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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (of Design Agencies)

good bad ugly design agencies

Been hearing horror stories of people dealing with design agencies lately, and since it’s Friday the 13th, this seemed like the perfect day for a post like this.

I’ve been wanting to write on this topic for a long time, and now that I’m moving on from freelancing/running a small design agency on to a full-time job (as a designer, but not at an agency). It’s time to share some of these thoughts that have been simmering deep in my belly with you.

When searching for an agency, you are looking for a partner to guide you through this crazy design process. Especially if you are new at the design process, don’t know much about developing and managing a website or just need to hand the project off to someone else to handle, you need to be thoughtful with who you choose to work with.

The Bad:
– Will they give you a straight answer when you ask them a question. Or do they try to avoid the question?
– Do they make changes by the time they say they will? Or does it take them two weeks to make a copy change.
– Are they helpful? Do they make suggestions toward the design of the project? When the client asks for suggestions? One of the big reasons clients hire design agencies is for our creative input

The Ugly:
– Restrict WordPress: The beauty of using WordPress is that we (the agency) can hand the reins over. The only reason an agency would put restrictions on WordPress is so that they can make more money from you (the client) when small changes are needed to be made.

Let’s end with The Good:
Signs of a good design agency:
– They give you straight answers
– Provide guidance
– They are willing to educate you on the design process.

My biggest tip: Does the agency treat you with kindness, respect and (most important of all) transparency.

Good luck out there! But be assured there are some fantastic agencies out there to work with. You just might have to dig through the bad and the ugly to find the good ones.

Three Hobbies

I came across this image on Pinterest last week and it really resonated with me. Since my word of the year is “passion,” I thought this would be a great place to start.

Find three hobbies you love quote

After some thought, here are my three hobbies:

One to make you money: design + photography
My love/hate relationship with design and photography continues…. but no worries, it’s more love than hate.

One to keep you in shape: tennis, running, swimming
Okay, so I have three of them. But, tennis is tough to do on my own (the husband doesn’t play). Running gets really boring on its own. And swimming? Well, without a gym membership, swimming is only possible during the summer months.

One to be creative: sewing
I finally learned to use a proper sewing machine last year, and now I can actually make useful things out of all the pretty fabrics from the fabric store. First up is a tree skirt for Christmas next year.

So, what are your three hobbies?

2015 Vision Board

It’s that time of the year again.

It’s resolution time.

For me, that means making a vision board. This has an annual tradition for me since 2012, when I landed a speaking opportunity at BlogHer Food, just under 3 weeks after I made my first vision board. Plus, being a visual person, I love being able to look back at my vision board throughout the year to check on my progress and to find some inspiration.

Here’s a look back at 2014‘s vision board:

2014 vision boardLeft to Right, Top to Bottom:

1. Begin working on getting my rescue diver SCUBA certification – This one will have to be revisited in a couple years.
2. Launch a children’s product business – done, website launched
3. Eat a healthier, more plant-based diet – not as much as I would’ve liked
4. Continue growing as a mom to a toddler – and still learning everyday
5. Inspiring quote, don’t ya think?
6. Learn to sew properly on a machine
7. Start playing tennis again – done, joined a community ALTA team
8. Run bitch – done, earned a 5K PR
9. Plan and grow a large backyard garden – done

Now, on to 2015:

My friend, Robyn, challenged her blog readers to choose one word to focus on for their New Year’s resolution, and to apply to how they approach the upcoming year. I just loved this idea, so the word that I’m choosing for 2015 is: passion.

When I was younger (think: 5 years ago), I used to do so many things with passion. I knew the things I was passionate about and I pursued goals with passion. So, what happened?

The burden of building a business in areas that I was not passionate about has jaded me. It’s not convenient for me to take dance classes anymore with the responsibility of being a mother to a toddler. Morning sickness, fatigue and nausea have deterred me from exploring new restaurants and being inventive with new recipes.

The more I thought about these reasons, or should they be called excuses, the more I’ve realized that I need to find the passion in my life again. That it’s entirely possible to be passionate about what I do. I just need to set my mind to it.

So, here is this year’s vision board, put together with images from my updated Pinterest board.

2015 Vision Board
Left to Right, Top to Bottom:
1. Create and preserve more memories.
2. Eat healthier, and more of a plant-based diet.
3. Grow our family.
4. Improve upon my sewing skills, learn to quilt.
5. Passion. My word for the year.
6. Publish a book.
7. Continue playing tennis, perhaps start teaching Mini-me to play this spring.
8. Run bitch.
9. Beautify the yard around our house, gardening both flowers and vegetables.

January 9, 2015 - 4:33 pm

estherjulee - 😀 passion! I like it! and get that book published, girl!

January 10, 2015 - 1:04 pm

Melissa - Thanks girl! Gotta get (re)motivated on that book writing!!

Inside the Mind of a Work From Home Mom

Today is a major milestone.

I’m finally getting to experience what many moms feel at the beginning of each school year: freedom!

Okay, maybe not exactly “freedom,” but I am getting a little bit of time to myself. Mini-me is off to pre-preschool also known as “Mother’s Morning Out” and I’m getting to do something that I haven’t been able to do in almost two years:

working at Bagel Boys

Yes, working at a coffee shop this morning with my friend, Robyn, something that I took for granted during my pre-baby days. Now, it’s an absolute treat!

Being a work-from-home mom has been quite the challenge these past two years. It’s a delicate balance between building a business and raising a child. It’s funny… some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind while attempting this almost impossible balance between two parts of my life:

– “Deadlines become an entirely new beast when a toddler is involved.”

– “You magically work so much faster under the threat of the end of naptime closing in.”

– “Where can I find someone who will deliver espresso?”

– “I’m bored.” (Just kidding. Never this one).

– “Why am I so tired? And why does everyone in the house get to take a nap except for me?” (Always this one.)

Now, to wrap up this blog post so that I can get some work done while I still have some time to spare. Happy Kids-are-finally-going-back-to-school to all you fellow moms out there!

Goals for August

Whoops. It appears as if I’ve skipped two months in goal posting.

But never fear! I’ve been working hard this summer on getting a whole host of things done.

summer goals completed
1. Survived a family trip to Denver.
Maybe this one should be more appropriately titled “Survived yet another plane trip with a toddler.” We flew out to Denver at the beginning of June to visit my brother, who’s getting his PhD at the University of Denver (smarty pants!). I just love that part of the country and I’m glad we have a great reason to visit often!
2. Getting lots of outdoor time
We’ve been frequenting the pool this summer, teaching Mini-me to swim has been great fun. Also, making sure that I run almost every morning, have to get ready for a 5K race coming up in a few weeks!
3. “Summer” cleaning the house
We kind of missed the whole spring-cleaning thing. So, we’re catching up with a little summer cleaning: bags of old clothes have been dropped off at Goodwill, bags of junk finally thrown out of the upstairs office and ugly bushes pulled out of the backyard.
4. Learned to use a sewing machine.
What?! It took almost 31 years, but I’ve finally learned to properly use a sewing machine. Made so far: four pillowcases, two dress-up capes and one play tent. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s a bad thing that I know how to use a sewing machine now… but, look! I can make such pretty things now.

DIY play tent


this months goals
1. Launch the website for The Little Hero Project.
Ohhh yes, this one has been a long time coming. The elves have been working hard on this project this summer. Website coming early next week!
2. Make one pillowcase dress for Mini-me
You can blame my new sewing obsession. See #4 above.
3. 31 days of 31
It’s officially my birthday month! I’m turning 31 and there are… 31 days in August. One full month of fun ahead! (follow along on Instagram @melissahcrane, I’m not going to be posting about the celebration here daily)
4. 100 happy days
Trying this one again. It failed in April (we were having a tough time with a miscarriage), so I’m going to try it again starting this month ( follow along on Instagram if you’re curious @melissahcrane).

The Irony of It All

We have a new kitchen!

We finally bit the bullet and remodeled. It was a long (5 years) time coming and I can not tell you how good it feels to have a beautiful kitchen that I can call my own.

Here is the original kitchen before we moved into the house:

original kitchenUnfortunately, I cannot locate any photos that I took of the kitchen after we painted the walls (a pale yellow) and moved our furniture in. We also removed that ceiling fan… who puts a ceiling fan in the kitchen? I mean, really?

The after:

kitchen renovation 1
It was a long process, updating a kitchen is no joke.

My sweet husband did most of the legwork, while I approved the design decisions. During the construction process, Mini-me and I headed up to my parents’ house in Virginia to stay for a couple weeks (construction, a toddler and two big dogs don’t mix well).

But in the end, it was all worth it. We, who am I kidding… I have the kitchen of my dreams. White cabinets, caesarstone countertops, lots of storage space and beautiful stainless steel appliances.

And that backsplash… I am completely in love with that turquoise subway tile… we had to wait an extra 8 weeks for it to be custom made/shipped to Georgia, but I am so glad that we did. I could just sit and gaze at that color all day.

kitchen renovation 2
kitchen renovation 3
After three years of food blogging, during which I would’ve killed for a new kitchen (or even one that was just a bit more updated than the standard low-grade contractor one that was built with our house two decades ago), it’s time to officially say goodbye to my food blog.

Writing my food blog has been great to me. I’ve met some wonderful people, I’ve worked on some pretty great projects and I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve been writing on and off on it for the past year or so, but I haven’t been feeling the same dedication to it that I felt before Mini-me was born. The site will stay up for at least another year, I enjoy referencing it for recipes and I know others do too.

Now, as I bid adieu to my food blog, I welcome a beautiful new kitchen to our lives.

This is going to be a beautiful new chapter, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

June 27, 2014 - 1:38 pm

Debbie - Love your new kitchen Melissa! I will miss your food blog. I better get printing the recipes I reference! Can’t wait to see what you are up to next.

5 Business Lessons that I’ve Learned from Running

I’ve never considered myself a runner. Even though I’ve completed my fair share of 5K and 10K races, with one half marathon thrown in for good measure.

But, after 6 years of running, having a baby and losing 30 pounds, I am finally starting to feel like a runner.

Shamrock n Roll Atlanta 5KFinishing at this year’s ShamRock N’ Roll 5k.

It’s only recently that I’ve started to feel at ease when running, and experienced the runner’s high that I’ve heard about. I can finally run an entire 5K without stopping to walk.

Next up is running a 10K without walking breaks.

The thing with running is that it gives you a lot of time to think. Sometimes, I ponder over the client project that I’m stuck on. But many times, I use running to just be in the moment and enjoy the act of running and being outdoors. Inevitably, thoughts still creep into my mind and most recently, I’ve been comparing running to running a business.

Here are 5 business lessons that I’ve learned from running:

1. Set goals
I’m not the type of person who can just run for fun. So, I sign up for races, which give me something to work towards.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others
I’m slow. There, I said it. I’m still trying to run a sub-30 minute 5k.

My husband is a runner. As in, completed multiple marathons and an Ironman… I would always compare myself to him. Don’t do that.

Run your own race. Do the best that YOU can do.

3. Take rest days
It’s important to let your body rest and heal, take it easy at least once a week.

4. The hardest part is just getting started
Sometimes it’s tough just getting out the door. When the weather is gloomy and chilly, the couch looks so much more inviting than the pavement outside. But, it’s days like those when I’m the most grateful after my run.

5. It’s easier when you lose the extra baggage.
In my early days of running, I was overweight and would struggle with breathing. Since my mom has asthma, naturally I assumed that I did too and that there was not much I could do about it. But after losing those 30 pounds, suddenly I have no issues with my breathing while running. Who knew?


March 24, 2014 - 6:58 pm

estherjulee - good lessons! i heard a really good quote about number 2.. that goes something like ‘the only person you should compete with is yourself yesterday’.. well, something like that but more eloquently. haha

Confessions of a Former Starbucks Addict

Hi, my name is Melissa and I was a Starbucks addict.

Starbucks addictionThree years ago, I freelanced full time from home and would frequent Starbucks four to five times a week.

My addiction was twofold:
1. I needed my daily iced grande nonfat latte fix.
2. I needed to get out of the house and see people.

It was just nice to get out of the house and be around other people. I never really met anyone there, aside from a quick chat with my favorite barista, but it was nice to see familiar faces every week. I was spending somewhere between $4 to $6 every day on my latte and a breakfast cake, every much addicted to the caffeine and satisfaction of toting around that cup with green mermaid logo.

When I got pregnant two years ago, the iced grande nonfat lattes became iced grande nonfat decaf lattes. I still freelanced from home, so the regular trips to Starbucks were still a reality.

Then Mini-me was born and and all possibilities of getting away to my favorite coffee shop quickly flew out the window. Then came the discovery of both my and Mini-me’s dairy allergies. It took some trial and error, but we figured this all out when she would break out in a rash all over her squishy little face, cry uncontrollably because of gas pains and vomit on occasion. These things happened when I would have milk or cheese to eat (we were breastfeeding).

So, getting rid of dairy in my diet was a no brainer.

Then, something remarkable happened. The chronic rashes that I would get on my hands disappeared. I lost weight. A lot of weight. As in, one month after giving birth, I weighed 25 pounds less than before I got pregnant. After some internet research, my suspicions were confirmed: I was allergic to dairy too.

Starbucks was now completely out of the picture (I’m also allergic to soy milk, if you were wondering).

But, the thing is. I don’t miss it. All it took was having a baby.

March 10, 2014 - 9:12 pm

estherjulee - aw then were are we supposed to meet when i’m in town? haha well we always got tea at caribou so that’s okay right? 😛

i def did see carol change a lot in her eating habits. she used to eat out a lot before, but now she cooks a lot more bc it’s less of a hassle. and when she was in LA, we would go to the convenient spots instead of all the good foodie spots.

maybe we can all get together at carols or maybe your place from now on if it makes it easier. :)

March 18, 2014 - 8:01 am

Melissa - Haha! I still get tea at coffee/bagel shops so yes, tea still works :)

Luckily, Paul and I still manage to go eat out with Mini-me pretty regularly. She’s great in a highchair as long as she’s eating or being entertained (ahem, iPad games). I guess we’re grooming her to be a foodie – she loves good pizza (Antico) and has been to Farm Burger Buckhead a few times.