Sunday, April 29, 2007

More green hosting options from Green Options

In the interest of further exploring the green web hosting thang, I happened upon an article by Megan Prusynski, a fellow designer/greenie and member of the HOW Forum (one of my favorite hangouts on the internets).

In the article, Greening the Web: green hosting options, Megan provides a decent list of web hosts that are either powered exclusively by renewable energy or they offset their energy use by purchasing renewable energy credits. I still recommend Dreamhost, but it's nice to know that there are other companies out there doing their part.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dreamhost goes green!

The other day, I got the best news ever from my friend RJ over at Plenty Magazine. Dreamhost, the amazing web service that I've been using for two years to host the zen kitchen's websites, has just become carbon neutral.

In addition to purchasing Green-e certified renewable energy credits, they've also purchased Carbon Credits from The Gold Standard.

For more information about Dreamhost's green commitment, visit the Dreamhost website.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Freelance isn't free

The other day I was hanging out on one of my many designer forums, and a regular on the forum posted a rant about a potential client who had contacted him about his services, gushed over his portfolio, and said that they'd LOVE to work with him. Sounds pretty good, right?

The problem was the next sentence in the e-mail, which read:

"Just so you know, this is a freelance position, so it will not be paid. But after this is done, we will need other materials, such as brochures and websites and flyers, and if all goes well, we will be able to pay you for those.

Now, mind, I could have some strong words to say here, but I won't go there. What I will say is that this is one of the reasons that I personally, even when the zen kitchen was just me, have strategically avoided using the word "freelance" to describe what I do.

It's that word "free," you see. It has so many connotations to it - from the idea of a freelancer being someone who lacks commitment to your business (which anyone who knows me will tell you is not the case), to the idea of a freelancer being someone who will work - well - for free. Not all clients believe this, mind you - I have several clients that I occasionally do freelance for, and they respect my work and my time, and pay me well for it - but there are enough naive clients out there that do, in fact, believe that they can get work for free from designers (and enough poor unsuspecting designers who actually WILL work for free on the vague promise of more work down the road) that being a freelancer is a ticket to being taken less seriously.

So what do you call yourself, if not a freelancer? I'm an independent designer, or I run my own design studio, or I'm a zen warrior princess. You choose.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My #1 e-mail marketing pet peeve

So, as can be expected, I am signed up for a LOT of e-mail newsletters. Publishing one myself (which you can sign up for at the tzk website - I'm so good with the self-promotion I is!), I find it nice to see what others are doing in the e-mail marketing arena, and occasionally I like to get updates on things I've become interested in.

But after a while, you realize that my goodness, you have too much to READ lately. And some newsletters prove less interesting than others, or they lose their pertinance to my life over time. And in this case, I have no problems taking myself off the list - and maybe I'll even come back someday.

But every once in a while, when I take myself off a list, the list manager program the newsletter publisher is using does something incredibly annoying. In my inbox, after I update my preferences to let them know that I don't want to get any more e-mail from them, I GET ANOTHER E-MAIL FROM THEM asking me to go to their website and CONFIRM that I no longer want to receive their e-mail. In the case of this morning's deletion of the Boston Streetsweeper notices (because I no longer live on the streets they're telling me about, and haven't in almost a year), it was just the one e-mail. But in the case of one list I took myself off (for a nightclub running nights I'm not really interested in anymore), I received an e-mail asking me to confirm at the website, then ANOTHER e-mail confirming that I confirmed.

This is the thing with e-mail marketing: in certain cases, it's a good idea to have someone confirm that they want to receive your e-mail. It's an extra courtesy to them, and it keeps those annoying SPAM accusations at bay. Engineers really like to confirm e-mail subscriptions. Your average Joe Consumer typically doesn't. But I can't imagine ANYONE who would unsubscribe to a list and be pleased when they get another e-mail from the list they're unsubscribing to asking them to confirm that they DON'T want to receive your e-mail. Seriously - it's just bad karma all around.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pushing the web envelope

I just happened across this incredible site for author Miranda July's new collection of short stories, Noone Belongs Here More than You. What's great about this site is the concept - a story told on the top of the author's appliances with dry-erase marker, and links to outside sources to actually purchase the book and read more about the offer. It's brilliant - simple, entertaining, and it fits the author's personality (and the personality of the book) perfectly. If you have a second, definitely check it out.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Getting into the Marketing Flow

One of my biggest challenges since starting the zen kitchen almost a year and a half ago has been fitting in time to do all the marketing necessary to keep the business afloat (and, frankly, keep the workday a bit more interesting). While I actually managed to achieve all the goals I had set forth in my initial marketing plan (and in about the timeframe I had set forth too - without even looking at it again!), it's still a weekly challenge to get myself motivated to do all the things I've decided to do to market myself, evaluate what's working and what needs a shift, and do all that lovely strategic thinking that I'm just so GOOD at doing for the zen kitchen's clients.

So what's a gal to do? For me, the answer involved hiding out for a while and taking lots of long baths and meditating. It ALSO, however, involved revisiting my marketing plan and setting new goals for the next two quarters, as well as finally making good use of my paper planner (yes, I know, paper - but what can I say, I'm a journaler!) to keep me on track and note progress in the areas I've defined as my focus.

Some things you're likely to see from me over the next six months:

• More frequent blog posts (goal: 2-3 per week), and likely shorter ones;
• A more consistent schedule for my e-newsletter (which you can sign up for at the tzk website). I'm going for the 3rd Wednesday of the month, and might move to the 2nd Wednesday if that turns out to work better.
• A new, shorter format to the e-newsletter (right now it feels unmanageable, so I think I'm going to scale back on some of the more extraneous bits)
• A new website (finally), scaled-back on initial launch to include some basic info on why you should work with the zen kitchen (because you should, really!), but adding more features over the course of the next six months, including links to articles I've written and (eventually) some e-books.
• A new focus on ethically-driven businesses, and an unapologetic incorporation of food metaphors (after all, it is a kitchen, right?)

So hopefully, that'll take some of the overwhelm out of the whole marketing thang, and I'll be able to get this down. I'd love to hear about how you get into your own marketing flow. Drop me a comment and let me know what you're up to in your business (and I mean any kind of business).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Local vs. Chain: is one more "responsible?"

Lately, there's been a fascinating debate going on within my local community regarding supporting local business vs. supporting larger chains. This is mostly due to a local chain, Boloco, that recently took over one of the buildings in the area due to the community's general lack of interest in the local business that was in the building. While it is a local chain (started in Boston, near Berklee), the feeling of one particular group in the community is that anything resembling a "chain" doesn't belong in the Square, and that people should be supporting local independent businesses instead of the larger chain. To this group, supporting local businesses seems to mean you're being more socially responsible than those who go to chains.

Now while I'm all in favor of supporting local businesses (Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square, for example, is a regular shopping destination for me), this entire debate begs the question: does being a local (i.e. non-chain) business somehow make you more "responsible" than a larger (i.e. chain) business? Does your moral compass somehow get misdirected because you have more locations? And, if you decide to give your business to a chain instead of a smaller business, does this somehow make you less socially responsible than others who base their purchase decisions on how small and/or local a place is?

I guess I have different criteria than others. What I look for in a business I support is a business (no matter how big or small) that offers a quality product/service, is actively working towards creating a positive experience for their customers and their employees, and the environment. Sometimes this means I'm getting my groceries at Whole Foods or coffee at Starbucks. Sometimes this means I'm eating dinner at a local restaurant or buying veggies at the Farmer's Market or a local specialty shop. But when I don't see those criteria being met (for example, the staff are surly and unhelpful, the product just isn't that good, or the place isn't making an active effort to at least reduce waste in their practices or move to less harmful materials) - no matter how small or local the business is - I'm not going to support it. And I don't see anything wrong with saying that.

How do you feel about this? What criteria do you use when choosing who you spend your money with?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Harry Potter Goes Green!

Okay, so it's not often that I mention this in a "business" setting, but I LOVE Harry Potter. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Not so much Harry, but the books. LOVE them. So yeah. Anyway. According to the good folks at More Hip than Hippie, the final installment of the HP series (which, yes, I've pre-ordered) is going to be the greenest of all the books - the mainstream edition will be printed with 30% minimum postconsumer waste, and there's going to be a special "deluxe" edition printed on 100% postconsumer.

Time to check in with Amazon and see if I can upgrade my order...

For the full article, visit this link from

Monday, April 02, 2007

Word of Mouth Marketing: Can you Convert the Cynics?

Today, while chatting with a really terrific potential client, the conversation turned to some feedback that had been gathered quite coincidentally in an online community that both he and I participated in. In it, the poster made some unflattering commentary about the client's business, and a few other folks in the community followed suit, citing similar businesses in the same location that they felt did a better job than them.

Mind you, there were plenty of folks that had positive things to say, but these few folks, who were making negative comments stuck out in the client's mind and visibly bothered him.

Then the question came: "How do we convince these people how great we really are? How do you deal with that kind of negativity?"

My answer? A couple of things.

1) Speak your truth. Be authentically Who You Are and communicate that on every level - from your website to your brochures to your in-store marketing to every single thing you do to market yourself. You know you're doing great things. Tell people. And don't be shy about it.

2) Be open to what they're saying. There's a lesson in every criticism - the fact that someone's even bothering to GIVE it is a sign that they're invested in your brand. Be open to what they say, thank them honestly for their feedback, and tell them what you're going to do about it. That doesn't mean that everything they tell you is something you can (or even should) put into action, but just the fact that their opinions are being considered is a positive thing in the eyes of the customer.

3) (and this is the most important piece) Don't focus on converting the critics - focus on treating the people who already love you well and getting them to spread the word. Let's face it - there will be catty, negative people no matter where you are. It's a fact of life. Your job as a business owner isn't to convert them. Your job is to find the people that love you already - the folks who call you time and again for work, the folks who come in every Wednesday at 6:30 on the dot and order the same thing. Treat THOSE people well - ask them what they love about you and what they'd love to see more of, and let them know how much you appreciate their business. Then, ask them to spread the word about you and bring others.

That's the true meaning of word-of-mouth. It's not about convincing people who just want to be catty and likely won't listen to you anyway. It's about creating a positive relationship with the folks who already know and love what you do, clearly identifying and conveying what it IS you do and why it matters, and about getting those folks who love you to spread the love to everyone they know.