February 2018 | concepts I've learned to inspire my process for Design, Business & Ideas

When I first started my business in 2010, I had no clue what I was doing. So I picked up a few books on how to start a small business, how to run a Graphic Design company, and how to do basic Profit & Loss statements. As soon as I learned something new, I would implement it into my business immediately to test it out.

A few months later, I bought a photographic camera, watched an online lesson on how to use the camera, put up a few photos I took on my website, and got my first project doing Photography within weeks. But when my business started to take off just 6 month later, I quickly put off my practice of learning and testing new ideas. I put my head down and pushed as far as I could without picking up much new knowledge except by accident. That was a big mistake.

Too many times during my professional life, I have stopped learning about new ideas and concepts. And in the last few months, I realized it is something that I deeply need to focus on again. So in 2018, I picked up 2 new books that have been hugely helpful for me that I wanted to share, called Smarter Faster Better and When.


Here are 3 big concepts in January 2018 that I have learned & will definitely continue to practice in February. 

1. Focusing On 1-3 Big Goals Per Day
I have always had a a tendency to start working in the morning and try to tackle all of the various emails, voice messages, and little tasks as quickly as possible to "catch up" and feel as though I was on top of all my to-do lists. Getting sucked into that habit, I would often look at my day by around 8pm and feel like I accomplished nothing. Instead, I just felt busy. Many studies show that just about everyone feels good when they cross items off a To-Do List. But if the items on that list are menial and unimportant, all that fake productivity is really just wasted time.

So I now put only my most important tasks on my to-do lists for the day. These important to-do lists usually entail phone calls, or new ideas to test out to grow my business, or a task at home for my family that cannot go unnoticed. As long as those items are accomplished, I can freely catch up on all of my other tasks for the day and feel good that I've already accomplished the most important ones first. 


2. Planning Strategic Breaks
I tend to have a workaholic personality. I like having tasks that I can achieve on a day-to-day basis, and then power through as much of it as possible. Since I was a child, I always noticed I had this big unmotivating lull in the late afternoon. I always attributed it to the sun going down, with the colors in the sky feeling very yellow and depressing. I always saw late afternoons as times of the day where I just needed to push through until I got a new spur of energy right around when the sun was setting.

But then I came across a study done by two professors at Cornell University performed in 2011 showing that, beyond culture, geography or ethnicity, most people experience a mood and energy lull in the late afternoon, on average between 2pm and 4pm. Realizing my childhood thoughts were actually based on a scientific reality, I now intentionally give myself a break, planned in advanced, in the late afternoon. It involves no working, no phone calls, and no to-do lists. Even if it is just a 30 minute break, I try something like reading a book to my kids, going outside to water the garden, watching my wife cook a new recipe she's trying out, or taking a short walk. As soon as my break is over, I get 1 last coffee for the day, and power through work for the rest of the evening often until 8 or 9pm.

Taking a fully-detached break is something I never valued before, but it has greatly helped me to stay motivated fully in the morning and fully in the afternoon & evening. 


3. Writing Things Down
Before I had a smart phone, I used to write things down all the time. But as new Apps and software came around, it has been easy to try out too many ways to track ideas and tasks. But I recently had a huge realization that the technique I used for planning my day was not working when I missed an important phone call for a new project. I had it marked on my Google Calendar and set an email reminder, but despite all the reminders, it still slipped my mind. The amount of information overload that a phone or computer provides has often caused me to easily lose focus on the most important tasks I need to get done.

Then I came upon a study, performed in 2014 by Princeton and UCLA, which observed the difference between students who write their class notes down by hand versus those students who type notes up on their computer. When tested on how much course material was memorized between the two groups, the researchers found that students who wrote things down by hand were 2 times more likely to recall and retain information than the group who typed everything by computer.

It turns out, that putting more effort into writing something down and then having that information physically in front of you, as opposed to hiding it away on a digital device, forces your brain to prioritize and remember the information better. So I quickly thought through a technique that could force me to practice this and these other important principles I had just learned.

Putting it all together
I put all 3 of these new concepts together on a single 3x5 note card. I have a stack of 1000 cards I bought from Office Max for $3, and use about 10 of these cards per day. I write these new notes out in the evening so that I already know exactly what my day's plan will be the following morning. It incorporates all 3 principles stated above:

  • Focus on 1-3 of the most important tasks for the day
  • Set aside a clear, timed and intentional break
  • Write things down instead of log them digitally

I know many of you are already greatly successful at your business and likely practice some of these ideas on your own. But I've always greatly appreciated learning new things from other people that have impacted my life, so I hope that some of these ideas that I am sharing might be helpful for you as well.


The two books I got these ideas and inspiration from are from Charles Duhigg's book, Smarter Faster Better, and Daniel H. Pink's book, When. I heard about these books by Donald Miller's Podcast from Building A Story Brand.

3 Concepts To Remember In 2018 To Grow Your Business Online

When I started designing websites professionally in 2010, businesses were generally either physical stores or online stores, and there wasn't a lot of overlap. But in 2018, the two concepts cannot be separated. In order for your business to thrive, no matter what kinds of work you do, it must be deeply connected online, yet have the credibility and personality of a brick-and-mortar store.

Here are 3 important trends I have seen recently that your business should think about in 2018 in order to grow stronger this year. 

1. You can no longer afford to ignore the importance of branding, blogging & collecting testimonials.
Anonymous brands and websites are not trustworthy. In the early years of the internet, people were not savvy about researching products online, and most people didn't make purchases through the internet. Today, it's the first place people go to research products and services. My clients who used to do postcards, brochures, and magazine ads no longer see high conversion rates. In 2018, trust is established on the internet, which means people need to see your face, hear your thoughts on important topics, and see that real people engage with you on the internet through testimonials, comments and publicized feedback. 

2. Brick-and-mortar stores must rely on continual online marketing. And online businesses must think like a small brick-and-mortar store.
If your store is in a high-density, walkable spot like New York City or San Francisco, you can likely get away with no internet presence. But for everyone else, the internet is still the place where people are going to initially interact with your brand on places like Yelp, Social Media, or a Google Search. And your ongoing marketing will rely on collecting email addresses, sending out regular email, and engaging customers elsewhere on the internet. Brick and mortar stores will only thrive if they fully engage with online marketing as a way to draw in new customers and retain existing customers. In the same way, purely online businesses need to establish a "local-feeling" presence online that treats their customers as if they were part of a small community through personalized customer service and conveying themselves in a vulnerable, honest and personable way.

3. Your website will need to be mobile responsive, secure, helpful and ever-growing.
In 2017, dramatic changes were established by Google and other leaders online. Most importantly, online security is more crucial than ever. More websites are being hacked every day, and online scams are more sophisticated than ever. Google has now established that secure websites with SSL certificates and the HTTPS:// designation will be bumped up in Search Results on Google, and websites that are un-secure will be pushed down. A couple years ago, Google did the same thing with Mobile Responsive websites. Some of my clients have even thrived online solely because their website was Mobile Responsive, while their competition has stayed stuck in the 1990s and early 2000s. And lastly, websites that provide valuable, thoughtful and helpful information are also prioritized by Google. Search results can now determine if your website is junk or if it is helpful, simply by analyzing the kinds of words you use on your website. Every year, it is more and more crucial to have a website that is mobile responsive, secure, and contains regularly updated blog posts and content.

Because the internet is so engrained into most people's lives, businesses must fully adapt and embrace best-practices in order to fully thrive and dominate competition.

Fortunately, the techniques of how to do each of these things are not hard to do. It's simply a matter of putting together a simple plan, and implementing that plan just a couple times per week.

How To KickStart Your First Start-Up Business

When I was 22 years old, I started pursuing my career and I was tired of waiting to start a business. I had been studying Architecture in southern California for 4 years, and was angry at myself for not just finally jumping into it and pursuing after my future. 

For some reason, early on, I knew I wanted to start a business from home. One day, I wanted to get married and have kids. And the thought having to spend time away from my family to work 40 or 50 hours per week just to see them on nights and weekends was a frightening thought. I knew that the only way I could really be at home with my family was to start my own business. 

In the summer of 2009, I had come back from a 3-month internship in Washington D.C. to work for a political group. That 3-months was a great experience to teach me that non-profits, and political causes, we really not as big of a passion of mine as I imagined.

When I got back home to California, I had my first crazy business-person idea, which was to start bartending for private events. I signed up for a $200 4-day bartending course (which was pretty much all the money I had at the time), and studied like crazy for the first two days. At the end of the second day, I though to myself, "I can do this already." So I built a website that evening, put an ad on Craigslist, and got my first cliente that very same evening. I was both stunned and nervous. I waited until the following morning to call them, because I was so nervous about what I might say. But as soon as they picked up the phone, they told me "Thank you for getting back to me so quickly!" Yet, to me, it felt like an eternity between when they emailed me through Craigslist and when I actually got back to them with a phone call the following day. 

The prospect ultimately turned into a really successful private bartending gig for a 50th Birthday Party in Laguna Beach. And both my friend, who helped out that evening, and I got a $100 tip, plus all the other tips and fees we charged the client. I think I walked away with around $300 total for about 8 hours of work. That's almost $40 an hour! For a 22-year-old starting his first business, this was more exciting than any internship on the other side of the country.

Those first few days of adrenaline and excitement were some of the most enjoyable times for me. And I knew I was built for starting businesses after that.

The idea of being able to do something that excites you, make money doing it, and build it around your interests and lifestyle, is one of the most energizing things I can think of.

But it's not always exciting times. I am so glad that I started my official business of website and graphic design when I was in 23 on January of 2010. Because in 2013, just 3 years later, I got married to my wife Melinda. And we got pregnant with Jayden in 2014, and Josiah in 2016 - who has severe disabilities due to Spina Bifida. 

If I didn't start my business almost 8 years ago with the goal of being home for my family, I don't think we would have been able to get through all the hard times as a family. For any family with a special needs child, it's hard enough even if you are doing well financially. But if you are struggling with money, also trying to take care of a fragile child, it can be completely devastating.

If you are still single, and want to start that first business, there is no better opportunity to do it than right now. And I mean literally today. Put a website together, build an Etsy Shop, get your business on Yelp, Google Business, post ads on Craigslist, do everything you can, and spend as little money as possible, and start building your career. And treat every moment of your business as a "Start-Up" phase. Always pushing to open a new door, a new idea, a new opportunity.

It's because your future family depends on you to take the risks you need to take in order to secure them. When times are tough, you'll be prepared to know how to take on the next challenge, because taking lots and lots of small risks through calculated action is the only way to care for the ones you love, and to build dreams.