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Ever try to build an e-comm site?

BigBlackDogStudio.com shopA college class in Entrepreneurship basics required starting an e-comm venture from scratch. I had already begun the process, but that wasn’t acceptable; I needed to do a comparison and had to at least start the second option from scratch. Fair enough. What was the result? Interesting. Here’s the gist of my presentation (I won’t bore you with the slideshow version).

Sure, all the successful people try to tell you it’s easy. What they don’t tell you is that a lot of them just hired a company to make it magically appear on the internet for them so they can then take over and brag about how much money they’re making.

In July, I set out to begin my process of turning my original artwork – most of it drawn or painted by hand – into graphic design by (a) learning first how to convert or recreate it using Illustrator and Photoshop (successfully did that through Creative Cloud subscription), then (b) to find an acceptable company to handle the print-on-demand onto good quality shirts and other items (I’ve tried a few and found a highly-rated printer had crappy selection of apparel, so nope on them), and then (c) make all of the tech components work together so e-comm can actually start without my head exploding in the process. Spoiler alert: that last bit is the hard part.

What I’ve learned so far about making the last part happen (good, bad and wtf) in case anybody wants to be brave and take their creativity to a place where people actually pay you for being your awesomely creative self is as follows:

1.  Moving my BigBlackDogStudio.com WordPress.com blog over to WordPress.org hosting so that it could theoretically add e-comm was not as one-click simple as they like to make out. The “export” feature that encourages you to click “all” does not take into account the sheer volume of a long-standing blog. I followed those instructions, and when I imported the file to its new home, was horrified that only posts up through 2014 were present. My eyebrows didn’t come down for a week until I finally figured out on my own in mid-August how to download each year’s worth of posts separately in order to then “import” them to the .org version. You’d think that might warrant a caveat or at least a helpful hint posted in their tutorials, just putting that out there. Ahem.

2.  If you wish to use an order submission form or even just a subscriber optin through any platform other than those sponsored or favored by WP, good luck with that. Security issues simply block it. So as to your expended funds on existing CRM software? Don’t annoy yourself trying to integrate. Just use the WP-favored form and periodically download the list as a CSV file and upload new subscribers that way into your preferred CRM software. I personally use ClickFunnels for my lead capture, but WP won’t let their optin embed on my site. At all. There’s no point aggravating yourself. It’s an extra step going the CSV route or copy & paste or just manually entering, but it actually saves time knowing their rules and just playing by them.

3.  As an alternative to WP’s fair-haired child Woocommerce, I decided to check out Shopify. Rule #1: at the very beginning when they ask you what you want the name of your store to be, don’t put in spaces or else they insert dashes. If I wanted my site to be called “big-black-dog-studio,” I would have named it that to begin with. I don’t. Good thing there’s a 14-day free trial I let expire.

4.  Speaking of which, Shopify’s instructions for using a domain you already own requires switching the A and CNAME over to them. They don’t care who your registrar is, but you can create a new entity through them if you want. Trivia fact: a WP.org self-hosted site’s A and CNAME information being changed to Shopify equates to: “why the hell am I paying for WP.org self-hosting if I’m using Shopify as my platform?” Redundant expense is what that is. Can I simply add a subdomain to my WP.org domain and CNAME it over to Shopify? No. The A domain information must be Shopify’s IP address. So, how about Shopifying the A and CNAME info with them, and then creating a subdomain for your blog? Why bother when you can add a blog page and other non-selling pages through Shopify as a platform? So, this comes down to an “either – or” situation. Pick one: WP.org + Woocommerce or Shopify.

5.  Printful vs. Customcat comparison. They both have high marks for their print quality because I’ve ordered sample merch from both. “Direct to garment” or DTG printing is different than traditional screen printing as the inks embed into the fabric versus being a layer of paint melted on top of the fabric. What that means is that if your designs are super-rich and vibrant in color, some of that is going to be dulled by DTG technique. Translation: instead of a piece of paper going through your printer, you could stick a t-shirt in there and have it print on the cloth. Screen printing necessitates set-up and clean-up, so that’s great for a large batch of printing, say, to create physical inventory if you have a brick-and-mortar shop. But for taking online orders from anybody from anywhere online, screen-printing one item as requested is not feasible. Pick your battles and decide how you want to compromise if deep, vibrant color is part of your brand. Also keep in mind that while those bright and vibrant colors print out just find through DTG, the real trouble happens is when you try to print those bright colors on a dark t-shirt. Even Printful makes a point on their site explaining how on dark fabrics they do a white layer first as the base and then apply the color design because they know it’s a problem. Keep it in mind. Both Printful and Customcat get high marks from me for the quality of the printing, but the choices of apparel items available through Printful are few and most are not up to the kind of quality standards I would choose to wear. If I don’t like the quality, what will my customers think of the quality? Will they give my shop bad reviews based on the shirt quality as opposed to my fabulous designs? Yeah, probably. Customcat’s wide selection of apparel items include not only just about everything I saw on Printful, but a lot more. For instance, I want moisture-wicking athletic wear as well as heavy-duty t-shirts, not crap that will fall apart after a few washes. I had choices of wicking tees as well as the classic Hanes Beefy Tee on Customcat, but it wasn’t even an option on Printful. So noted.

6.  How did I get to the point I’m at? Customcat works well with Shopify and had their own app made to integrate the two. One less player in the game to worry about. Shopify allows me to add extra non-merch pages as well as blog posts on their platform like I can do with my blog. Customcat app on Shopify automatically handles shipping costs. I like that and went through the process of setting up a storefront there to test it out. Back over on my WP.org site using Woocommerce, I had used one of my WP.org domain names to test Printful’s Woocommerce app. Setup with the Printful app was easy, ordering was easy, products showed up at my door 7 to 10 days from the time I placed the order. Shirt quality of the Bella+ Canvass 3001 I was not so happy with at all. If you’re into the budget t-shirt market, go for it. It was easy and you use your WP.org account site. So, I then deleted all of that and reassigned the WP.org domain over to Shopify with the A and CNAME zones changed as mentioned above. I went through the Customcat app’s product creation process again for a t-shirt in range of sizes and three color choices. I hit export, and the product appeared on Shopify.

7.  That said, you’d think, “oh, Shopify is the clear winner” now wouldn’t you? It would be if I wanted to list every different colored product as a separate product instead of having one t-shirt show up on the site with a list of all its options. Nope. You have to manually go in and duplicate the variables. And it might be worth the trouble if it weren’t another $30 a month or well over $300 a year additional on top of what I’ve already got as tools in my arsenal.

BigBlackDogStudio.com logo

Bottom line: I let the Shopify free trial expire and switched my A and CNAME zones of the domain I used back to my WP.org hosting service, Bluehost. I am using WP.org with Woocommerce and using Customcat through their website as opposed to through their Shopify app. It’s like the middle ground and it’s working for me. Temperamental and glitchy as Woocommerce can be, it’s my better bet financially to get started with e-comm because I’m already in their house. In other words, when tempted by shiny objects, think about the value of renovating where you’re already planted versus jumping too quickly into the “fast and easy” claims out there. If, however, I were to start brand new with no deeply entrenched Google statistics behind me like on my 10 year old blogs, I’d happily go with Shopify for its clean, modern look and ability to still look and work well on mobile devices. Woocommerce is really cute to think that they’re as good at that, too.

So, my BigBlackDogStudio.com shop is simply part of my original blog. I moved all the extraneous pages (posts included) and content under one menu heading, and the only other menu choices now are “Cart” and “Shop.” I’m pretty happy with how it looks overall. Now, to just figure out how to get that darn “subscribe to our mailing list” optin function to work…….!

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Miss Ryan’s 5-Minute Guide to Not Being That Guy

I am always happy that anything I write may be meaningful or inspirational for others in their own life journey.

Recently, I wrote a post on something I mused about, saw a “like” come through that someone enjoyed my post, and was very happy it spoke to them. The WordPress email that comes through always invites us to “see what they post on their blog.” So, I clicked one with a title very similar to one of my posts to see what the person had to say on our mutual topic.

Um, well … I need to put on my editor and teacher hat here for a moment and hope my readers will keep reading to the end because this is relevant to every writer, not just the fledglings, about writing and blogging etiquette. Some will recall that way back in 2012 I wrote a post entitled, “Miss Ryan’s 5-Minute Guide to Stress-Free Writing” that was a huge hit not only in the school system I was working in, but as a resource now linked to by various colleges as well. I was just trying to help out some high school seniors get a handle on how to start their research papers. This Volume II edition expands on those basics.

Creativity comes from inspiration that shows up in our lives from everywhere. As a writer, please do yourself a huge professional favor and start this very important ethical habit early in your writing career:

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Old dog, new tricks

One of the focuses on the Business Communications class was doing oral presentations incorporating media and technology. In today’s world of business, there are some great video conferencing softwares available that 20 years weren’t even imagined. Some take this for granted, but those old dogs like myself learning new tricks appreciate how far along technology has come in communicating. Take a look at how YouTube has evolved from an artistic creative studio to a full-blown platform for soap boxing anything you are passionate about. Of course, sometimes the best video software available can be a toe stubber when you need to upload the aforementioned carefully crafted and edited video to your course DropBox only to discover that the file size exceeds the 15MB limit allowed. Alas, sometimes the Golden Oldies can’t be beat for practicality and universal application!

I am an old dog at public speaking in front of a room so I tend to go about it on autopilot, but upon reflection, I realize I do have a strategy for preparing them. My No. 1 tip to anyone is to prepare and plan and practice well before you need to actually give your presentation.

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What empathy is NOT

Another Communications discussion had to do with emotional intelligence and how it relates to communicating in a workplace, especially with those whose communication style and personality are much difference from your own. Communicate is what I do for a living, and my “in the trenches” viewpoint about all the platitudes and abbreviated lists floating out there of “shoulds” was different than any of the other students. What empathy is and what it is not is something that if you do not understand, you will create chaos in your life about nonsense that has nothing at all to do with you. Bottom line: you cannot “fix” anybody else.

Interestingly, most of the articles I found on my search as well as over the years all seem written from the perspective that people are not self-aware in general to truly know their own behaviors, thoughts and emotions and therefore lack the ability to be aware of those things in others. Kendra Cherry’s 2018 article on Very Well Mind cited and was based upon a 2011 American Psychology Association study, and she pulled from it five typical things we read in such self-improvement articles: increase self-awareness, practice self-regulation, improve your social skills, become more empathetic, and work on your own intrinsic motivation.

I agree with the need for self-knowledge and monitoring as it strongly assists in retaining anything else learned. It is a good practice to spend time contemplating what your goals are and what motivates you. It is also good practice not to be rude to others, to listen when others are speaking, and to behave at all times so as not to inflict one’s own drama upon others nor run with scissors causing chaos.

After years in ministry where people confide all manner of emotional traumas to me and I get the opportunity to talk them down off the ceiling, I consider myself to be a competent operator if not somewhat of a practical expert on empathy and what it is and what it is not. If I had not long ago learned the difference between being “caring” and being “empathetic,” I might be in the asylum by now. Continue reading

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ISTJ Poster Child

One of the Communications assignments was to go through the Myers-Briggs Personality Type testing and then create a discussion post about your own communication preferences. I do know myself well enough to laugh at my own quirks and feel everyone should have at least some level of self-awareness in order to curb the reactive-monkey behaviors running rampant in the world today. Just saying.

I think I am the ISTJ poster child: OCD in my need to be thorough and organized before jumping to a conclusion too soon. I used to be very Sammie Safety, can’t be too careful, but I’ve mellowed in my old age and laugh at myself when the old impulse kicks in. My mother tells the story that when I was 10 months old and began walking, I tripped and fell down, got an owwie, and then spent the next few months crawling until I apparently felt it was safe to try walking again. Obviously, cautiousness is something my package came with. Continue reading

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How to Play Well With Others, aka Constructive Disagreement

So, now that my brain is able to relax a little after a whirlwind year of coursework, I’m looking through the various discussions and essays from my file. Most of the ones from my Business Communication course tied directly to the ministry work I’ve done and my perspective is therefore often different from most people’s. This past year was the first time I needed to use APA style instead of the MLA I had been used to.

Way back in the mid-1980s when I got my first job in a law firm, I found the concept of “argument” to be one I very well relate. Since I began writing in middle school, most of the work I have drafted was to persuade or convince the reader to adopt a certain viewpoint based upon the supporting ideas I presented. A legal argument presented by an attorney in a court of law is also an attempt to persuade a judge or jury to incline toward a certain leaning or understanding based upon the presented facts and evidence as well as supporting rules, regulations and laws, taking into account any extraordinary or extenuating circumstances. As a seasoned volunteer manager thirty years later, I can say that understanding how to persuade without “arguing” is something many people simply have not learned to do. Continue reading

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Writing review and future projects

I started this blog way back on December 20, 2008 to journal through various discernment processes I was going through. I have several hobbies about which I am passionate, and there are several things I do for a living that I am very good at.

Three things I have enjoyed making a livelihood through are:

  • wordsmithery (writing, editing, proofreading),
  • leading musical ensembles, and
  • teaching others what I know.

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