Category Archives: Creative Improv

It’s that time of year again: to see where I’ve been and where I’m going. This has become an annual tradition: 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. And now for 2014…

Photography

  • Completed a 365 day photo project – I set out to learn more about flash and lighting in photography. To do so, I challenged myself to make one photograph a day that utilized lighting.
  • Related to the first point, I grew my photography gear by purchasing a second speedlight, my first studio light (AlienBees B800) and many light modifiers (color gels, grids, mini-softbox, etc)
  • I learned a bit about pet photography. Wrangling a beagle and a cat, as well as lighting to get a good photo is an interesting challenge
  • Among the many things I learned to photograph this year is glass – Things like vases and glass bottles.
  • Discovered ‘free-lensing‘ – where you reverse your lens to capture macro photos. It’s amazing what daily curiosity and experimenting will produce!
  • Photographed smoke on colored backgrounds, in camera – when previously, I could only produce the same image with lots of Photoshop fakery.
  • Honed the ‘white background’ look. It helps when you have more than one light.
  • Did my first real photo shoot – a newborn/family shoot with friends. All my lighting experience definitely helped make me feel comfortable with using 1 and 2 lights.

Personal

  • Paid 2 large debts off while continuing to follow the Dave Ramsey, ‘Debt Snowball’ plan. Since January 2011, we’ve paid off approximately $80,000!
  • I read and applied the principles from the book, Getting Things Done  by David Allen. He puts forth a simple plan for day to day productivity – mostly centered around to-do lists and calendar usage – and a structure for regular review of your projects/lists/calendars. This is the first ‘productivity’ book I’ve read that has actually changed the way I get things done day to day.
  • Decided with my wife to have a baby (New Year’s Eve). She got pregnant 20 days later. Then we met Amelia Rose October 15th, 2014!
  • Continued projects on the house: New fencing, Baby room, installed hard wood stairs, renovated half of basement.
  • Launched a side project – DesignMyth.com – a project 2 years in the making. The website is the result of years of frustration surrounding the design industry and outsider perception of it.

Web Design

  • Continued to build websites using WordPress and features like custom fields/custom post types. This allows for very custom websites that are very easy to edit for the end client.
  • Continued my education of web technologies/software through Lynda.com

  • Completed projects in these areas: Websites, HTML emails, training, logos, photo licensing, photoshoots
  • Expanded my photography services – including a newborn photo shoot and licensing my Kirksville photos locally.
  • Made my business processes more efficient by utilizing lists, how-to’s and canned messages.
  • 28% increase in sales from 2013
  • Worked with 15 clients: 9 existing clients and 6 new clients
  • Completed my most extensive website project to-date: Also the one I’m most proud of since I started building websites in 2005 – That was the new website for Kirksville Tourism.

What I ‘shipped’ in 2014

Seth Godin talks a lot about ‘shipping’ (or launching/putting out into the public). He is a big proponent of, ‘ship early and ship often.’ Meaning – if you have a project that you’re waiting until it is ‘just right’ to launch – push through and launch (or ship) it now. In 2010, Seth Godin challenged his readers to think about what they ‘shipped’ the previous year. I think this is a great way to hold my own feet to the fire and assess what I launched/shipped in the last 12 months. Here is what I shipped in 2014:

  • Crushed 2 debts
  • Created 365 photos that utilized studio lighting/flash units.
  • Contributed 113 photos to iStockPhoto
  • Crafted and Launched 19 websites (12 with Creative Improv & 7 with my full-time job)
  • Launched a side project – DesignMyth.com
  • Crafted 2 HTML emails
  • Designed 1 logo

2013 year in review

It seems I’ve started an annual tradition where I recap my year personally and professionally, to see where I’ve been and where I’m going. See the past years: 2010, 2011, 2012… and now 2013…

Personal

  • Paid off 2 large debts while following the Davey Ramsey, debt snowball idea.
  • Bought my first house with Rebecca (her second house)
  • Completed numerous renovation projects with Rebecca: installed laminate, crown molding, light fixtures, bathroom fixtures, and painted an infinity of white walls.

Photography

  • Focused on learning about and creating landscape photos. This included long-exposure, focus stacking and HDR techniques. Check out my best 13 landscape photos.
  • Learned a whole lot about HDR editing techniques from Trey Ratcliff (via his video course) – i.e. this photo
  • Began placing my best photos on my new 500px profile – as a result, one of my photos made it to the 500px ‘Upcoming’ page. This page is where photos that are voted/favorited in a high percentage are placed.
  • Finally got some good fireworks photos (after a few years of failed attempts)
  • Started doing photography as part of my freelance work, rather than solely for personal enjoyment and iStockPhoto.
  • Contributed 67 photos and raster illustrations to iStockPhoto (two times more than 2012) – where they can be licensed by people worldwide.
  • Increased my iStockPhoto sales by 50% from 2012

Check out some of the photos I contributed to iStock this year:

landscape photos Arizona  Austin, TX

Web Design

  • Created many responsive (mobile-friendly) websites while continually learning about creating better responsive websites
  • Attended my first web design conference, An Event Apart. I gained a lot of clarity about what I need to learn next. I blogged about each and every talk from the conference here.
  • Started building WordPress websites that utilize custom fields and custom post types. This allows the client to very easily edit their website content, in a failproof manner
    • This technique landed the largest web design client I’ve had to-date!

Creative Improv, my freelance business

  • Implemented the very first redesign of CreativeImprov.com – the new website is mobile-friendly and reflects my current skills.
  • Worked with 27 clients to create meaningful websites, print campaigns and logos. 10 of which were new relationships and 17 were returning clients.
  • Grew Creative Improv by 36% from 2012 – all while creating higher quality work than ever before.

What I ‘shipped’ in 2013

In 2010, Seth Godin challenged his readers to think about what they ‘shipped’ the previous year. Here is what I shipped in 2013:

  • Crushed 2 large debts
  • Contributed 67 stock photos to iStockPhoto
  • Crafted 11 websites
  • Crafted 11 HTML Emails
  • Designed 2 logos
  • Designed 6 print pieces (billboard, business cards, etc)

2012 Year in Review

Personally

  • Officially became free of all credit card debt while paying off 4 large debts using the debt snowball idea from Dave Ramsey
  • Completed numerous house projects – renovated kitchen, refinished shed, shutters, doors, etc.

Photography

  • Learned many new post-processing techniques to use while processing my photographs. Check out my photos here!
  • Became an exclusive contributer at iStockPhoto.com, meaning I no longer sell stock photos at many other websites. Learn more here!
  • Speaking of iStock, my earnings have quadrupled from 2011
  • Cranked out many watercolor raster illustrations which were really popular on iStock. Check them out here!
  • Created 33 stock photos (photos and illustrations combined) in 2012. This is down 300% from the previous year but the new work’s popularity outweighs the previous work’s popularity

Website Design

  • Honed my WordPress, responsive design, and HTML5/CSS3 skills through constant Lynda.com training courses

My business, Creative Improv

  • Worked with 25 clients to create meaningful websites, logos and print collateral. 10 of which were brand new client relationships

What I ‘shipped’ in 2012

In 2010, Seth Godin challenged his readers to think about what they ‘shipped’ the previous year. So here’s goes:

  • Crushed 4 debts
  • Created 33 Stock Photos
  • Crafted 15 Websites
  • Designed 3 Logos
  • Designed 4 Print Pieces
  • Crafted 3 Motion Graphics Pieces
  • Created 4 HTML Emails

 

 

Just yesterday, I spoke to Lambda Pi Eta, the communication department’s honor society at Truman State University. I was connected to them by fellow Mountain Dew and Twitter addict, Don Krause (@santee). I was über nervous about speaking, as I always am, but I think I overcame that fear.

I talked about my experience with social media as the owner/designer of Creative Improv and why brands need to care about social media.

A few quick notes, I had tweeted to UPS and FedEx 3 times in the last few days (once during my presentation) and hadn’t received a response from them until just now. @FedExRobin responded – you can see her tweet here.

Check out my presentation below. I recorded it a day after I gave the presentation to the folks at Truman.

  • Created and launched 18 websites
  • Created 3 logos
  • Created and coded 4 HTML emails
  • Created 5 motion graphic pieces (animated banners and otherwise)
  • Connected with 10 Creative Improv clients to complete design projects of all sorts
  • Grew Creative Improv by over 30%
  • Learned guitar well enough to play with a singer – see YouTube.com/rebakville
  • Learned a lot about photography and became a contributor to iStock, Shutterstock, and many other stock websites.
  • Most importantly, I met the woman I will spend the rest of my life with, and proposed to her – see StephenLovesRebecca.com

It seems that Google Local Business Listing has fallen under the radar, at least in my sphere of influence. So I wanted to share some advice to anyone who runs a small business or provides a marketable service.

What is it? Google Local Business Listing is a way to get your business on Google Maps and subsequently Google search results…for free.

Why is this important? When someone searches for your product or service along with your city, your business will show up, top ‘o the list.

Localized. As I mentioned above, you get free local advertising on Google. When folks search a keyword plus your city, local businesses are displayed above  the regular search results.

Build Street Cred Whether you sell cheeseburgers or wedding dresses, Google Local Business Listings is one big way to build your street cred. How? Customers can write reviews of your product or service for others to see. Don’t be shy about asking customers to write a review for you on Google. I’m not. This is also an incentive to provide top notch service and products to your customers, because you may receive bad reviews too!

How much does it cost? Nothing is free these days… but this sure is and…

It works! At least for me. I’ve gotten one client so far by using Google Local Business Listings. Google has begun sending out periodic stats on how many hits you receive from your listing as well! Now, you might be asking….

How do I sign up? Go here and login with your Google account and simply fill a few things out!

http://stephenemlund.com/redesign/sd

Today I presented to a group of teachers at Truman State University about using social networking tools and blogging to grow support for gecko mathematics – a unique math curriculum that was translated into English from Korean. Last year Creative Improv, the design firm I run built a website, blog and social network profiles for gecko math – we called it ‘Publish the Gecko‘, because it is a campaign to get publishers interested in gecko mathematics. This Summer, a grad-level course was put together to show elementary level teachers how to use this curriculum. I was asked to speak about the marketing of the curriculum through social networks and blogging and show the teachers how they might share things about the curriculum with their educator friends.

I will have a video of my talk very soon, but for now here is just a bit of what I shared:

  • TV, newspapers and radio used to be the global platform – today that global platform is the Internet – a world wide web filled with social networks, websites and blogs.
  • This new global platform allows ANYONE who has good content, products or services to gain support for free. This is HUGE.
  • Blogs – a successful blog is one that encourages interaction among the community of people with the same interest
  • Facebook – a way for businesses or organizations to reach their target audience on a personal level. It puts a face on an otherwise faceless corporation. If you have a business, you should have a facebook fan page and talk to your fans often and encourage feedback
  • Twitter – basically the SMS of the Internet – a quick way to share short messages. Retweeting or forwarding messages has huge endorsement power, because you are saying this person or business is worth paying attention to.
  • Retweeting has the power to make something go ‘viral’
  • All these online tools are a way to interact with a community of people online that have the same interests as you – whether it is someone else who shares your love for the Smurfs or someone who might be interested in your business, product or service. Dude, smurf it up!
  • Today, blogs, social networks and websites have provided the opportunity for anyone to pursue what you love – for more on this idea watch the following video (try to ignore the language)

Opportunity is missed by people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

— Thomas Edison

Read ‘opportunity’ as ‘success’. Want to be successful (in term of business)? Work your tail off and be talented, rinse and repeat. Don’t expect ‘success’ over night. Gary Vaynerchuk sums it up nicely in the video below.

Path of Principles homepage, featuring a slideshow with images generated from Flickr, color-coded buttons and news/social media links

Path of Principles subpage featuring a visual timeline slider and popup captions to define certain keywords

Check out the live ‘Path of Principles’ website

We (Creative Improv) recently launched a website for the national Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity. It aims to provide a home for their lifelong membership training program. This project focused on their program, prospective audiences and social media links. We gave specific attention to outlining key information via visual sliders as well as an ease of use and navigation.

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