Why The Tattoo?

I got a tattoo of a deer today.

Though I do think deer are lovely creatures, it’s not especially about deer in particular. Or at all, really.

I had the idea to sell my Art Outlines illustrations almost two full years ago, and with the support and encouragement of my fellow entrepreneurs, I even built a fully functional website, created a video, and got strangers from all over the web to sign up for the email list.

But then it came time to actually list something for sale. And what did I do?

I shied away from it. I let doubt creep in. I turned my back on the project, thinking it wasn’t good enough. I worked on other things.

Over a year later, deep into my 10-month travel adventure around the world writing The Eat Team, I was getting really itchy feet (and a shockingly tiny bank account). I have a massive drive (compulsion?) to create, and because you can’t take an entire print studio full of hundreds-year-old lead and machinery and boxes full of paper, I couldn’t work on Ye Olde Gangster.

So, even though I felt totally unprepared and scared and embarrassed, I just decided I’d put a few of the illustrations up for sale on Etsy. I was terrified, and I didn’t have a lot of hope, but I asked myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And the answer was.. nobody would buy my illustrations and I’d be in the exact same place I was now. Well, that’s not so scary I thought–either I’m in the same place I am now, or perhaps maybe just maybe someone will send me some money for something I enjoyed doing.

Nothing happened for a few months. So, my “worst case scenario” was true for a few months. But of course, I wasn’t really thinking about it much and hadn’t expected anything to happen anyways.

Then, out of the blue, on July 4th, 2012, a stranger from New Zealand sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer as I prepared an American Independence Day feast for my new Australian friends in Melbourne.

“WHAT?!?!?!?” I shouted, I danced, I shoved the email in front of my friends faces. It wasn’t the money that lit my fire.. obviously $2 isn’t gonna stretch very far.. it was the cold, hard, undeniable real truth that I had a viable product. A worthy idea.

It made my heart soar.

So, why the tattoo?

I guess there’s several facets to that answer.

- Commitment to the long haul. It’s always been my dream to support myself with my creativity, and this was a moment I’ll never forget. I know there is no quick fix, no secret to making my dreams come true–it’s hard work and trust and taking risks and getting up every single day and starting all over again. It’s blood sweat and tears and I’m in it, forever. This is a commitment to myself to never give up on my creativity, to never stop growing and learning and making.
- That if I can pull this off, anyone can.

- Reminder that what I do is good enough. For a long time, I was embarrassed that my style of drawing was so childish and simplistic. At some point I decided to embrace that and run with it. It’s amazing how much love and support you get when you say “fuck it” and embrace the differences that make you you.

- Reminder to keep it simple. My whole idea with Art Outlines is to make extremely simple, elegant drawings. To eliminate what’s not necessary, and do only what’s necessary. Focus. Minimalism. Contrast.

- Reminder that imperfection is perfection. That you’ll never feel ready, you’ll never feel finished, but to say YES anyways. To figure things out as I go. Something I learned on my big adventure was that nothing is ever perfect.. but if you can embrace those imperfections, it makes it perfect. That was one of the overarching themes Hannah and I encountered every single day on our crazy trip. If we tried to make things perfect, we wouldn’t have done a single thing. If I had known that I was going to get this deer tattooed on my body forever when I drew it, I would have spent hours trying to perfect it. I love that it has tiny flaws and things I’d probably have changed if I had known.

If you look real close, there’s a little dimple on my deer’s bum–that wasn’t part of the original drawing. That was a speck created by the xerox machine that my tattoo artist thought was part of the image. When we realized it was permanent, she asked if I wanted her to try and pick it out. I considered it, then remembered.. imperfection is perfection. I love that it’s just another layer. Humans are all imperfect, and instead of getting mad or embarrassed by “hiccups”, we can just run with it and love it anyways.

That I’m not the only one involved–the stranger in New Zealand and my amazing tattoo artist had huge parts in it. To remember that PEOPLE are what make the world go round, and we’re all family in some way. To trust others and not try to control everything. I went in thinking I’d get the deer facing me. Alice told me that would be upside down to the rest of the world. And so I worked with her instead of trying to control it, and accepted her expertise since I was a tattoo n00b, and rolled with it, even though it’s not what I first imagined. Give and take.

Life is imperfect, and if we want to LIVE we have to remember and accept and love anyways.

Intentions for This Week

Every week I take a day to myself, Melissa Monday, where I journal, organize, maintain, and do whatever the hell I want. It helps me refocus and reconnect.

This Monday I sat down and wrote out my intentions for the week. Rereading it, I have a feeling that’s how I’ll want many of my weeks to look. Sometimes I forget the big picture, and I’ve recently started physically writing down my Big Picture, be it for a day, an event, a relationship, or in this case, a week.

Without further ado:

Intenions for This Week/Big Picture:

To chip away at my Portland/life goals in an efficient, simple, minimal way. To go at an efficient but relaxed pace. To stick to original plans, but yield when doors close and remain flexible to changes and unexpected happenings–to live in the present moment and find the humor/niceties in every scenario, every moment.

To wake up grateful for the exact scenario, recounting my blessings, and never allow doubt or fear to guide my decisions.

To turn off my brain and act from my intuition.

To not fear missing out. To remember and focus only on the moment’s top priority, whatever that may be, and let all else disappear, knowing that I have enough, have always had enough, and will always have enough.

To remember that I don’t own anyone or any thing and never will, so therefore I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

To not second-guess or worry about any decisions I made. To make decisions based on love and inspiration and let my complete and unjustified faith in myself and the universe meet me halfway. To know that it always will, every time. That all I can do is the best I can do, and the universe will show me what I need to learn.

To remember that I’m not missing out on anything.

To help others when I see the opportunity and have enough to give (always.) To remember life is lived off paper.

To remember that I’m not perfect and can never be, but that I can be perfectly and unabashedly myself.

To make plans and set goals but not get angry or disappointed when (not if) I don’t get to all of them.

To release all expectations of myself and those I come in contact with. To be patient and kind to myself and others. To let doors open and close, never using force, always asserting what I feel, think, and want, but never trying to change a scenario, always yielding and facilitating the opening and closing of doors. Keeping in mind that “when one door closes, another one opens.” Not giving my power away or letting things get past my mental “mudroom”, never reacting angrily to a door closing, but rather taking a moment before speaking or acting to think about what other doors I could walk through instead. Remembering that I have enough, do enough, and am enough. That my presence is enough. That existing is enough. That everything positive that happens is merely the icing on top of my cake, and that anything “negative” that happens can never take away from the fact that I have had the best cake ever. The cake is always enough.

To use my tools for good (brain, computer, relationships, etc).

To work when it’s time to work, and to rest when it’s time to rest. To let everything breathe–to act when action is required, and to hold the pose when there’s nothing to be done.

To remain equanimous–to break the link between feeling tones & craving; to be with the pleasant without chasing it, with the unpleasant without resisting it, and with the neutral without ignoring it.

To forgive myself when I “mess up”, without delay. To appreciate challenges and “setbacks” as opportunities to use my creativity and grow, to practice these ideas. To know that its this contrast that makes life beautiful and fun and interesting and that, no matter how much I whine or complain, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a necessary part of the game.

To remember that it’s just a game, and to play for fun and not points.

To always value real, in-person connection above all else and to communicate and share ideas and goods as often as possible. Daily. Always look for opportunities to help others, dig for ways I can serve them, and not how they can help me or what I can get from them.

Laugh as often as possible.

Fuel my body with nourishing food.

Exert myself, but don’t over-exert myself.

Allow silence. Don’t try to fill every second.

To listen when others speak, and really hear them.

To address issues immediately, before they have a chance to fester and explode.

To be detached but warmly engaged with the world. To appreciate but to know I don’t NEED anything or any body.

To give only when I want to give, never to seek or need a response or reaction, and know that what I gave is enough. To remember that whatever anyone else gives or does is enough. To be confident yet vulnerable. Taking healthy risks.

To treat friends as family; to remember that an argument, disagreement or bump in the road doesn’t mean you break up; to move on with positive forward facing momentum and keep my eye on the big picture of what’s good for the whole team. To remember that a discussion never has to be an argument–that an issue never has to be a problem, that differences in opinion can be discussed in a relaxed, honest way and then moved on from.

To re-read “in the flow” days if (when) I feel disconnected, or talk with someone who gets me, or read my “balance” list and get back on track when I fall off.

To create every day. To find inspiration around me.

What are your intentions?

Overhauling the Publishing Industry


To anybody who likes books & having the freedom of creative expression:

Today the The 4-Hour Chef is out.  It’s a followup to a book that undeniably changed my life.

Maybe even more important than the incredible content inside it, author Tim Ferriss is currently fighting a battle against the traditional publishing industry.  The 4-Hour Chef is banned from 1000+ bookstores (including all Barnes & Nobles) because it’s the next big bet by Amazon Publishing.

The success of this book threatens the stability of the traditional publishing industry.  It could also pave the way for bigger and badder things.  As I’m getting ready to publish my first book, I’ve seen first hand how outdated traditional publishing methods are and how their restrictive nature of it all doesn’t do much to benefit the author or the readers.

A victory for the 4-Hour-Chef could mean getting more books and information into the right hands, and more creative flexibility for authors.  It’s a win-win scenario (except for the big publishing corporations.)

If The 4-Hour Chef “wins” in any capacity, authors will feel freedom to experiment. If this book “fails” because the old guard makes of an example of it, their message wins: don’t mess with the system that keeps us fat and happy, or we’ll punish you.

Our world is changing.  We’re noticing the unhappy effects of our “dog-eat-dog world” of the last decades, and seeing that “sharing is caring” goes a lot further.  We’re working on updating health care, we’re working on updating our views on race, gender, gay marriage, the environment, and more.

To me, this is just one more small step for man.  Let’s make it happen.

 

Joining the iPhone Club

Five years after iPhone was first released, I’m finally joining the club today.

The reasons I didn’t get one until now ranged from the fact that they were unnecessary– that all I needed on a phone was to call and text, that I didn’t need the bells and whistles, especially at the extra price tag.  But the biggest reason of all was that I didn’t feel I could trust myself to use it efficiently.

Now that the cell phone companies have eliminated the excuse of a high price (they make it just about the same price and sometimes even more expensive to buy a new “basic” phone as they do to buy a smart phone), and realizing how handy some of the apps would be on the road and in navigating daily life, I had only one reason left that could get in the way.  My mindset.

“Technology alone is not enough. It’s tecnology married with the liberal arts, the humanities, that gives us the result that makes our hearts sing.” – Steve Jobs

I always knew that if I were to get one, I’d have to have reached a level of maturity that I could wield my iPhone for good and not evil.  iPhones are extemely powerful, and we all know that with great power comes great responsibility.  Pirates had swords to do their bidding, and we have smart phones.

Since having an iphone is a great responsibility, I must treat it accordingly.  As a young college kid addicted to constantly refreshing facebook in 2007, I knew that I was not ready.

Maybe you’re thinking that’s a little dramatic–it’s just a phone, right?  Well, really, it’s a tool.  And no tool is inherently good or evil.  But you can use it proactively, or you can use it against people and against yourself.  You can use it to enhance life, or you can use it to distract you.  To connect, or to disconnect.  The choice is yours, whether you want it or not.

Before I took on this responsibility, I wanted to make sure I could handle it.  I wanted to make sure I had outgrown my other technologies, and truly lived my life fully knowing that I could live without it.

Now I know that I can live without it, because I have done my whole life.

But I now feel ready to wield my power responsibly.  But before I dive in, I want to set some guidelines for what is “good” and “evil” in my iPhone usage.  Because, after all, I am human, and we do tend to make a butt load of mistakes ;)

GOOD iPHONE USES

- Note taking: I use sticky notes on my computer and a TextEdit document to compile my notes and to-do list.  So unless I’m at my computer, I’m always writing stuff down in a ton of locations.  In draft text messages on my phone, taking photos of things to remind me, scribbling on notes here and there, writing them all over my physical notebook.  I’ll be eliminating at least two gathering points by jotting down most of my notes on my iPhone, which I’ll be doing since it will be near me more often than the other items.

- Instagram & Camera: I’ve been photographing for 10 years now, studied it, loved it, and continue to do it every single day.  I have a bulky digital SLR which I use for events and travel, but I’m looking forward to putting away/selling/donating my point-and-shoot, which is less powerful than the iPhone camera and using it means I carry a phone and a camera at all times.  I’ll be saving space and upgrading the actual camera technology, while being able to share photos more rapidly and efficiently.

- Youtube/video: The camera upgrade is already massive, and as I am just getting into youtubing my adventures, I’m looking forward to capturing these moments in higher quality and sharing them more efficiently.

- Not having to bring my computer everywhere: I like having the option of working when I get a burst of inspiration, and also being able to use internet when I want to.  I’ve been known to lug around my 6-year-old hulk of a macbook through big cities, and having a computer for a phone means I can give my back some much needed rest and get up and go more quickly.

- Maps/directions: I travel regularly, and when I’m not traveling, I live in Los Angeles.  In both scenarios, I’m going to new places on a regular basis.  Having an iPhone means I no longer have to google map before I leave and take a photograph of it on my point-and-shoot camera and zoom in to scrutinize the blurry little map while I’m on the freeway.

- Emergencies: I imagine it’s going to be pretty damn handy in a stitch.  As my friend Hannah pointed out though, there’s a fine line between convenience and laziness.

- Update twitter/facebook: Not having to remember what I want to say until I get back to a computer means I can free up mental space.  Especially useful for my entrepreneurial projects and pages. Think it, type it, publish.

BEFORE I DIVE IN

Before I even start using it properly, I want to make a pact to myself that this iPhone will be birthed into an organized environment.

After 6 years of inconsistent file naming on my home computer, totally disorganized folders, photos this way and that, documents here and there, 3 hard drives, music in all the wrong places, and a digital clutter of the worst degree, I realized that I really should have taken those extra 20 seconds now and then to create some consistency on my hunk-a-hunk-a burning love macbook.

I’ve slowly been working through the mess and bringing it back to a clean, simple, organized environment, but how much easier would it all have been if I had just started it right?  This is my public vow, to myself and to the world, that I will organize from the beginning, taking care to learn and instate processes which will clarify and enhance usability.

BAD iPHONE USES

- Mindless facebook: This was the big one.  In younger years I spent a truly embarrassing amount of time refreshing facebook, waiting for notifications, riding on the highs of attention, wallowing in the lows of nothing-new-to-see.  Somehow I finally stopped that bad habit, and use it consciously to stay connected with friends and family.  However, history always has a chance of repeating itself and I want to make sure I’m aware of that so that I don’t slip back into old ways.

- Constant email: What was once a facebook addiction in college gradually grew into an email addiction after graduation.  With real work and clients and meeting people and new friends, it’s a constant barrage of information and people awaiting your reply.  You can just as easily get sucked into email as facebook, and I let myself drown in it for a while.  But, I learned my lesson again and, for the most part, am good at respecting the line between keeping in touch and drowning in my inbox.  I don’t want to be constantly updated, I don’t want to know who’s written to me, and I definitely don’t want my phone to make a noise or pop up every time I get a new message.  What I don’t know can’t affect me, and I intend to keep my mental clarity and sanity in tact by keeping up my “once a week email-a-thon” and intermittent checking.  I say when it’s time to email, not my phone.  Step back, biotch.

- Using it in social situations instead of participating in real life conversations and connections: One of my biggest pet peeves is when you’re talking with someone and they whip out their phone and multitask.  I won’t lie, my feelings get a little hurt.  If we’re hanging out, let’s be together.  I don’t like to be multitasked on, and I will do my damndest not to multitask on you.

I think that’s about it.  Let the madness begin.

Photography Recap of 2011

Year in Review Melissa Rachel Black

As human beings, we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time, but we drastically underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two.  - The Minimalists

It has been an incredible year of intense change, rapid growth, love, loss, gratitude and contentment.  Here are the most kick-ass, memorable parts paired with some of my favorite shots from 2011.

Landed my “dream job.”  I worked 9-5 as a graphic designer and letterpress printmaker in Dusseldorf, Germany, making fancy-ass wedding invitations.

Melissa Rachel Black

Landed my “dream job” as a letterpress printer & graphic designer.

Quit my dream job. I realized it was someone else’s dream, and what I really wanted was to sustain myself through my own creativity, my own decisions, and on my own time.  To have time to live and experiment and give back and do crazy things.

Moved to Berlin.  Fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with a city.  Met amazing people, danced till sunrise, ate enough falafel to last a lifetime.  I recommend you move there like Maneesh says, or at least visit it.

Berlin by Melissa Rachel BlackMoved to Berlin. (You should too.)

Berlin by Melissa Rachel Black

Sparked the creation of a group of 4-Hour-Workweek entrepreneurs which still meets weekly and has grown to over 150 people.  Found some of my closest friends, mentors, and inspiration within it.  One of the most life-changing and amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur's group.  With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur’s group. With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.

Started my first business.  Out of my love for jokes, letterpress printing (and the desire to be my own boss) grew Ye Olde Gangster, the world’s first collection of gangster-rap birthday cards & love notes.  Got featured in some awesome places, was selected to sell at Neurotitan’s brick-and-mortar, and teamed up with the Hipstery, the raddest company ever.  Got two menterns to teach and learn from and keep things running while I start the next adventure.

Ye Olde Gangster by Melissa Rachel Black
Started my first biz, Ye Olde Gangster, handmade gangster-rap greeting cards.

Launched Art Outlines, a collection of handmade outline illustrations I draw for folks to use in wedding invitations, website design, books, etc.

Art Outlines by Melissa Rachel Black

Launched Art Outlines.

Broke up with my boyfriend.  Stung like hell for a while, then turned out to be a blessing.  My new freedom allowed me to refocus my energy, meet loads of new people in a new city, and clarify my priorities.  We subtracted the parts that weren’t working but kept the parts that always rocked, meaning our friendship was able to regain its full strength and we each had space for fresh opportunities.  He’s still one of my favorite people.

Won a trip anywhere in the world from my favorite author, Tim Ferriss. I ignored the voice in my head that said I wasn’t good enough or big enough to win a competition of this magnitude, and with a little (no, A LOT) of help from you my friends, managed to win!  You guys rocked my world and I won’t waste this opportunity: I am using this ticket to share something awesome with you.

Spoke at an international Etsy conference with my favorite Etsy blogger, Danielle Maveal on small business, passion, and making it happen.

Learned German.  It’s nowhere near native level, but I moved to Germany without knowing a single word, and by the time I left a year later, I could read and write and communicate just about any idea (as long as the listener was patient).  I keep up now by reading my great friend Sebastian Michel’s blog, Mr. Minimalist.

Traveled.  With my brother for the first time–had stinky cheese with our friends in France and a picnic in Switzerland.  Harvested honey at my friend’s parents farm in Germany.  Couchsurfed with vegan anarchists in Czech Republic.  Climbed the Swiss Alps in the pouring rain (scared shitless, literally thought I was going to die) with new friend.  Traveled all over California and stayed with old friends from college in Oakland, Santa Cruz, & San Francisco.

 Got to try life on the farm with my friend's family in Raakow, Germany.

Got to try life on the farm with my friend’s family in Raakow, Germany.

Learned Capoeira.  Sucked at it, but enjoyed getting sweaty, meeting new people, and trying something new for a few months.  Started an exercise routine that sticks.

Launched The E.A.T. Team, a project where I’ll use the ticket I won from Tim Ferriss to  travel across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and USA in 2012 to interview artists and chefs for an inspiring cookbook I’ll co-create with one of my best friends.

Met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  This is the most meaningful part of the list for me.  I’ve learned and changed a lot over the last few years, 2011 especially, and meeting people who embraced these new ideas that I loved fueled my fire and I am incredibly grateful for that.  It’s not often you “click” in a deep, fundamental essence of being like I do with my friend Sebastian Michel of Mr. Minimalist.  I got to live and work and play with Adam Fletcher, Maneesh Sethi, Rachman Blake, Mars Dorian, Marcel Phillippe, Fab & Vivien, and a few awe-inspiring people here and there who don’t live on the internet ;)  I also met some of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs, including Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Tim Ferriss, Charlie Hoehn, Corbett Barr, Camila Prada, Nicola Rowlands and more.  The cliche of surrounding myself with like-minded people turned out to be an extremely worthwhile one to pursue–it’s like having a big non-cliquey family who cheers each other on.

The big life changes don’t happen over night. Give yourself some time. Put in a lot of effort and keep at it. You’ll be surprised with what can happen in a year. The Minimalists

The biggest lesson I want to carry into 2012 is living without expectations of myself or of others.  I feel like every single second, no matter who you are, there are enough blessings in your field of vision to last a lifetime.  Knowing that you are, have, and do enough in this moment, you’re set for life.  Happy New Years and here’s to an epic 2012!

Help Wanted: A Mentern

One of the new holiday cards in my shop.

One of the new holiday cards in my shop.

As things have expanded, I’m looking to hire a Mentern (Mentee & Intern) in the San Francisco bay area or Los Angeles for my growing gangster-rap greeting card business while I travel to Asia and Australia to write a book on food and art.  Basically I am looking for someone like me a few years ago: a creative, smart, motivated individual who doesn’t want to settle for anything less than the most awesome life they can imagine.  For me, that meant quitting my dismal 9-5 life that society promotes and carving out my own place in the world, to be able to pursue a passionate existence.  I’d like to offer my knowledge and expertise to someone interested in pursuing their dreams in return for help running my online shop and as an assistant organizing my projects.  Not only will you learn tricks of the trade “on the job” from managing the shop & tasks below for an average of 5 hours per week, I will chat with you weekly for an hour & provide 1-on-1 coaching to help you reach (or figure out) your dreams and start making money with your own business or at your dream job.  I want this to be a mutually beneficial partnership, where we both grow & succeed.

What you will work on:

  • Fulfill orders
  • Correspond with customers
  • Create content for the mailing list
  • Research physical stores to stock cards in
  • Update the facebook fan page (jokes, sales, etc) & website
  • Browse Etsy for cool items, think of creative themes & create Treasuries around them
  • Read & contact art/design/gadget blogs, magazines, & newspapers for features
  • Research & contact chefs & artists to interview for the aforementioned book
  • Copy write & create etsy listings
  • Update Flickr
  • Write blog content
  • Update website
  • Maintain flexible: I will have different and varied projects for you.
Location:
  • Your home, or wherever you are.  I know you don’t need a watchdog.  Best case scenario, you’ll live in SF, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, or Los Angeles, as I intend to work in print studios in those areas and it would make giving you the prints easy.  Also, if it interested you (hopefully), you could come with me to the studio and see how I work.
Required skills:
  • Reliable, timely, and excited to use your own creativity.  I will give you tasks, but for much of it, I want you to get to exercise your unique skills & innovation.
  • Desire to make a positive impact in your life & the lives of those around you.
  • 100% honest, all the time.  I will be with you, and you will be with me even when it gets awkward.  That’s the only way we can make progress and learn from eachother.  As they say, the truth will set you free ;)
  • People person (good on the phone, in writing, and not scared to say what you mean)
  • Bonus points but not necessary: knowledge of Etsy, graphic design, wordpress, photography, printmaking/letterpress, blogging, SEO, facebook fan pages, twitter, art world, html etc.

This is an ideal Menternship for you if you are interested in most of the following, as I kick ass at and can help you with:

  • Defining & pursuing your ideal life
  • Supporting yourself through art, design, creativity
  • Graphic design, fine art, illustration, bookmaking, printmaking, photography
  • Running an etsy shop for yourself
  • Living and working on your own terms (avoiding the 9-5 to create your own path & enjoy life, or finding & landing your dream job)
  • Starting, running, or building your own business
  • Making money from a passion
  • Learning about entrepreneurship, freelancing, marketing, and advertising
  • Building a network of supportive people
  • Learning about printmaking, letterpress, paper
  • Traveling while still making money from your business
  • The “4 hour workweek” lifestyle introduced by Tim Ferriss
  • Minimalism, a “less is more” lifestyle (have less things, but more experiences)
  • Reaching your full potential/living as your best self

If this sounds like you:

  1. Please check out my creative endeavors here, my earlier blogposts, and my about page  to see if you’d like to work with me.
  2. Email me without hesitation at melissa@yeoldegangster.com a paragraph or two telling me about yourself and why we would be a good working match.  Attach a resume just so I know what you’ve been up to, but know that I’m choosing based on business compatibility and how much I think we can benefit one another, not what brands you’ve worked with.
I’ll be in the Bay Area to pick a Mentern until early December.

Thanks & looking forward to hearing from you,
Melissa

Berlin 4-Hour-Workweek Recap for 6/3: Forums & Blogging

Abuela by Melissa Rachel Black

What would grandma say when you're not sure how to proceed with your business? Just keep trying till something works.

Perhaps the most successful 4HWW meeting yet, we’ve adopted a new format.  Rachman leads the discussions, and asks if anyone has any specific questions or needs help on a particular area in their muse.  I think it’s a great format because its structured like a 1-on-1 conversation which gives individual people real feedback, and the material is useful for the group as well, and everyone is free to jump in to the conversation.  We talked about:

- Hiring SEO experts on Odesk to write affiliate/adsense articles

- Using Feedback Army for real live humans to test the usability of your site and give you feedback, for a small fee.

- Using Appsumo to get daily web coupons (“groupon for web applications”)

- A/B testing with Optimizely is free and highly-recommended by Fabian Dittrich

- You can buy facebook likes for your business or website to increase “credibility”

- Using forums on your blog to increase interaction and productivity, in two ways: 1. Posting on existing forums to bring traffic to your site, or 2. Finding a niche where there isn’t already a forum and bringing it to life by building a forum  on your site.  Increase interaction while at the same time increasing content on your site.  PHPbb is free to build a bulletin board/forum.

- Using Balsamiq for idea prototyping to create digital sketch mockups of a product.

- One of our new visitors, Erik Frank, told us about his site where you can rent great apartments in Berlin for vacation or short stays at berlincribs.com

- Using kickstarter to fund creative projects–a really unique, community-building way of raising money for doing what you love.

- Putting things in terms of dollar signs is a great strategy because it gives customers a good perspective.  For example, a customer who wanted to quit drinking asked Rachman why his site Make Habits cost so much to join, and he told her that she’d save the $39 in a week or two of not drinking, as that’s only 5 or 6 drinks at a bar.

- Sebastian Mikaelson (who is bringing minimalism to Germany at Mr. Minimalist) increased efficiency of his blog by making an elite area and newsletter.

- Using Google Keywords to help think of words to include in your blog’s articles to boost your blog’s appearance in search engines.

- Sebastian also recommends Copyblogger.  He says it provides great content to help new bloggers.

- Mixergy has tons of inspirational videos of successful entrepreneurs.

- Lynda has training/how-to videos on EVERYTHING.  You have to pay, but its a great service according to several folks in the group.

- We all committed to a weekly goal.  Mine was to contact 20 people for my etsy shop.

Looking forward to next week!

Berlin 4-Hour-Workweek Recap for 5/27: Marketing, Networking & Credibility

4-Hour Workweek afterparty. (Ok, not really)

We had even more new people at the meeting than last time! Here’s a quick recap of what we discussed:

- Networking: Rachman reccommends asking people for feedback on your business, and spreading your ideas far and wide. He sets aside 30 minutes every day to email people.

- Using a 110% guarantee on your product. Its more than just risk-free for your customer, and it works.

- How to increase credibility: getting publicity in newspapers, magazines, and blogs – Fabian Dittrich joined us for the first time and he shared his awesome project Fab & Vivien Around the World: they will quit their 9 to 5 jobs and travel the world to increase awareness about social causes and raise money for local projects.

- Chris Williams visited us from the US and shared his experience building his successful business, Heat Spring Learning Institute, which provides education on clean energy training.

- How to make money before your product is ready, and how to prepare for product creation: Teach a class on what you know and charge for it–you will get great feedback from the participants, make money, and gain experience.

- Marketing tips for PPC and in general: Ask a question. For example, if you’re selling a “How to Dance” product, write “Do You Like Dancing?” in your ad

- Using Evernote to streamline & organize notetaking.

So excited to work with you! See you Friday :)

The Beauty of Doing It Quick and Dirty

Meeting Tim Ferriss, The Creation & Explosion of our Weekly 4HWW Berlin Meeting, and A Surprise Mentorship from a Car Thief (Juicy Stuff at the End)

Maneesh, Tim, Rachman & Me. Photo stolen from Rachman Blake.
Maneesh, Tim, Rachman & Me. Photo stolen from Rachman Blake.

What a fucking month.  Four weeks ago I made a post in my local Berlin couchsurfing group to ask if there was anyone in the city working on their own “muse” (a self-sustaining automated income business designed to earn money with minimal time investment, so that people can spend more time living and less time working, as described in the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss).  I had recently finished reading this book and was basically using it as a Bible to guide me through the steps to make my own business.  I was working alone every day which was boring and lonely, and when I did take the time to meet people, it seemed I was only meeting people who were unhappily but steadily treading down the traditional 9-5 job path.  Every time they asked me what I was doing in Berlin and I replied that I was making my own business, they nodded and smiled and assumed I was “just another starving artist” sitting at home watching Scrubs all day.  This was disheartening.  I’ve read that it’s best to surround yourself with likeminded people, so I gave it a shot with the couchsurfing post… although to be honest, I really didn’t think many people would respond.

On the same day I receive 11 responses, including two from people who had already successfully created their muses and were already successfully living the “digital nomad” lifestyle that I’m working towards!  Even more surprising was the fact that they reached out and offered to help me and the other people who posted that they were interested!  And so began a weekly meeting.

4HWW Party in Berlin

4HWW Party in Berlin, Photo by Axel Jack Metayer

A steady group of about 6 or 7 people headed by Rachman Blake (one of the already-doin-it lifestyle designers) began to gather every week and it has really been an inspiring experience: to know that there are likeminded people in a vicinity, to bounce ideas off one another, to get direct and appropriate feedback and advice.  I look forward to it the entire week, and when I leave, I’m absolutely buzzing with excitment to work on my muse (though the meeting ends on Friday night, which means we’re obliged to party and work must wait… damn life sucks).

I toiled for three weeks brainstorming ideas, re-reading the book, outlining my goals, and creating and adjusting my first muse experiment.  I launched the website last week with a live google adwords campaign and everything, and heaved a big sigh of relief and joy: it was far from perfect, but I had something to show for all my blood sweat & tears (and seriously there were a lot of the last two).

As if it weren’t enough excitement for 3 weeks, I woke up the next morning to find a new post on Tim Ferriss’ blog (read by at least 18 gazillion people) which showed videos made by the entrants of his latest competition.  I was hardly surprised but utterly amped to see that both Rachman Blake and Maneesh Sethi (the two successful 4HWW muse creators who had been helping me) had made it into the semifinals! Equally exciting was the tidbit at the end of the blog post: Tim would be coming to Berlin that very day!  At this moment, I knew I would meet Tim Ferriss.  Imagine a child tasting Nutella for the first time, then riding a pony to the moon, and winning an award for being the world’s best Astronaut.  This was my glee.

And meet him I did. Tim showed up to our weekly meeting last week (woah), and our little group swelled from 6 people to about 40.  He gave a great impromptu Q&A about learning Chinese, being an angel investor, speed reading, and other various random questions that his readers had.  It was awesome.  Rachman & Maneesh (who are also DJs) threw a great party yesterday at L.U.X. in Berlin for Tim, and we got to meet him again.  As exciting as it was to meet the man who wrote the book which has seriously influenced the actions I’m taking in my life, I think the most rewarding part was networking with all these amazing people who are bursting with creative entrepreuneurial energy.  Now we have a facebook group (you should join it) for the growing number of people in Berlin who are interested in building their 4HWW businesses.

The Juicy Ending

Like I said, there were a lot of awesome people at the L.U.X. party, and one of them happened to be the renowned car thief, Axel Jack Metayer.  Ok, ok he’s not a car thief, but that’s what his blog, http://autoschieber.net/ translates to in German.  (Check out his recap of meeting Tim Ferris in Berlin.)  Jack has also been successfully running an automated muse for over 5 years: he owns one of Germany’s leading Auto News websites and offere

Don't be a pussy

Life Lesson: Don't be a pussy. Get it done now, Quick & Dirty.

d to help me with my muse.  We met for lunch the next day and did a lot of brainstorming, website research, learning, sharing.  Lunch turned into dashing to a Capoeira class, Capoeira class turned into a mini party, and a mini party turned into Jack Couchsurfing in our living room.  Today he helped me edit and re-launch my website and adwords campaign.  I learned A LOT, but the most important lesson he had to share was what I will fondly name the Quick & Dirty Technique:  The point is just to get SOMETHING out there.  My muse is nowhere near perfect or  finished in any way, and I could spend the next year of my life getting it ready and still not feel ready or done… but I got the basics down in a gritty way and hit “Publish”.  Now I can test it, and improve it in the next step.  And Jack’s not the only one who suggests this: other “successful” people whom I really admire (like Rachman and Steve Pavlina and a zillion other people throughout history–you got links?) have said the same thing. Their advice to me and my advice to you is just to take that step you’ve been wanting to take: it’s never going to be perfect and you’re never going to be ready, but if you don’t do it now then you risk the chance that you never will.  And you don’t want to grow old wishing you had done that thing you were scared shitless to do, do you?  So get out there and send your script to that director, mail your essay to that magazine, quit that boring job, and ask that hottie out on a date.  Don’t worry about the little stuff, don’t waste time telling yourself you’re not good enough, don’t listen to the fear (everyone has it), ignore the small mistakes for now, and start: hit the literal or proverbial “Publish” button.  Just do it!  You might fail, but if you do, you’ll know how to do it better next time.  And it’s gonna work sooner or later :)

So, I will follow this advice today twice:

1. I will publish this post after only 1 edit (for spelling errors), and without second-guessing myself.

2. And I will present my baby muse to my friends, family, and the public via my websites (flickr, etsy, twitter, and facebook) and here to you, right now: http://www.artoutlines.com