exactly what they were getting themselves into before they even clicked.

So if you remember nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience. If you set high expectations in your title that you can’t fulfill in the content, you’ll lose readers’ trust.

Accuracy encompasses more than just hyperbole, though. With the example working title above, you’d also want to confirm all of the examples are, indeed, B2B. Or even that they’re all companies — instead of, say, individual bloggers that target B2B audiences. See what I mean?

3) Make it sexy.

Just because you have to be accurate doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to make your title pop. There are a lot of ways to make a title sexier.

Of course, all of this hinges on understanding your core buyer persona. You need to find language that resonates with them, and know what they find valuable. (Haven’t created or refined your buyer personas yet? Download this free template to create your own buyer personas for your business.)

Once you’re armed with knowledge of your buyer persona’s preferred style, try testing out some of these tips for making your headlines a little sexier:

  • Have some fun with alliteration. The title and header in this blog post, for instance, play with alliteration: “Foolproof Formula.” It’s a device that makes something a little lovelier to read, and that can have a subtle but strong impact on your reader.
  • Use strong language. Strong phrases (and, frankly, often negative ones) like “Things People Hate,” or “Brilliant” pack quite a punch. However, these must be used in moderation. As one of my coworkers likes to say, “If everything is bold, nothing is bold.”
  • Make the value clear. As we mentioned above, presenting the format and/or contents to a reader helps make your content a little sexier. According to our research, templates tend to be particularly powerful for CTR: We found that adding “[Template]” to our titles got the most average views of all bracketed terms.
  • Make it visual. Is there an opportunity to include visuals within your post? Make that clear in the title. Our research revealed that headlines featuring the word “photo(s)” performed 37% better than headlines without this word.
  • Focus on the “whos,” not the “whys”. Want to intrigue your audience? Focus on the “who”: Headlines including the word “who” generated a 22% higher CTR than headlines without it.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a post titled, “15 of Our Favorite Brands on Snapchat.” How might we punch up our accurate-but-boring working title? Here are some options:

  • 15 Brilliant Brands Who Are Killing It on Snapchat
  • Snapchat Success: 15 Inspiring Brands Who Just Get It
  • 15 Must-Follow Brands That Are Seeing Snapchat Success

4) Keep it short.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long or short your title should be. It depends what your goals are, and where your headline will appear.

Do you want this post to rank really well in search? Focus on keeping the title under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.

Are you trying to optimize your title for social sharing? According to our own analysis at HubSpot, headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average. As for Facebook, headlines with either 12 or 14 words received the most Likes.

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Additionally, headlines with eight words had a 21% higher clickthrough rate than the average title, according to the folks at Outbrain.

The lesson? It’s always a good idea to run a few tests to see what works best for your particular audience.

Let’s say I was writing this blog post: “Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong.” To shorten it, I would simply try to rephrase it and cut out extraneous words. For instance, I might do something like this:

  • Before: Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are 10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong
  • After: 10 Stats That Prove Social Media Isn’t Just for Kids

See? It’s that easy. Try sounding out the title in your head to make sure it’s easily digestible for your readers. The less of a mouthful you can make your titles, the better.

5) Try to optimize for search and social.

I say “try” because, sometimes, trying too hard to optimize for these things can make your title sound strange. Remember: You want to optimize your title for your audience above all else, but if you can optimize for both search and social, that’s great.

The secret to thinking about all three at once? Focus on keywords that you know your audience is already searching for, then look into the search volume for those keywords.

Once you have a keyword in mind, you’ll want to be sure to place it as closely as possible to the beginning of your headline to catch your reader’s attention. (Again, you should keep your headline under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.)

Another important consideration? Make sure your headlines are tweetable: “The 120-130-character range is the sweet spot for high clickthrough rate, according to an analysis of 200,000 tweets with links,” explains my colleague, Senior Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich. “This leaves enough space for people to include a short comment if they choose to manually retweet and cite you.” 

Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m writing a post titled, “X B2B Companies Using Facebook in Cool Ways.” Looks like there’s some wiggle room to optimize it without compromising clarity, right?

If the goal is to rank for the term, “Facebook Marketing,” I’d recommend something like this:

“New to Facebook Marketing? Here Are 10 B2B Companies Doing It Right”

This new title works for a few reasons:

  • It’s 56 characters long. This means that it’s short enough to not be cut off in search engines and it’s short enough to be retweeted.
  • The keyword is in the beginning. By moving “Facebook Marketing” to the beginning of the title, we’re ultimately increasing the odds that we’ll grab our audience’s attention.
  • It’s human. I wasn’t kidding when I said you should focus on optimizing for your audience first. This title presents both a pain point and a solution all wrapped up in one.

(Download this ebook for more data-backed SEO strategies we recommend.)

6) Brainstorm with someone else.

Once you’ve refined your title using the tips above, it’s time to come up for air and connect with another human. Title brainstorming is an essential part of the process.

Here at HubSpot, we spend a decent amount of time and brainpower coming up with our titles. The final step before scheduling a blog post is pulling another member of our team into a back-and-forth title brainstorm in a chat room. One member of the duo will post the title they recommend into the chat pane window. The other person will then refine that title even further, or suggest other angles. After several back-and-forths, the duo will agree on the title that’s accurate, sexy, concise, and SEO-friendly.

Only when both parties agree on a title do we schedule our post for publishing — which can take as little as five seconds and as long as ten or so minutes. While that seems like a long time, it’s essential to put our best feet forward with each post we publish.

What’s your process for crafting titles? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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How to Build A Business Plan That Actually Works [Free Template]

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We’re living in a golden age of startups and side hustles, where it seems like more people than ever before are striking out on their own with new business ventures.

Whether you’re just beginning to think about starting a business, or already drafting a formal document with your current business goals, it’s crucial to clearly define the scope of every aspect of the company — from mission, to target customers, to funding and finances, and beyond. 

When you’re just getting started, it can be tempting to think of a business plan as just a catchy company name and a quick description of what you’re selling. But in the back of your mind, you’re probably aware that planning a business involves thinking through a huge number of details and decisions. It can be daunting to consider the full scope of all that starting your business really takes.

HubSpot and General Assembly have teamed up to help get you started on the right foot with our free Business Plan Template. Inside, you’ll find templates and checklists to help you:

  • Sell the story of your company
  • Describe your product line and plan for how to stand out among competitors
  • Put together the necessary financial projections to make a strong start
  • Plan longer-term goals and metrics
  • Consider legal formalities that require attention
  • Create your buyer persona and determine your product/marketing fit

Click here to download your Business Plan Template and get started.

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12 Tools That’ll Keep You Productive Morning, Noon & Night

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When I need to have a very productive day, I tell myself it’s going to be easy.

I’ll just wake up early, grab a big cup of coffee, and then begin powering through my to-do list. Maybe I’ll break for a meal, or a stretch, or a quick conversation with a coworker. But I’ll truck on, energy unwavering until bedtime, where I’ll promptly fall asleep for eight, wonderful, uninterrupted hours of sleep.

Cool fantasy, self. Real life is rarely — if ever — that picture-perfect. Our bodies aren’t designed to operate at a constant 100% efficiency level. So if you want to be more productive throughout the day, you’re better off relegating certain activities to certain times, and devoting yourself to doing those activities within those windows. New Call-to-action

And to make sure you get the right things done at the right times of day, you can lean on a plethora of different free or relatively cheap apps and tools. Below, we’ve collected some of the highest-rated and often-recommended productivity apps for each part of the day. Try them out and see if they work for you.

15 of the Best Productivity Tools for All-Day Efficiency

Morning

1) Headspace

Price: Free, with subscriptions available on iPhone, Android, Web

Starting your day off with a quick meditation session can be a great way to gear up for the day — even scientists say so. According to a 2012 study, people who meditated “stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance.”

Sold … but not sure how to get started? We recommend downloading Headspace. It gives you 10 free guided meditation sessions, and if you end up getting hooked, you can sign up for a monthly subscription.

2) Prompts or Writing Challenge

Price: Prompts is $2.99 on iPhone | Writing Challenge is $1.89 on Android

You may have heard about the benefits of writing something — anything — in the morning. But actually making time for morning freewriting a reality can be a challenge. How do you actually find something to write about when you’ve barely had time to make your coffee?

By downloading a writing prompts app, of course. Prompts and Writing Challenge are both great options. They give you a jumping-off point for a piece, and then let you dive right into writing. Prompts is especially cool for folks who like to track their habits to stay motivated because it offers some basic analytics for you to analyze your writing habit progress.

3) Todoist

Price: Free, with premium subscriptions available on iPhone, Android, Web

You don’t have to actually write down your to-do lists in the morning, but you should definitely take a look at them before you dive into your work. And if your to-do list is cluttered and confusing, you’ll end up losing precious time to reorganizing and re-prioritizing it.

To prevent that from happening, I’d highly suggest a tool like Todoist. HubSpot Senior Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich introduced me to it, and it’s completely transformed the way I keep track of what I need to accomplish. It allows you to add deadlines and labels to each list item, then automatically sorts your whole to-do list by what you have to accomplish that day. That can help you keep you on top of what you need to accomplish on a given day, and prevents you from getting sidetracked by down-the-road projects.

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4) Jell

Price: Free, with premium subscriptions available on iPhone, Android, Web

After you set your own to-do list, chances are, you’ll need to check in with your teammates about what’s on their plates for the day. One super easy way to do this — especially when you have a remote team — is by using an app called Jell.

Instead of calling a 30-minute meeting to debrief on what everyone’s doing, you simply fill out a form in Jell that gets sent to the rest of your team. (If you’re using Slack, it has a handy integration to have these messages posted in there, too.)

This way, you can quickly get on the same page with your team, and then move on to the most important work of your day. Here’s what Jell looks like in action:

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5) Feedly

Price: Free for desktop, iPhone, and Android

Before I get started on my work every day, I like to check in on what my peer influencers are writing or talking about in the marketing and technology space. With Feedly, you can add a feed of the latest blog posts and articles from your favorite publishers to get inspired and informed to kick off your day. I even set Feedly as my homepage so I have to check it out. Here’s what it looks like:

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Afternoon

6) Do

Price: $10/month on iPhone and Web

Fast-forward a few hours, and chances are, you’ll have a block of meetings on your plate. (That is, after all, the best time of day to have them.) But if you’re going to take time out of your day for meetings, they better be productive. There’s nothing worse than wasting a bunch of people’s time on something that could have been handled over email.

Yep — a tool can help you with that too. The Do app can help you keep yours more organized and actionable — that way, no one’s wasting time sitting in unnecessary meetings. If you’re looking for a free option, Solid (available on Web only) is a great choice.

7) Stormboard

Price: Free, with premium subscriptions available on Web

When your attention starts to wane, it can be hard to get things done. For many people, that tends to happen in the afternoon.

Turns out, that can be a good thing: When you’re less focused, you have more room to be creative. So the afternoon is a great time for brainstorming, collaboration, and breaking through cognitive barriers.

If you and your team are feeling particularly creative one afternoon, a great tool to consider using is Stormboard. It allows everyone to easily brainstorm and collaborate — even if they aren’t in the same room. Then, you can prioritize the best ideas to be put into action at a later date.

8) Unstuck

Price: Free on iPhone, Android, Web

But what if you’re not focused or feeling creative? You’ve got to get work done, but you’re feeling … stuck.

Unstuck can help. It’s an app that acts like an in-the-moment personal coach. It’ll ask you a series of questions to unearth what exactly is blocking you, and then give you steps to get through that block. Having this “outside” perspective can be a game-changer to breaking through some seriously inhibiting time-sucks.

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9) StayFocusd and Freedom

Price: StayFocusd is free | Freedom is less than $3 per month after a free trial for iPhone

StayFocusd and its mobile app Freedom can help you stay focused (get it?) throughout the day, by blocking access to distracting websites for certain periods of time. So whether it’s Twitter, Reddit, or YouTube, you can customize certain periods of time when you’re allowed to be distracted — and when you’re not. As the day goes on, you might be more tempted to slack off and lose your steam, and these apps will help keep you going with a reminder — and a countdown clock:

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You should still take breaks throughout the day — but instead of getting sucked into procrastinating online, get up from your desk and take a walk. More on that next.

10) Daily Water

Price: Daily Water is free for iPhone and Android

When you’re in the zone getting work done, it can sometimes be hard to remember to take care of yourself. Daily Water is a handy app that reminds you to take a break, stand up, and rehydrate. You can set the app to remind you to drink water during different intervals of the day, so you can schedule breaks for in between projects to stay healthy, focused, and productive all day long.

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11) Quartz or Inside

Price: Quartz is free on iPhone | Inside is free on iPhone, Android, Web

When you’ve been in the weeds all day getting important projects done, it can be tempting to take some time to catch up on what you missed in the news.

The trouble is, those reading breaks can sometimes get unruly. That 15 minutes you thought would be enough turn into 45 minutes of reading, and you’re suddenly late for your train home.

To feel in-the-know about the day without breaking your productivity streak, try catching up via your favorite news summary app. Mine is from Quartz: a chat-themed news summary app that’s quickly become a staple of my phone’s home screen. A few quick clicks, and I’m on my way to catching a ride home.

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Night

12) 7 Minute Workout

Price: Free on iPhone, Android

Everyone has their favorite time of day to work out, but science says that your lung function peaks around 5 p.m. So if you want to squeeze in a quick workout sometime in your day, right before dinner might be the trick.

If you don’t have a regular routine or are just trying to do something fast, I’d recommend checking out J&J’s 7 Minute Workout app. You can pick from its programs, or design one of your own — and all can be done in less than 30 minutes.

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13) Podcasts or Stitcher

Price: Podcasts is free on iPhone; Sticher is free on iPhone, Android, Web

Chances are, you’ll have spent most of your day looking at things. Reading on the computer. Watching slides on the projector. Scanning news on your phone. So when you leave work, you should strengthen one of your other senses, such as your listening comprehension. It’s an underdeveloped skill — especially in adults — but it can have a big impact on our professional and personal lives.

If you want to strengthen your listening skills, try playing a few podcast episodes on your phone during your commute home. If you have an iPhone, you have a Podcasts app already built-in. Otherwise, you can access them through Stitcher.

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14) Grid Diary or Journey

Price: Grid Diary is free with premium options on iPhone | Journey is Free on Android, Chrome App

Many might think that journaling is just a teenage pastime, but it has many benefits for people of any age.

If you don’t love the idea of actually penning your ideas and experiences to paper, you can use Grid Diary or Journey. Both allow you to not only capture written recaps of your day, but also add photos to your entries. Plus, they both have built-in prompts — so even on the most hectic of days, you can distill some insights for your future self.

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15) Sleep Genius

Price: $4.99 on iPhone; Free with in-app purchases on Android

Finally. You’ve made it through the day and kept yourself productive. You take a moment to celebrate … but then, you realize that tomorrow’s to-do list is already jam-packed. You need a good night’s sleep, and you need it now.

Sleep Genius might be the cure. The app has built-in relaxation techniques and gentle alarms to wake you up at a natural moment in your sleep cycle, helping make sure you feel rested come morning.

After all, if you’re feeling sluggish the next day, even the best apps might not be effective. (But that cup of coffee might do the trick.)

What are your favorite productivity tools for different times of day? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Does Influencer Marketing Actually Work? A HubSpot Blog Experiment

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I ran my first experiment in influencer marketing in middle school. My mom had bought me a pair of practical (her words) but hideous (my words) sneakers — and insisted I wear them to gym class.

Believing — maybe rightfully — that my reputation hinged on having cool footwear, I convinced my mom to buy a second pair as a gift for my friend Kelly’s birthday. Kelly was the coolest girl in sixth grade. Everything she did turned into a trend.

Kelly wore her sneakers to gym, probably at behest of her mom. Next thing I knew, everyone was rocking my ugly shoes. I was trendy, not lame. The experiment was a total success.

I didn’t think about influencer marketing again until I joined HubSpot. On the blog team, we’re always looking for ways to scale traffic — which gets continually harder as your audience grows. We’ve already captured much of the “low-hanging fruit.” Partnering with influencers could help us reach new readers while bringing our current ones fresh insights and promoting worthy thought leaders. Win-win-win.

When I started experimenting with influencer marketing strategies for the HubSpot Sales Blog seven months ago, I was operating under a few key assumptions:

  1. If one influencer is good, 23 is better.
  2. A huge name on a standard quality blog post is better than an unknown name on a great quality post.
  3. Partnering with influencers is an efficient and scalable way to grow traffic.

Turns out, those assumptions were mostly — even completely — false.

Experiment #1: Is Influencer Marketing a Silver Bullet?

Let’s go back to November 2016, when I set out to create a blog post that received 10,000 views or more in its first 30 days.

For context, average views per Sales Blog post for November was 3,180.

I decided to create an influencer round-up (a type of post gathers quotes from multiple influencers on a single theme or topic). Harnessing the reach of some of the biggest names in sales through their social shares would surely push the post over the 10K line.

Since there are relatively few sales influencers, and their expertise is pretty varied, I chose a broad theme for the round-up post: How to Have Your Best Sales Year Yet. Each month received its own section and covered a different aspect of selling, from qualifying to giving demos.

Then it was time to get the influencers on board. First, I identified 30 sales experts and thought leaders, and wrote a personalized email to each one.

Twenty-three influencers agreed to participate. That’s approximately 77% of the 30 I approached — a great response rate that was likely bolstered by the personalized emails.

Next, I wrote custom questions for each influencer based on their area of expertise. I collected their interview answers for the post through a combination of phone and email interviews. I also asked each influencer to commit to promoting the post on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as their email newsletter if they had one.

After the post went live, I created custom tracking URLs for each influencer to use for their share(s). This step allowed me to see exactly how much traffic every individual was responsible for. I also created a custom image for social media each influencer with a quote from their interview:

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From start to finish, the entire post took me roughly 18 hours. A standard, non-influencer post takes me 45 minutes to an hour. That’s a big difference in time.

The Results:

The post ended up getting around 9,100 views in the first 30 days. The influencers were responsible for 4,143 of those views — each sharing their link on Facebook and Twitter within three days of the launch date, with several sharing the link on LinkedIn as well.

Sounds like our influencer strategy worked, right? Well, not quite.

When I dug deeper, I discovered the influencer traffic wasn’t distributed evenly. In fact, one person was responsible for 77% of all influencer traffic.

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Some influencers drove less than 20 views each.

These results killed my first assumption: If one influencer is good, 23 is better.

Experiment #2: Is Targeted Influencer Marketing a Silver Bullet?

With this in mind, I had two goals for the next post in my influencer marketing experiment:

  • Feature as many “heavy hitters” as possible.
  • Feature the influencers’ products — giving them a clear incentive to promote the piece beyond being quoted as a thought leader.

I chose The 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time as the theme, since it would enable me to satisfy both criteria. I sent an email to each author with a custom URL and a polite request for them to share it.

The Results:

All in all, the influencers drove around 5,700 views. Guess who was responsible for 60% of those views? The same influencer who was responsible for 77% of the traffic for the first post.

It’s not surprising this influencer is such a reliable source of traffic. He has more than 1.7 million Facebook fans. A mere 0.002% of them clicked on the link to the HubSpot Sales Blog.

What is surprising is that the other influencers are driving such little traffic. It takes roughly the same amount of time to get a quote from the other influencers as this superstar one, but the results are completely disproportional.

Experiment #3: Looking for a Scalable Solution

Is the solution to concentrate solely on massive influencers? Unfortunately, there aren’t enough out there in the sales space.

What if we skipped the time-consuming process of picking a theme, finding experts, reaching out to them, developing questions, transcribing and editing their answers, and putting everything together into a post? What if I started with content that already existed, cutting out the creation process entirely?

I started handpicking influencers based on their network size and asking to publish their original content and/or repurpose some of their existing content — along with a social share, of course.

This strategy requires much less time. Each post would receive fewer page views, but I’d be able to produce more in the same amount of time — meaning we’d drive more overall traffic.

It’s also great for the influencers. They’ve already done the hard work of content creation; now they can sit back and enjoy its amplification. We send their posts out to our 50,000-plus email subscribers and give them the option of adding in-line links and a CTA to their website or virtual offers.

I started this experiment with an excerpt of a book from a well-known author, who has a sizable audience.

The Results:

The post got 2,143 views — and 1,200 of those came from the HubSpot Sales Blog email subscribers. Because the author didn’t use the tracking URL I sent her, I can’t say definitively how many views her Facebook and LinkedIn posts generated, although it’s likely around 300. Not that impressive.

We see similar results whenever we publish posts for “the name” versus the content. If the writing isn’t relevant, insightful, or helpful, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s got the byline — the post tends to strike out.

There goes my second assumption: A huge name on a standard quality blog post is better than an unknown name on a great quality post.

Experiment #4: Content First, Influencer Second

With that in mind, I decided to focus on content first, influencer second. I looked for sales experts with unique perspectives and ideas and largely ignored the size of their audience.

A sales leader I found on LinkedIn is a perfect example. He’s not a recognizable name, but he’s built a solid following (almost 10,000 followers) by consistently posting entertaining, helpful articles on LinkedIn.

His posts we’ve published get an average of 4,600 views.

Tom Niesen, CEO of Acuity Training, belongs in this category as well. He wrote a post about upfront contracts that generated roughly 6,000 views before Sandler Training shared it on social and drove 1,000 more.

These partnerships might not create one massive traffic spike, but they’re lightweight for me to manage, generate content I’d be happy to share with our readers no matter who wrote it, and are a scalable way to work with influencers to produce content that consistently performs above average.

My third assumption: Partnering with influencers is an efficient and scalable way to grow traffic — still true, if it’s the right influencer.

3 Influencer Marketing Takeaways

It turns out influencer marketing has gotten a bit more complex since middle school. After running these four experiments, here are my three main takeaways.

1) If you’re trying to drive traffic, use your time and energy to get one major influencer on board rather than five to 10 mid-level ones.

An influencer’s impact depends on both their audience size and engagement — you can get similar results from an influencer with tons of followers and low engagement and one with a medium following but crazy-high engagement.

I recommend looking at the influencer’s average Facebook post performance. If they’re receiving 600-1000+ reactions and 500+ shares on any given post, they’re probably a major influencer. Validate this by giving them a dedicated tracking URL to share and seeing how much traffic they drive.

2) That being said, quality still matters.

Weak content rarely performs well even with a “big name.”

When evaluating content for the Sales Blog, I ask myself these questions:

  • Are the ideas relevant?
  • Have we covered this material in other posts?
  • Does the author give enough explanation, detail, and instruction that the reader can immediately apply the concepts?
  • If they make a controversial argument, do they sufficiently back it up with research?
  • Is the post engaging from beginning to end?

If the answers aren’t all “yes,” then I’ll ask the author to edit the piece.

3) Prioritizing content leads to posts that get traffic on their own merits.

I’m proud of our readers. They’re not star-struck — if a post is great, they read it and share it, regardless of the byline.

Ultimately, our best “hack” for growing traffic? Publishing great content. That’s an assumption I’m happy to operate under.

How does your content team approach influencer marketing? Let us know in the comments.

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How to Avoid Burnout at Work: 7 Strategies from HubSpot’s Manager of Culture

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Doesn’t it seem like we don’t go a day without hearing about employee burnout — mostly what a problem it is?

In a survey conducted last year by Morar Consulting, 95% of human resources professionals blamed the loss of good employees on job burnout. Headlines call it a “crisis.” Type the words “employee burnout” into the Google search bar, and one of the autocomplete phrases likely ends with, “is becoming a huge problem.” And yet, despite all the research pointing to how bad it is — for reasons ranging from physical health to how much employers lose on turnover because of it — it continues to be a huge problem.

But what are you supposed to do about it?

Many of us recognize these patterns in friends and family, but rarely ask that question of ourselves or, sometimes, our employees. So many people are afraid to take time for themselves until it’s too late and we reach — you guessed it — burnout status. Download our free guide here for more interviewing and screening tips to build  your team.

That’s why I decided to enlist the help of an expert: HubSpot’s Manager of Culture and Experience, Tamara Lilian. I asked her about the many ways her team goes above and beyond to prevent employee burnout here — and, perhaps even more important, how employees and employers everywhere can put them into practice in their own environments.

So, what did we learn? Read on to find out — or listen to our interview with Lilian by pressing “play” below.

How to Avoid Burnout at Work

For Employers and Managers

1) Learn how to recognize signs of burnout.

This tip applies more to individual managers than it does to employers as a whole. When workloads are at a peak for everyone, and there’s plenty of stress to go around, it can be difficult to remember to observe what — and how — others around us are doing. And when it comes to signs of burnout, it’s often difficult for people to recognize them even within themselves.

That’s why it’s so important for managers to be able to recognize them — and take the necessary actions to address and resolve them. And while that can be tough for new managers, Lilian says, with some knowledge and information, it’s certainly not impossible.

“We’re stepping up our manager training, and we’re working on trainings to support them with their teams,” she explains. That includes things like knowing how to manage workloads in a way that mitigates burnout before it even happens, as well as supporting employees during their time off.

Actionably, what does that mean? To start, if you have people on your team who are particularly overeager to tackle things, recognize that it’s a great attitude to have, but check in regularly to make sure that person isn’t biting off more than she can chew. That way, you’re working to manage her workload in a way that prevents burnout.

And while employees should also be encouraged to take time off when they need it, make sure they know that they should truly be offline during their times out of the office. For that reason, it’s fair to request as much advanced notice as necessary, so you can work together to make sure there’s a support system in place at the office that can allow that person to fully disconnect.

2) Set the tone with a company (or team) culture code.

Here at HubSpot, we have a Culture Code, a document created to represent our people, culture, and values. It was written by CTO and Co-founder Dharmesh Shah with the mentality that, to build the best company, he would build it much like an engineer builds a product with code.

But the keys here are the three aforementioned things that the Culture Code was built to support: people, culture, and values. And no matter how big or small your team or company, you can still build a “code” guide the way your team operates. In fact, there are a few things from HubSpot’s own that can be applied to a number of environments, says Lilian. These are things like:

Transparency

“We share everything internally, from executive leadership meeting decks, to finances, to board meetings,” Lilian explains. “That creates trust, which in turn makes people feel valued.”

One easy way to add more transparency to your team or company culture is to always add context to major changes or decisions, especially when they impact the things your employees work on. If there’s a sudden pivot, explain why, and acknowledge that it’s sudden.

Trust

“Speaking of trust,” says Lilian, “in the Culture Code, we have a three-word policy: use good judgment. There’s no employee handbook you receive on Day One, because we put an enormous amount of trust in our employees.”

Showing that you trust your employees can manifest itself in a number of ways, but a big one is to stop micromanaging. Autonomy is also a big part of our culture here at HubSpot — which means that while managers are encouraged to maintain strong communication and be available for help whenever it’s needed, they trust us to get our work done on time, ask for help when we need it, and keep them updated on projects.

In other words, employees are given a large degree of control over their own work, which has been shown to correlate with both higher productivity and overall wellness. It also allows employees the freedom to independently discover the ways in which their work contributes to an organization’s overall success, which can lead to a greater willingness to ask questions — instead of being afraid of looking like they don’t know something. Being able to obtain that information without being judged for it can encourage creativity, too, as transparent, comprehensive answers can encourage new ideas.

People > Perks

“Sure, the free beer, being able to bring your dog to work, and having a gym on-site are cool,” says Lilian. “But that’s not what keeps people here. Keeping people motivated, challenged, and welcomed with an inclusive work environment is what keeps people here.”

That said, as you begin to build your team, remember that perks don’t go unappreciated. Free coffee is great for most of us, let alone free beer. But also think about the things for which the novelty isn’t quite as likely to wear off — things like the engaging work that Lilian referred to. If your team isn’t producing quality work, don’t assume that it’s due to laziness. The issue could just be a lack of interest. Have a conversation with employees about that to find out what’s making them lose interest, and together, figure out how to make it more engaging.

3) Lead by example.

Riddle me this: If you never see your boss take a vacation, how good are you going to feel about taking one? Probably not great — you wouldn’t be mirroring the example set by your manager to never take time off.

“You have to lead by example,” says Lilian. “For example, our CEO, Brian Halligan, just took his one-month sabbatical. If he can take that time off, then others definitely can.”

In the end, leading by the example of taking time off when you need it ends up benefitting everyone. Not only will it permit you the time you need to disconnect and recharge — which boosts productivity — but also, you’re showing your team that it’s an important thing to do.

They say that actions speak louder than words, but this tip partially goes back to the idea of knowing when to recognize burnout. Don’t just take time off — encourage it, too. If you’re planning to take some time off and realize that it’s been a while since your employees have, bring that up in your next conversation. Even if that person responds that she’s too busy to take time off, discuss the importance of breaks and that you’re ready to work with her to make sure all bases are covered while she’s out.

For Employees

4) Use the resources made available to you.

And while we’re on the topic of the old “I don’t have time” excuse, when it comes to taking care of yourself, “you need to make the time,” says Lilian.

She points to the the Healthy@HubSpot program, which includes things like on-site fitness classes, a kitchen full of healthy snacks — including fresh fruit and vegetables — and standing desks. And while not every workplace will have the budget for these types of resources, it’s important to take advantage of those that are available.

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For example, maybe your workplace has a nice outdoor area. Weather permitting, don’t let it go to waste — eat lunch there, or sit there for five minutes when you’re feeling particularly stressed (more on that later).

Sometimes, though, taking advantage of what’s made available to you comes down to your colleagues. “It sound so simple, but just grabbing coffee with someone you work with can have an impact,” says Lilian, “or turning a meeting into a ‘walking meeting’ outside.”

She also encourages making time to do these things with people who you don’t necessarily work with regularly. “Getting to know folks from other parts of the business can benefit the quality of your work,” she explains, by gaining more neutral and fresh insights or ideas.

5) Get away from your desk.

I’ll never forget a quote I once read from Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport in the article “25 Ways to Practice Self-Care”:

I know what you’re thinking. The time to take care of yourself is when you have time to take care of yourself. Bright-and-early Saturday morning yoga. Sunday afternoon hike. But that’s not where my head’s at. I’m talking 3:18 p.m. on a Tuesday. When you’re sitting at your desk, ready to throttle your boss. Or quietly seething that your colleague got credit for something that your colleague totally didn’t do. That’s when you need to get up and walk away. And go do something. Anything. On such days, I head out for a coffee. Not because I need a coffee, but because I need to get out. I wander down to this little joint in a giant office complex on the Hudson River. And, then, instead of walking back to the office, I park it on a bench. And I just sit there. Breathing actual nonrecycled office-building air. Watching the ferries pull up to the dock. Because sometimes doing a better job means not doing your job at all.”

In other words, when you’re starting to feel like you might lose it — whether it’s the result of a frustrating project or a co-worker’s annoying whistling — step away. Now.

Lilian emphasizes the importance of getting away from your desk — even if it means doing your work somewhere else. “Results matter more than hours, or where we produce them. You can actually see this in the HubSpot offices, as we create ‘nomad desks’ where folks can work from in addition to their main desk,” she explains. “But we have plenty of collaborative workspaces to grab a seat at any time, if you need a change of environment or feel more creative or inspired in a different area.”

6) Take the time you need — with good judgment.

This practice falls along the lines of taking advantages of the resources made available to you. If you have paid time off — use it!

According to Project: Time Off’s 2016 State of American Vacation, the use of paid vacation has been dwindling among U.S.employees since 2000. In fact, last year, 55% of them didn’t even use all of their vacation days, with an average of .2 days taken off per employee.

I don’t know about you, but those numbers make me sad. If you’ve read the text leading up to this point, then you already know that taking time off can aid productivity. But if the refresh-and-renew benefit isn’t your thing, think of it this way: “By giving up this time off, Americans are effectively volunteering hundreds of millions of days of free work for their employers,” writes the Project: Time Off report, “which results in $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits.”

Okay, so maybe you’re worried about leaving your team in a lurch by taking time off. You’re in luck — there’s a fairly simple solution for that. “This goes back to using good judgment,” Lilian explains. “If you’re looking to take a week’s vacation with your family, make sure your team is set up for success while you are gone.”

Not sure how to start? Here are two key points:

  • Let your team know when you’ll be out of the office as far in advance as possible. My colleague, Sophia Bernazzani, uses the rule of one week notice for every day that you’ll be out of the office — so if you’ll be off for ten business days, let your colleagues and manager know about it ten weeks before you leave.
  • Be prepared to hustle before you leave in order to get ahead on the time you’ll be out. Not only will you be minimizing the amount of extra work your colleagues have to share in your absence, but also, you’ll (hopefully) be returning to that much less to catch up on when you return.
  • Make sure which regularly-occurring tasks you’ll be out for. For example, let’s say you and a colleague take turns doing something each month, like compiling a monthly performance report. If you’re going to be away during the time when it’s normally your turn, work with a colleague to rearrange the schedule so that she doesn’t have to unexpectedly take it on.

7) Don’t check in during your time off — and don’t feel bad about it.

Part of the point of working so hard before you leave for your vacation is to make sure you can completely step away during your time off. And yes — a lot of people “do a significant amount of work while on vacation,” Robert Blendon, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor told NPR. “So they’re taking their stress along with them wherever they go.”

The point of a vacation is to leave your stress behind, or at least to try your best to detach from it, so you can feel rested when you get back to work. Keeping that source of stress present during your time off is like going to the dentist with one cavity and leaving with four. It defeats the purpose of why you went there.

So please — don’t come back to work with four cavities. Disconnect when you’re away, and get the rest you need.

They Say It Takes a Village

Remember, preventing job burnout requires efforts from both managers and employees. The latter can’t be afraid to ask for the things they need to be well and do the best work they can — but their supervisors also have to create an environment where it’s not discouraged. Start making some of these incremental changes, and you’ll be well on your way to your own healthy workplace.

How does your team prevent job burnout? Let us know in the comments.

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Want to Learn Graphic Design? 8 Tips & Tricks for Beginners

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For many of us, the thought of high school conjures memories of ample notebook doodles. Hand-drawn bubble letters, pictograms, and stick-figures would decorate homework, tests, and papers — and teachers, of course, were constantly asking us to knock it off.

And so, most of us did, perhaps because we figured out that we just weren’t that good at drawing on paper. But when some of us were in high school, we didn’t yet have the numerous digital options for “drawing” our ideas. But now, machines can help us bring them to life — and it’s become a career path for many people.

Graphic design is something that marketers can always benefit from learning, even without a formal education. In those cases, we enter a world of do-it-yourself education, with repeated recommendations like, “learn Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign,” or, “read a book about basic design principles.” And as much as those help, learning fundamentals, navigating new tools, and developing a personal style make for a tricky balancing act. Download our full collection of blog design examples here to inspire your own  blog design.

That’s why we put together this list of tips that we wish we had received at the onset of our respective DIY graphic design journeys, along with some tools that can help you with them.

8 Tips for Learning Graphic Design

1) Always keep an ear to the ground.

As marketers, we already know how much there is to learn from influencers. After all, 49% of folks trust the people they know above anyone else for product or service recommendations, and in the digital age, that includes influencers.

Influencers — who according to NeoReach are “individual[s] with an online presence who … influence the opinions and behaviors of your target audience” — are often willing to share the secrets to their success in their content. If you make a point to listen to and engage with them, you’ll become more familiar with the online design world, which can help you discover more tips from other industry experts, become comfortable with relevant terminology, and stay on top of trends.

Wondering how to engage? Turn to Twitter or Instagram as a place to start conversations with these influencers. You never know who might respond to your questions — and any positive connection you make can only help you learn more. Following along and joining the exchange can naturally lead you to become a part of a design community that will support you throughout your journey.

What to Do Right Now

Create a targeted list of influential designers on Twitter, so you can follow their daily insights without having to pick out their tweets from a sea of friends, coworkers, and news sources. You can use the Social Monitoring tool in your HubSpot software to do this by following the people on this list, specifically as they discuss topics that matter to you.

Add a variety of influencers to this list — a mix of those who are well-known among most designers, those that personally inspire you, and those whose work you do not enjoy. That last point may seem counterintuitive, but consistently observing the work of that group can help you understand why you don’t like it, which is a key part of understanding design.

If you’re not sure how to discover designers to follow, try 365 Awesome Designers, which features the work of one designer each day.

2) Collect inspirational work.

Once you decide to learn design, start building a catalog of work you think is successful. That can be as simple as bookmarking images in your web browser, making a Pinterest board, or saving items to a folder on your computer. Like a list of influencers, a catalog of inspiring work will help you to identify trends — both past and present — in design as you begin to recognize patterns in the work of others. You’ll also start to understand your own personal style preferences and interests. If you find yourself continually saving infographics, for example, you might start looking into specific resources to learn how to create them.

Your catalog will also serve to inspire designs you create in the future, which is underscored by the idea that “all creative work builds on what came before” — a line from Austin Kleon’s TEDx talk. If you can reference items in your catalog quickly, you’ll be better equipped to begin your own projects.

What to Do Right Now

Get acquainted with leading designer portfolio sites like Dribbble and Behance. These platforms showcase an abundance of high-quality work from leading designers across the spectrum — everyone from web and UX designers, to graphic designers and typographers. The designers on these sites often provide insight into their design processes, which will be key as you start your own creations.

Setting aside time in your day to review these sites might be hard on top of your workload. One way to naturally work it into your day is to use the app Panda, which replaces your “New Tab” in Chrome with an aggregated stream of content from various sources, including Dribbble. Each time you open a new tab, you can discover and save something that catches your eye. Fair warning, though: An application like this might be distracting to some.

3) Dissect the process.

One of the most pivotal moments in my design journey was when I recognized that every single illustration, infographic, and icon I had ever ogled over was the product of someone mastering how to combine shapes and lines. That’s not to say that other factors don’t play a role — just wait until you try and learn meshes in Illustrator — but fundamentally, these designs were built up from simple shapes.

Analyzing the process behind a design will allow you to understand the steps required to produce a piece of work. Depending on your current skill level, you may have a leg up in knowing which tools were used, or which aspect was created first. But don’t let that stop you — examining the construction of a design will let you flex your creative muscle. Educated guesses will do far more to teach you than doing nothing at all. Plus, you’ll likely find that:

  1. You know more than you think you do.
  2. When you identify holes in that knowledge, you’ll know what techniques or concepts you need to explore to narrow the gap.
  3. There’s more than one way to achieve a desired result.

What to Do Right Now

A quick way to expedite the learning curve when dissecting a design is to download a free vector or PSD design resource, and dig through the layers to see how the designer constructed the object — you can find a number of those files here.

Once you pick your file, open it in Photoshop, then open the Layers Panel (which you can learn to use here) and un-collapse some of the folders, so that you can see the layers contained within them.

By simply changing the visibility of the layers, you can begin to see how the designer used each shape to build upon one another. You can also begin to understand how to use Photoshop Effects, like drop shadows and strokes.

4) Get specific with your online search queries.

As you begin creating your own designs, you’ll likely hit an obstacle where you think to yourself, “Hmm. How the heck do I do that?” Chances are, others have wondered the same thing. Like many self-taught disciplines these days, the majority of my own technical design knowledge was gained by watching a YouTube tutorial while I actively followed along.

The key is to be really specific with your searches, so you can find a highly relevant tutorial. Searching for something like “how to create an icon” might deliver really broad search results. Instead, type in exactly what you want to learn, like, “how to create a flat icon with a long shadow.” Boom.

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What to Do Right Now

Browse a design terminology glossary to find the specific terms for techniques you’re trying to learn. That can help you find what you’re looking for online much more easily, in addition to helping you familiarize yourself with the language.

5) Reproduce your favorite work.

Let me be clear: Under no circumstances should you infringe on anyone’s copyrighted work. Never reproduce someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own.

That said, re-creating a design you like — without advertising it as your own work — will help you gain a deeper understanding of design technique. As with dissecting a design, it’ll help you learn new technical skills that’ll come in handy when you’re creating your own designs.

You’ll have to get creative with the method you choose to recreate the design, so this exercise will utilize both the left and right sides of your brain. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t duplicate a design exactly — remember, the process is more important than the result.

What to Do Right Now

Find a design piece you think is successful — which should be easy if you’ve created an inspiration catalog — and use your preferred piece of software to recreate it, whether that’s Photoshop, Illustrator, or another software. It’s really up to you to choose how you go about actually creating it. Use specific search queries and tap into your design community relationships as resources.

6) Embrace negative space.

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The proper use of negative space is often overlooked by beginner and advanced designers alike. What is negative space (or “white space”)? It’s the space in your design that’s not occupied by any visual or written element. A design piece that doesn’t incorporate enough negative space is like a sentence with no spaces – itisdifficulttocomprehend.

Jan Tischold, one the most influential typographers in history, stresses this importance: “White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background.” The effective use of negative space is just as crucial as the design itself. Don’t believe me? It’s scientifically proven that white space improves legibility and comprehension.

What to Do Right Now

Learning to effectively use white space won’t happen overnight. You’ll have to try out different options to find what works for each design. First, I’d recommend reading some of the articles on this list, compiled by David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty. Then, try to put some of these theories into action.

Remember, there’s no hard-and-fast rule to using white space. It takes practice. Eventually, you’ll find that exercises in resizing elements of your composition and changing the layout will lead to a natural understanding of the amount of breathing room required.

7) Don’t be afraid to get feedback.

On some level, everyone is afraid of criticism. We’re afraid our ideas will get shot down and we’ll be sent back to square one. Learning to accept constructive criticism is no easy task, but it’s key to becoming a better designer.

Paul Arden, who was the creative force behind Saatchi & Saatchi at a pinnacle of its success, wrote this in his best-selling book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be:

If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer. You may even get an improvement on your idea. And you are still in a position to reject the criticism if you think it is wrong. Can you find fault with this?”

The takeaway: Design critics allow us to incorporate others’ viewpoints into our work and improve upon our ideas. You always have the option to reject the feedback — but considering it in the first place is what’s important. Design is subjective in nature, and just because someone else has a different opinion doesn’t mean you’re wrong. In fact, trusting your intuition is equally important. Just make sure you have the means to back up your design decisions.

What to Do Right Now

The best way to get feedback is to have a one-on-one conversation with an experienced designer. If you don’t know anyone in the design world, that can be difficult. Fortunately, the internet is filled with communities of designers eager to give feedback — that’s why we suggested finding influencers and peers to engage with.

If you haven’t had time to become a part of a community, now’s the time to step outside of your comfort zone and take action. Inbound.org offers a great feedback center where viewers can comment directly on your design. Other great forums include The Crit Prit, and Reddit’s Design Critiques.

8) Pick a passion project.

If you only listen to one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one.

We all know how hard it is to work on something you don’t want to. It just plain sucks. Picking a project that you aren’t passionate about will likely lead to frustration, as you’ll likely feel reluctant to devote the time and effort necessary to complete the project. And you would be remiss to ignore the fact that, at some point in your career, you’ll have to design something you may feel less than thrilled about.

But that likely won’t occur until you’ve learned a thing or two and have advanced your design skills. In the beginning, it’s OK to focus on passion projects.

When you’re taking the time to teach yourself graphic design and the consequences — like money lost on a wasted design class — are minimal, passion is a major motivator. When you pick something you care about, you’ll compel yourself to work through the frustration that comes with the sometimes tedious nature of design.

It’ll also provide direction. Time and time again, the hardest part of learning design is not knowing what to design. Be decisive and choose something you can work on for a length of time.

What to Do Right Now

Align your interests or current situation with your projects. If you’re a blogger, try creating the header image for your next post. Voice your willingness to work on an offer with your content team. Looking for a job? Redesign your resume and try to further your personal brand by creating a logo. There’s a number of ways to work design into your day, but it’s up to you to pick something that matters to you — don’t design something simply because you think you should.

And Above All

It’s important just to get started. It’s easy to be intimidated by the sheer amount of learning associated with graphic design, but remind yourself that even the most talented designers were newbies once, too.

What makes the creative field so special is that everyone’s journey is unique — there’s no one way to approach DIY design. You’ll find your own means to discern what you want and need to learn.

Design is an iterative process, so keep reworking your ideas and projects. As you progress, you’ll develop your own workflow and one day that design that took you all day will only take you an hour. Trust me, I’m living proof.

What other tips do you have for self-taught designers? Let us know in the comments.

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