NCCCC Business Women's Expo 2015 - My Thoughts

Last month I attended the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce Business Women's Expo (every time I have to type this I think "what a mouthful!").  I'd attended before, but only as the employee of a vendor, so I hadn't gotten to attend workshops.

My overall thoughts on the event?  Kinda neutral.

I'll start with the good.  The workshops were awesome!  Mostly.

They were all based on TED talks, which was an interesting way to go but ensured that the topics were interesting.  The first went into depth on a topic mentioned in Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: success vs likability (also in her TED talk, obviously).  Sandberg discusses how we subconsciously devalue successful women and the workshop described how to recognize some of those subconscious feelings and overcome them.  Fantastic workshop and excellent timing for me since I've been thinking and talking about this topic lately, anyway.

The 2nd workshop was also interesting - the speaker went into power postures and some of the science behind it.  I was amazed that not only does our hormonal balance change simply by standing or sitting differently, but it's a significant percentage change!  Huge, huge physical changes from standing for just 2 minutes in what the workshop called "victory pose."  Some of it is intuitive (looking confident will make you feel confident), but I really recommend watching the TED talk for this.

The 3rd workshop was kind of interesting - it was about finding your passion and figuring out what type of work motivates you (research, social/compassion, money, etc).  Buuuut... by the end it was really starting to feel like a thinly veiled sales pitch ("Hey, look at how passionate I am about my business, which is to help you.  Buy our stuff!")

Also good: the food.  Our luncheon was very tasty.  And the people I sat next to happened to be very nice and might be a good resource later for volunteering and/or networking.

Less good: the overall networking.  I met a couple of women at the workshops and I was enjoying their company very much until we introduced ourselves.  Then it immediately turned into, "What's your sales pitch, ok you done?  Here's MY sales pitch."  That's just not how I want to do it.  I'd rather make friends and then if we need each other's services it'll just happen naturally.

I'd been to chamber networking events in the past and it had been the my pitch, your pitch thing, but I thought that was my fault because I had no clue how to network back then.  Blogging has taught me how incredibly easy it is because I wasn't trying to.  I started blogging purely for enjoyment, discovered it's possible to make friends doing it, and then magically that turned into a few different opportunities.

So I thought a return to networking events COULD be a lot more effective (and fun!) by utilizing that principle.  But obviously that's not how everyone sees it and that's an obstacle I'm not sure how to overcome.

I was invited to attend more chamber networking events and I'm currently undecided.  Like the Business Women's Expo, I'm sure there's something to be learned at each one, but I'm not sure if it's really worth the investment of time or the sheer number of email lists I get added to each time I hand out a business card.

I think part of the problem is that a LOT of the entrepreneurs at the chamber sell business services (myself included).  So basically we're all in there trying to sell the same stuff to each other.  As much as I like the idea of it all, I think there might be more value in discovering new markets, rather than trying to compete in such a heavily saturated one.

And I do still want to make friends with other entrepreneurs, just for the sake of having people to sympathize with.  But maybe Meetup is a better resource for that.

What do you think?  Have you tried local networking groups?  How did your experience compare to mine?



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Enveste Real Estate Website - Client Design Process

John Matthews had recently taken the plunge into both entrepreneurship AND the real estate market.  After finding himself in possession of several properties, Matthews realized he needed a website for his business, Enveste Real Estate, to entice renters and provide an easy place to get information about his business.


1. Logo



Frequently with web projects, logo design becomes almost an afterthought, which is unfortunate but not terribly surprising.  While I designed a couple different logos to go with each web design option, I knew from the beginning that this was my favorite and Matthews ended up making the same choice.

2. Design Options



Matthews had one website in mind as design inspiration, so I knew he liked the black, grey, and orange color scheme.  But I gave him enough variety to fully explore the possibilities before settling on that look.

3. Caricature



At some point during the process, we decided that it would be fun, and give the site a unique feel to add a caricature of Matthews to the home page.  I stalked him on Facebook, found reference photos, and drew him in Illustrator.

4. The Final Product



This project really evolved as we worked on it, and some little touches that I hadn't planned on - hover transition effects, and discovering the Fotorama image gallery - really came together near the end of the project.  While we've declared the site "finished," things are constantly changing in the housing market and rentals are continually being added or changing availability.

While continued maintenance isn't necessarily the most glamorous part of design, I'm always very grateful for the chance to perform it because it means the site gets the attention it needs to stay up to date, and changes will be made professionally.

As a designer, it's always a little disheartening to go back to a website you designed in the past and see that it's been edited by someone who didn't know what to make of your div structure, or how to use image transparency.  I understand why people do it!  But it's disheartening all the same.

In any case, I'll be continuing to maintain Enveste Real Estate, and I'm supremely grateful for that opportunity!  And also for the chance to hone my illustration skills and give the site that very personal touch!

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Delcollo for Delaware - Client Design Process

Recently, I've had the great pleasure to meet, and work with, a new face in the world of politics.  Anthony Delcollo is running for State Senate, and came to me for a logo back in the summer.

I've been lucky enough that so far in my work, I've believed deeply in the cause for every one of my clients.  Choosing to work with entrepreneurs and small businesses has been amazing, in that every project I do helps someone to go after their dream.  I wasn't sure if that same passion would carry over into doing political work, but I needn't have worried.  Anthony Delcollo is as passionate and inspired about his vision as any of my other clients.

As I said, Delcollo is starting fresh, and his team came to me to build their brand and start promoting their message.  I've actually used this project as the example on my design process page, but I'll walk you through it in a little more depth here.

1. Initial Planning



Delcollo's campaign manager is super organized and efficient, which makes my job easy.  She called me and gave me some very definite ideas for the concept behind their logo.  They were looking for something that focused on Delaware, and wanted to utilize the state outline, colors, and possibly use "D" as a design element.

2. First Drafts



I put together several different versions, and they chose the one they liked best.  After a couple rounds of revisions, we had a final look everyone was happy with.

3. Final Product and Promotional Pieces



We've been running full steam with it!  After the logo, we've designed business cards, door knocking literature, t-shirts, and even a billboard.  I have to say, I'm looking forward to seeing my work from the highway.  That'll be a first for me, but hopefully just one of many milestones.

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Women and the Workplace - Learning from Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In

Oh my gosh.  I don't even know where to start with this.  Have you watched Sheryl Sandberg's TED Talk?  If so, you'll have a good idea what her book is about, but if not, go watch it!!!

The book delves deeper into the things that hold women back from career success and leadership: cultural bias, gender differences and different style of communication from men, and even the way we think and perceive our own value!

I'll attempt to discuss this in some sort of organized fashion, but I do wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  I listened to it on audiobook and found that a very enjoyable format (despite not being a fan of audiobooks in general), though I do wish it was Sandberg reading it.


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead - ♥♥♥♥♥

As a woman, even in the millenial generation with our infamous entitlement issues, I was struck by the many, many examples that Sandberg gave that embodied my exact behaviors in the workplace.  She talks about women being underconfident while men tend more towards the overconfident side.  She describes our hesitation to put ourselves forward, and how we value being perceived as "nice" higher than "successful."

There are a few tips I want to share, in case you never get around to reading the book (though that would be a shame!).  These are the things we can address directly, without having to battle an entire culture of entrenched subconscious beliefs.

1) Sit at the Table

I love that Sandberg comes up with these catchphrases for her concepts, because it makes it so easy to share!  In the book, she describes a meeting where the women all chose to sit at the back at the room rather than at the table with the rest of the group, even after being invited.  Sandberg points to this as an example of how women don't put themselves forward, and how you'll be perceived by others as lacking confidence or ability when you do this.  "Sitting at the table" is an apt metaphor keeping yourself in the forefront.

2) Keep Your Hand Up

In this anecdote, Sandberg tells a room of men and women that she'll only take 2 more questions.  After those questions, the women put their hand down but the men keep theirs up.  Sandberg takes more questions, but since the men are the only ones still putting themselves forward and actively asking to be heard, they're the only ones who get their questions answered.  The message here is similar to sitting at the table - don't let yourself be ignored or left out.

3) Don't Leave Before You Leave

This specifically refers to the tendency women have to start making room for family planning before even having children.  While some might claim that this is simply a practical choice, it's not one that's expected of men, and somehow men are able to balance work and children without having to make those same sacrifices.  It's entirely possible (and probable) that some work or career sacrifices will have to be made at some point down the line if there are children involved, BUT Sandberg points out that pulling back from your career before even having a child or conceiving will only contribute to a less fulfilling career and less possibilities and advancements further down the line.

4) Make Your Partner an Equal Partner

Here Sandberg discusses the flip side of the issue - while women are judged negatively for their career successes, men are judged negatively for taking a larger role in the home.  In order to overcome inequality, both partners in a relationship have to work towards (or "lean into") the roles that society would dictate toward their husband or wife.  A woman is far more likely to achieve career success if chores and childcare are split evenly with her husband, and divorce rates are much lower in households where both parents contribute towards total earnings.  Not only that, overall marital satisfaction is happier when work and home are shared as evenly as possible.

Cultural Bias and Other "Hard" Stuff

Now that we've got the easy stuff out of the way, I'd also like to mention some of the more difficult challenges.  Specifically a study Sandberg references in both her TED Talk and her book.  An overview of a person's career was handed out to several students.  Half of the stories talked about Howard, and half talked about Heidi, but every detail other than name and pronouns was the same.

Despite the fact that these were the exact same achievements, people's perceptions (male and female) of Howard were generally favorable, but Heidi was perceived negatively.  This highlights our society's tendency to think of men as domineering, aggressive go-getters, while women are supposed to be nurtering and care for others rather than themselves.

I've discussed this with several people and I believe the problem (the majority of it, anyway) is not blatant sexism.  I believe the problem is our deeply entrenched values that we don't realize we have!  I know I don't typically invest a ton of thought into my first reactions to people.  And I've met very few women leaders that I've liked.  Is that because they were genuinely unpleasant people or was that because I was being influenced by our societal expectations?  That's a more difficult question to answer.

But the case remains that until we become aware of our subconscious prejudices, we cannot fight them.  And I think everyone has them.  I certainly wouldn't have said I judged women for being successful, but the more I educate myself on this topic, I'm not so sure.  Sandberg says as much in her book.  A study done showed that the people who thought themselves the least biased, ended up altering job criteria the most depending on whether the candidate was male or female.  If a man had a criterion, it was crucial.  If a woman had it, then it really wasn't that criterion, but something else that would make for a good candidate.

It is my hope (and Sandberg's) that Lean In is the starting point to a shared conversation that everyone needs to have (for more resources, check out LeanIn.org).  I don't think people need to drop what they're doing and change all their life decisions.  But I think it's crucial that those mindsets be explored, and that we make an effort to overcome our subconscious biases.  Tackling my own has been revealing and even inspiring (if scary at times).  As Sandberg says, "We cannot change what we are unaware of."

After reading (or listening to) Lean In, I don't feel frustrated with the situation, though there's plenty to be frustrated by.  I feel motivated to do my part to fix it, and inspired to shake off some of the chains I didn't realize I had placed on myself.

There was one question Sandberg asks that I found incredibly meaningful.  She asks, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"  We all have things we like to dream about, that we "would do" if it wasn't for fear, obligation, or not wanting to be perceived a certain way.  And now that I've read this book, I'm ready to do those things.  Fear isn't holding me back anymore.

What would you do?

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Website Update!

My business has been undergoing some changes this year, and especially in the next couple of months, and I'd finally gotten to the point where I couldn't put it off anymore.  With web trends being what they are - constantly changing - it's hard to stay updated, and today's exciting new feature can easily end up being tomorrow's nuisance.  (Remember flashing header images and animated flash splash pages?)

In any case, I struck a balance between using some of the new, updated standards, but keeping things simple and clean enough that I won't need to change the site again in the next 6 months.  (In an ideal world, websites would be updated once a year, or every other year at the minimum!  But we're all realists here, and it's a rare company that has the leisure and resources to do just that.)

What can you expect to see on the new site?

1) A Cleaner "Look"



I still loved the design of my site, so while I agonized for a few months over stripping away all the texture and color and leaving a bare bones version suitable for the current minimalism trend, I ultimately decided against it.  I did, however, remove the JavaScript sliders from the home page (remember what I said about tomorrow's nuisance?), pulled all the contact information out of the header, and made my footer into something that is useful rather than swirly, pretty, and ultimately useless.

2) Less Clutter



In addition to the look, the content has been streamlined.  The contact form is available on every page, so you don't have to go searching for it.  The quote form is in with the rates and services, and there's just generally less fluff.  If there's words somewhere, it's to convey useful information.

3) Updated Galleries!



As much as I loved Lightbox, I have to admit it's falling to the wayside.  And for good reason!  It's difficult to use on phones and touch screens.  So after much research, I've switched myself and my clients over to Fotorama, another open source image gallery.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again, web designers and developers are such an amazing crowd!  The resource sharing that goes on is absolutely amazing and I am so grateful for the people who provide these things for everyone to use.

4) HTML5 Transitions



This is one of the features people are going crazy with now that I think will be obsolete in a couple years, BUT I couldn't resist!  I went very, very light with it, so you won't see things zooming and fading all over the page, but there are some simple hover effects on my front page and various other buttons and links.

So there you have it!  I always think it's not possible for me to love my website anymore, but every time I update it, it's like the first time.  I hope I'm not the only one who feels that way!

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