Becoming a Small Town Creative

This blog post was cross posted on The Laurel Mercantile Journal. Check it out here

Although Laurel is a small town relatively speaking, I grew up in a town that makes Laurel look like New York City.  It was understood that if fun was happening, it was up to me and my brothers to find it. Television was a Saturday morning thing, cartoons on demand certainly didn’t exist and the closest thing to an iPad was my etch-a-sketch. I vividly remember creating back yard soup concoctions in a green five gallon bucket with my next door neighbor on a regular basis. I also remember spending three consecutive days one summer choreographing a line dance to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” I still know every move to this day.

 
Pickard Kids Childhood
 
 
Pickard Kids 2
 

Childhood brings out our inner creative, doesn’t it? Yet, at some point, as we grow up, the outside world filters into the beautiful imagination we’ve been given and tells us there’s no time for that anymore. It’s time to be an adult, get practical and chase the American dream. I would argue, though, that the key to living out that dream is going right back to the place where we created things for the sake of creating. After all, creativity is simply imagination mixed with a goal to make things better. Forget the three car garage. Give me something that inspires the soul.

The Creative “Gene”

I often hear people say they don’t have the creative “gene.” While it’s impossible to ignore that some people have a distinct, God-given artistic talent, I also believe that genuine creativity can be found in something as simple as a “yes.” And I believe it’s critical for those living small towns to recognize that a “yes” is all it takes to make a significant impact where you live. While we may not all be artists or sculptors, we can all contribute our ideas and time to create positive change.

Here in Laurel, we have artists, woodworkers, boutique owners and antique finders. And we also have volunteers, churches, organizations, clubs, athletes and people young and old – all who have the ability to make a contribution to this town. Laurel has seen a transformation in the last few years, not only because of a television show, but also because a lot of people genuinely care about making things better. In a small town, a “yes” goes a long way. And Laurel is proof of that.

There are a few key things that, whether a creative by definition or by self-designation, are shared by “yes” people.

1.    The willingness to work for it.

Years ago, I entered a graduate school program that assumed the students admitted knew how to use the latest graphic software. Not only was I older than most in my program (I had worked between undergraduate and graduate school), I also had never learned how to use this particular type of software. It presented quite a problem when our first assignment was to design an advertising campaign using the software. Lucky me.

Regardless of what I knew or didn’t, the assignment was the same for me as it was for my peers, most of whom were quite skilled graphic designers. But letting that intimidate me wouldn’t help a single thing. The assignment resulted in many long nights alone in the computer lab, teaching myself how to become a graphic designer. Today, my methods might seem odd to a trained professional, and you’ll never see me teach a YouTube video on how to create a logo, but the end goal was accomplished.

Screen Shot 2018-07-17 at 8.41.35 AM.png

I’ll never forget the girl who sat next to me in that class. Not only is she still friend to this day, but I’m not sure I would have completed the class had she not helped me. Doing something to make an impact in your town will require extra hours and help from others, but it will always be worth it.

2. Outside-the-box thinking.

If your town does the same thing every year because “that’s the way we did it last year,” I want to issue a challenge. Start the next conversation, board or committee meeting with, “What can we do this year to make it better?” Creative gene or not, everyone has original ideas to contribute that can make a difference. And if everything is working, then great! But, the more we open ourselves to new perspectives, we may find that there is room for improvement.

Small towns tend to get stuck in a rut. The remedy is being intentional about outside-the-box thinking. Encourage diversity, listen to perspectives from all ages, empower others to lead and let their “yes” truly make a difference.

3. Leave it better than you found it.

This goes for everything from cleaning up trash on the sidewalk to turning an old, dilapidated building into a new coffee shop. Active, creative thinking in a small town means finding ways to leave something better than you found it. This means turning five gallon bucket into a massive bowl of soup, y’all. Looking for space for your next event? Find a parking lot or public space that needs some love, grab some friends and make it your mission to turn it into something beautiful. 

It doesn’t take a degree in fine art, knowledge of graphic design software (trust me) or the ability to play an instrument to be creative in a small town. It takes a community of people willing to say “yes,” the investment of time, open minds and hearts. It’s not rocket science. It’s creativity, imagination mixed with a goal to make things better. 

 

New Instagram Updates Your Small Biz Needs to Know

June has been a big month for Instagram! Coming off a recent local training for business owners, I feel like there's always more Insta knowledge and learning that can be shared week up on week. There have been several clarifications, new announcements and upcoming ideas announced by Instagram that are really important and small business owners need to know. 

 
Instagram Updates
 

The Algorithm
Instagram knows they threw a wholllllleeee lotta people off with the algorithm change. No longer do we see posts in the order in which they were posted, but now the way we see these posts is determined by many different factors. 

1. Relevancy Sorting
Basically, Instagram is giving people what they want to see by showing posts in feeds based on how relevant it is to the person viewing. Here's how it works. Instagram relies on your past behavior to create a customized feed JUST FOR THE VIEWER. This means the feed is literally customized based on how the user interacts with different accounts. Crazy, right?.

2. Interest
Instagram will rank posts higher by the user's past behavior. This means, their little machines will actually analyze the content of the post. Here is an example: If Joe and Tom both follow ABC Shoe Store, and Joe shops and searches for shoes all the time on Instagram, Joe will see content more often from ABC Shoe Store than Tom does. Tom may never see some of the posts by ABC Shoe Store.

3. Recency
How recent the post was shared is definitely a factor when it comes to what people see. More timely posts generally come first, BUT Instagram does push out older posts if the user interacts with that account a lot (see point #1 above). The more a user comments, tags and engages with other accounts will determine how much they see the content from those accounts. 

3. Frequency
How often you are in Instagram and how many people follow can impact what you're seeing. For example, if you follow thousands of accounts, you may see fewer posts from any one account.

4. Usage
How long people are spending on Instagram is also factored into the equation. Not only things like total time browsing but also the length of time a user spends on the app determines how what content they see. Instagram will prioritize the most popular content if they know a user is only going to be on the app for a few seconds each day. Whereas, they may show more/different content if you're on the app all day long. 

Why This Matters for Your Business
Here is the kicker. With all of these changes, the most important thing for your business to do is focus on quality content and engagement. Don't worry bout posting every day if your content isn't good quality. Posting things that will get people talking means more people will see it, which is what we want. 

Also, if you post a sale, event or special every day, it may never make it in front of your customer.  Or, they may see it two days after the sale ends. So, think before you post, "Could I use my story for this?" Stories are a great way to post content relevant to that day, since they are seen by anyone (not just your followers).

What's Coming - Long-Form Video
Instagram is introducing long-form video to the app (woo hoo!!!). This means, party people, that basically Instagram is becoming You Tube. I personally have a love/hate with YouTube (ever used it to save your toddler from a meltdown and a commercial come on????) So, I'm going to put in my request to Instagram to do without the five second commercials. Please and thank you.

With long-form video, you can post videos for up to an hour. Further proof that Instagram is taking over the world. So, get your cameras ready and prepare to use this tool for your business to show off anything you want without getting cut off after 15 seconds. Read about it here

That's a wrap on the Instagram updates. Keep up that good content, and I'll do my best to keep you posted as more new updates arise.

 

 

 

How Community Can Make Your Small Business Thrive

 

I have never been more encouraged professionally than I was this week. On Tuesday, nearly 50 women (and two brave men) from around Jones County came to the YWCO to learn how to make their businesses better using Instagram. I felt the truest sense of community - all from a little app that sits on a cell phone. I was blown away. 

Say all the negative that you want about social media, but I am convinced that there is so much good in it. I have been encouraged this week by people commenting on my feed, asking if I plan to do the class again, wishing they had been able to join. And these are people I don't know. I had a new friend from Georgia discover my blog and send some kind words, reminding me why I started this in the first place - community. Finding my tribe, leaning into new ideas, challenging other women and men in their creative genius and helping those who struggle to find any creative bone in their body. Finding and learning from my people.  

At the event on Tuesday, I made a precious new friend who struggles with finding the right content to promote a non-profit with a sensitive subject matter, a successful woman who has several businesses in town and struggles with getting ahead in strategy and planning, a sweet jewelry maker who wants to find her community and enjoy serving them in an honest and transparent way. While we might have all all been passionate about Instagram, were are all passionate about something. And we are trying to soak up everything we can to make these dreams we have work. This is the GOOD in social media, y'all. 

Laura Johns, Instagram for Business
The Small Town Creative Instagram Class

In a world where our news feeds are filled with nasty political jabs, articles that remind us we're feeding our kids all the wrong things and opinions that could drive us all insane, community is what reminds us that in this big ole world, we can find the people who will encourage us and keep us going when we're no longer inspired - those who will remind us why we started in the first place. And those who will tell us that we don't have to have everything together to do something good and create positive change.

I once listened to a podcast where someone was talking about community. He asked, "Will a plant thrive if you stick it in a closet without sunlight or water?" He added that a for day or two, the plant would be fine. One might look at it on the outside and not see any immediate difference. But after a week or two, the plant will wilt in solitude. 

We need community to encourage us, help us, remind us why we are doing what we are doing and help us keep our heads up when all we want to do is lock ourselves in a closet with no exposure to the outside world. And I'm convinced that as small business owners, entrepreneurs and solo marketers, we need a little extra inspiration (since we're the ones expected to inspire people to buy in to what we are offering).

This world is hard enough, y'all. Find your community. Find your people. Weed out those who bring you down or make you feel further from the place where you know you love to be. We all have that moment where we realized - THIS is what I'm supposed to be doing...THIS brings me life. Find people who bring you life. This will bring life to your business. Exchanging ideas over coffee once a week, weekly lunch bunch to talk about all the things that frustrate you (Let's get real, y'all. It's not all peaches and rainbows.) I encourage you this week to find one or two and start to grow and learn from them. It's a beautiful thing when people come together in community.  

If you're interested in catching the FREE 31-day Instagram for Business Content Calendar I offered in the class, you can CLICK HERE and grab your free download. 

 

 

 

Downtown Thursday Giveaway: Adam Trest "Eat Local" Print

 

I'm so excited to announce a GIVEAWAY this week in honor of Laurel's upcoming Downtown Thursday festivities. Starting this Thursday and continuing each week through the end of June, Laurel will be overflowing with fun. The summer will include everything from a first-class Farmers Market to live music, family-friendly movies and a variety of other special events each week. I have had the honor of participating on the planning team, and let me tell you, it is going to be an AWESOME summer. You can find everything you need to know at www.downtownthursday.com.

Downtown Thursday Details
This year, Downtown Movie Night will take place at The Backlot at 8 p.m. as usual. The Farmer's Market will now be at 5 p.m. on Magnolia Street downtown (between Central Avenue and Oak Street). We have a lineup of well over 30 vendors with everything from fresh seafood, to art, dog treats, blueberry lemonade, homemade candles and, of course, all the fresh produce you could want. This is the real deal, y'all. And I'm so excited about filling my bags full of goodies made by people in my own community and state. 

Each week, there will be something special to make the night even that much more exciting. This week, we'll have a fireworks show and live music by artist Kerry Thomas. On June 7, we have the pleasure of welcoming Erin and Ben Napier and live music by my friend and super talented musician, Topher Brown. June 14 will be Food Truck Night with a few special food trucks offering something unique for your taste buds. Grayson Capps will bring some blue-rock tunes that night. On June 21, we'll be celebrating the Big Easy with Mardi Gras Night with the John Milham Jazz Trio. Then, the final night, June 28, we will be celebrating Independence Day a little early with the Red, White and Vroom. Yours truly will be co-hosting with Amanda Matthews at Shug's from the Coca-Cola stage (at Southern Antiques). The highlight of the evening will be a Car and Bike Show

Adam Trest Eat Local Print

Giveaway Details
Now...what you've all been waiting for. My friend and artist Adam Trest just finished a BEAUTIFUL watercolor that I can already picture in my kitchen. The Eat Local painting is to commemorate the Farmers Market moving to Magnolia, right in front of the Adam Trest Home store. The painting is currently being made into prints, and we are giving you a chance to win one of the first batches of prints! Details can be found on my Instagram page, so hurry up and enter to win.  And special thanks to my friend Adam for allowing me to participate in this awesome giveaway. 

Adam Trest Eat Local Print
 
 

Creative Spotlight: EAU Jewelry

Sometimes, you have those friends that you know, no matter what they do, it will be successful. I want give a big shout out to Emily Brown. She is one of those people. Emily is one of my best friends, college suite mate and the person who I can always count on to bring encouragement when I need it most. She always has a way of making me look at things in a whole new way, and I think that's what makes her one of my favorite friends and also what makes her creativity so unique.

I'm honored that she Emily sees me as worthy of getting a "first look" at her jewelry experiments. Any jewelry request I've thrown at her, she's been up to the task. She is a brilliant artist, creator, maker and visionary. And her next genius creation is one for the books.

Me and Em in 2007, shoving ourselves into a cab with barely enough time to get back before our Martha's Vineyard shuttle left us. 

Me and Em in 2007, shoving ourselves into a cab with barely enough time to get back before our Martha's Vineyard shuttle left us. 

Emily grew up in Clinton, Mississippi, and attended Mississippi College (go Choctaws!). She married Wayne Brown, her college sweetheart and loved him wholeheartedly even though he went to Millsaps (kidding, y'all). Not long after they married, they headed off to Los Angeles to pursue what God had for them on the West Coast. Emily attended FIDM, one of the most well-known colleges for creatives in the world, and they served at Mosaic, an explosive missional church with multiple campuses in California. After L.A., Emily and Wayne made their way back to Mississippi (via Houston) and settled in Madison where she spends her time creating and raising their precious two little ones. 

Although Emily had been making jewelry for years, Emily officially started EAU Jewelry in 2013. Rather than waiting on someone to hand her a roadmap to difference making (admit it, some of us are still waiting for it), Emily had the vision to see that there was a way she could make difference in the world right from her home. She named her business EAU (French for water) and, bit by bit, Emily used her proceeds from EAU to give money to clean water organizations. It wasn't long before she was able to spread the love to other non-profits. 

 
Original water drop bangle bracelet from EAU Jewelry.

Original water drop bangle bracelet from EAU Jewelry.

 

With a simple style, Emily creates some of the most stunning pieces with her own two hands. "I love every piece I made with EAU, but I strive for everything to tell stories, like my nest and mama bear necklaces," Emily said. While Emily's business ebbs and flows with the demands of motherhood, she is able to draw inspiration from her children. "My kids inspire me to do what I love, and I want them to see how important it is to find joy in giving back," she said. "I think about lessons I want to teach by example, and those are two things are pretty high in priority for me."

While I can't choose what my favorites are either, the gold hoops are the item I would cry if I ever left at home while on a weekend trip. I also will forever love the knot bracelets that Emily made for several of my closes girlfriends on my wedding day. I still wear mine nearly every day.

 
 

Emily's Most Recent Work
Her most recent pieces are in limited supply, so I put my order in before this blog post published, of course. Emily's mother-in-law recently traveled to Israel and brought shells back from the Sea of Galilee. "She knew I loved to create jewelry and had seen my wire wrapped shells from previous vacations, so she gave them to me to make something," Emily said. "My entire life, I've carried stories in my heart that happened near this exact location," she added. "Now, I can wear shells to remind me of the miracles of Jesus daily."

Sea of Galilee Necklaces - EAU Jewelry
Sea of Galilee Necklaces

Shop this necklace now and customize your own Sea of Galilee treasure.

Keeping Up with the #Hashtags

 
Hashtags Blog Post

"I'm not good at hashtags."

"Do I need to have my own hashtag?"

"Why so many hashtags?"

Just a few of the questions I hear on the regular regarding Instagram. The truth is, sometimes hashtag research can be as time consuming as content development, but research shows that Instagram posts with at least one hastag typically perform 12.6% better than a post without hashtags. And posts with 11+ hashtags get the highest engagement (you can do up to 30 so max those bad boys out!). 

Ok, so I need to use them. But why?
Wondering why hashtags amp up your Insta? Because people have Google search so deeply embedded in their blood, that they are using social media platforms like Instagram as a search engine. I don't know about you, but I sometimes take my shopping inspiration straight from the little square app. In fact, you can actually follow hashtags you like or that might connect with your customers just to see what other people using that hashtag are saying.

Example, if you sell shoes, determine what hashtags your buyers would be searching for when they go to look for inspiration (black suede pump, classy shoes, dressy shoes), and there are some hashtag ideas. I even recommend splitting the hashtags into general to specific. For example, shoot for ten generic (#shoe, #shoes, #black shoe), ten mid-specific (#blackleathershoe) and ten specific (#blackpeeptoepump). This gives you variety and, in the event you get overlooked in the #shoe category, surely someone will notice that #blackpeeptoepump!

But hashtag research is exhausting.
Excuses, excuses! Well, yes, sometimes it is. But so is running a business. So, rather than you throwing a perfectly curated post out into la la land, remember with hashtags, you're actually HELPING the post get in front of more eyes that actually care about your products or service. This means you'll generally have more people engaging in your post. You have helped someone find something they need or like, so props to you!

Where do I find hashtags?
You can do your own research, of course. But sites like All Hashtag and Display Purposes  help you generate hashtags specific to words that make sense for your brand or product. Also, be sure to add your location in your post (posts tagged with a location receive 79% higher engagement).

I'll spend an hour posting all these things.
No you won't because you're going to be smart and download the PLANN app right this minute and spend 30 mins saving your most popular hashtags. Then, they are all stored and when you post, you can mozy on over to PLANN and grab your hashtags you worked so hard to save.

So, don't stress about hashtags. Here's a shortlist of what to do to amp up your hashtag game today.

  • Research your hashtags
  • Pick 30 for your top 10 categories (it's okay if some overlap)
  • Download PLANN and save the hashtags to categories
  • Voila! You're a hashtagging pro!
 

Compelled to Create: About Artist + Sculptor Jason Kimes

A short while ago, I was walking around Downtown Laurel when I came upon a sculpture that nearly took my breath away. It was something unlike anything I had ever seen before and something I would expect to see featured in downtown Chicago, New York or another major city, but not something I’ve ever seen walking the streets of Laurel, Mississippi.

27+Hands.jpeg

Naturally, I had to know who was behind this amazing work of art. I did some research and found it was Jason Kimes, an artist who lives in Laurel and attends our church (The Agape Church). I asked if I could feature his work on the blog, and Jason was gracious enough to oblige.

One of the things I appreciate most about creatives is that no two stories are the same. But those I have had the privilege of featuring on the blog all have one core similarity – encouragement. Jason credits his parents for their support as he explored his talent, and he feels that the combination of homeschooling and private art lessons as a child gave him an advantage and deeper knowledge of his craft as he continued his education at the college level. “I was always encouraged to develop my creativity, although my own need to do so would have likely kept me from noticing anyone who didn't,” he said of his passion.

Compelled to Create
Jason was born in Panama City, Panama but was raised in South Mississippi where he grew up as the oldest of three children. He remembers a childhood where he would dig in clay from a creek bed to sculpt small animals to create three-dimensional objects. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, Jason was exposed to a sculpture class that ultimately led him to choose sculpture as his medium of choice.

“The idea of Art for Art's Sake is an abstract concept and one I wouldn't understand for years to come so I can't explain why but I was compelled to create from my earliest memories which most frequently included filling the back of every church bulletin during services,” Jason said when explaining his relationship with art. While he enjoyed various forms, he most enjoyed the ability to engage both creatively and physically with the work that sculpting required.

I often like to ask creatives about a tipping point in their lives –a big project or moment when the stars aligned. I feel as though this exists in every life no matter what the craft or passion. I rank Jason’s response to this question one of the best I’ve heard. “The important tipping points for me are the many times I've had to move beyond what I considered the limits of my current abilities,” he said. Jason perfectly captured the mere definition of a tipping point, in my opinion. A moment where you can sense yourself exceeding your own limits. That’s when magic happens.

Risk Taking
Jason’s work for the Deepwater Horizon Memorial, ELEVEN, was a project of a scale and complexity that may have left others defeated before the start. In fact, the years of work estimated to complete the project caused Jason to hesitate initially. But he had support. The private funding came, outside help and supplies were established and Jason was up for the task. He completed eleven brilliant life-sized sculptures in just nine months. “The confidence gained in seeing any seemingly unimaginable project completed follows you every time, allowing one to expand ideas for newly possible future projects,” Jason said of ELEVEN.

I think many creatives and entrepreneurs can relate to Jason’s thoughts on taking risks. All too often, we give up before we start. Avoiding risk, playing it safe and staying comfortable are easy to do yet leave us with no reward. “Risk avoidance is something I see daily in others, I'm convinced it's the number one factor preventing someone from following a passion,” he said.

Jason’s sculpture Twenty-seven Hands made out of horseshoes (a reference to its nine foot height measured in the traditional method of measuring horses) was one of his personal favorites. Although he attempted building by hand at first, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to follow a standard process of scaling a smaller clay model to make it larger. So, he used a process new to him of creating a 3D rendering of a clay model to enlarge it digitally. He then purchased a truckload of foam sheets which were then cut into almost two hundred odd shapes that, when stacked in the correct order over. Then, Jason spent 40+ tedious hours, recreated the model at four times life size. “The entire project couldn't have gone smoother than it did despite the half dozen or more totally unknown and untested processes involved,” Jason said. “The time and money I put into the project happily paid off but more importantly were the skills and experience I gained by committing to it in the beginning.”

Advice
Jason perfectly describes how the process is the learning experience. He realized this by working on similar pieces within a larger series of work. He would make something, then set it aside for another piece. Hindsight allowed him to understand the advances made with experience. “The first work that I still vividly remember being perfectly executed now seemed ridiculously bad compared to the second piece,” Jason said. We learn, grow and improve as we repeat things, and our skill is best development as we do.

 
 

“The advice I believe most strongly in and frequently give to any young artist and even my children is to simply keep doing something,” Jason commented when I asked about advice for other creatives. He believes that nothing will teach someone more than learning simply by doing it again and again. And seeking out ways to do things better proves that the continual learning of new methods are required to accomplish a task.

“Each small bit of knowledge builds on what came before,” he adds. As for tips for success, Jason evens the playing field. It’s not about the home advantage. It’s not about the lucky number or even where you were born. It’s about the effort and practice you invest in your passion.

Jason leaves us with something to inspire us all to keep doing, working and taking risks. “Success is rarely (statistically never) achieved instantaneously but is guaranteed over time through consistent practice and engagement in ones chosen craft or discipline,” he said.

Five Things Disney World Can Teach Us About Marketing

 

I just returned from a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It's truly the happiest place on earth. I went with my parents and my 9 year-old little sister and, thanks to her, I risked my life on more rollercoasters than ever before. I'm not a ride kind of gal, but apparently my sister is. And my parents were kind enough to pay for my trip, but it wasn't until I arrived that I realized that was a trick that required me to ride all the rides while they sat and laughed. But, I met Mickey, so that made it all worth it.

This trip was refreshing not only to step away and have a little FUN, but it was also really a reset reminding me what's important when it comes to marketing the. Walt Disney is such an inspiration for creative entrepreneurs or anyone pursuing big dreams. His persistence literally changed the world. And he knew that the only way to make things happen is to have a good team of people around you. 

 

Walt Disney

Here are a few things I observed at Disney World that have inspired me to take them into my day-to-day and career.

1. Keep the main thing the main thing. 
Walt Disney said, "When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable."  It's so easy to lose track of what's important. We get distracted with the newest and coolest bells and whistles and keeping up with the Joneses on social media. Taking the time to focus regularly on what the most important things are for your business is exactly what Walt did. Look where it got him. 

2. Give away free stuff.
Multiple times during our trip, "cast members" (what Disney World calls employees) randomly gave my little sister freebies - ice cream, stickers, buttons, candy. Granted, we paid for it on the front end, but it added SO much to the trip. The rides and shows were amazing, but those little things made a big impact on her experience. Sometimes what is an easy giveaway that costs your business very little can make a big impact.

3. Know your customer.
While the parents are generally footing the bill for Disney World, employees there know the key to that pocketbook is a great experience for the children. And giving the kids an experience like no other means they'll be back (probably sooner than later). 

4. Consistency.
At any park, you could find a set of Mickey ears, see your favorite characters, ride amazing rides and eat delicious food. The parks are all so different but the important things are exactly the same. This goes back to #1, but in business, we need to remember that consistency solidifies your brand and message. Frequent changes to your core offering can lead to customer confusion. Strive to pick the three things you're good at and make every road lead back to the main thing.

5. Have fun!
People like fun. Stop and consider ways to make your customer experience more fun. If you have an online business, put a fun or silly note in the packaging. If you have a retail store, have them ring a bell at the register for 10% off. Keep things fun and interesting every time your shopper enters the store.

 

Laura Johns, Disney World