Rachel Ralston Design

One holiday season when I was younger I worked at Zingerman’s mail order as a Data Wrangler.  It was lovely, but the biggest thing I took away that says with me to today is visioning.

Some explanation from ZingTrain:

What is Visioning?

As we define it at Zingerman’s, a vision is a picture of the success of a project at a particular time in the future. A vision is not a mission statement. We see those as being akin to the North Star, a never-ending piece of work that we commit to going after for life. It also isn’t a strategic plan—which is the map to where we want to go. A vision is the actual destination. It’s a vivid description of what “success” looks and feels like for us—what we are able to achieve, and the effect it has on our staff.

We start our planning work with a draft of a positive vision of the future—and we do that visioning work at every level of the organization, whether it’s working on visions for a business five years out, a project that will be done in five months, or a dinner special that will be on the menu at 5 p.m.

For Zingerman’s, an effective vision needs to be:

  • Inspiring. To all that will be involved in implementing it.
  • Strategically sound. That is, we actually have a decent shot at making it happen.
  • Documented. You really need to write your vision down to make it work.
  • Communicated. Not only do you have to document your vision but if you want it to be effective, you actually have to tell people about it too.

The Innovation Benefit

I used to think that innovation came from a flash of brilliance. But I’ve learned that it actually comes when you build in (and regularly use) processes that encourage it. Zingerman’s visioning work is based on a concept that dates to the late 1950s and early 60s. The late Ron Lippitt called it ‘Preferred Futuring” and found that when people focused on the end result rather than the litany of logistical issues, the energy level in a room went up. And by getting people to start thinking about what success was going to look and feel like, creative, out- of-the-box ideas flowed more freely. It gets people to go after the future of their choosing.


Anxiety is a daily struggle for most people in one way or another, from big debilitating anxiety to constant tiny pieces of social anxiety, even for those who appear polished and enthusiastic with their fellow humans. It’s something that has come up for me a LOT in the last year that I haven’t known how to talk about.

Everything you read about starting your business says things like “Just set your intention and start!” or “You can do anything you put your mind to!” or “17 things Successful People do before Your Lazy Ass is Even Awake!”

Obviously, if I just could do all the things that these articles told me to, then I’d be a mega successful entrepreneur, right? If I’m not successful yet then I’m just not personally good enough (but we’ll save that for another article entirely…)

But here’s the truth: I’ve been engaging in an intense battle with anxiety for over a year. I wasn’t able to do the things the impossible paradigm of the ‘successful person’ does: be up at 7am for yoga, cook a nutritious breakfast, chuckle lovingly at my family, then leisurely stroll out the door to effortlessly hustle on behalf of my livelihood. A lot of the time just getting out of bed was hard.


What is Spec work? Spec is short for speculative. Meaning, clients asking for work that doesn’t include fair payment.

Do business people ask creatives to work without pay often? In my experience, yes. Constantly. Being asked to work with people on design contests, discounts, ‘customized examples’, and creative pitches are all of common occurrences.

Why is that bad? Off the bat, not paying workers fair compensation for their time and knowledge is a jerk move no matter who you are. If you hire someone to mow your lawn, you don’t expect them to come do it once for free so you can measure their skill.  You do your research, check yelp and reviews, call and talk to people at the company and make an educated and ethical hiring decision.  Creating a design takes a lot of time and creative energy.  If you ask for work for free you’re not valuing the person you’re working with and you’re going to get less-than-great work.  Additionally, a hastily made design isn’t a comprehensive way to measure the skills of the company you’re working with.


Comic by Brad Colbow, click the picture to check out his work.

From a client angle, quoted from the Design Business Association’s blog:

Fundamentally, we believe the creative pitch is commercially toxic and is a tradition the marketing profession can do without. Commercially toxic may sound a little over the top but here are some of the potential hidden consequences of the creative pitch that can have a negative impact on a business, post decision: 

- The creative will be naïve and hastily pulled together. It will be based on a very narrow understanding of you, your market and the true nature of what is required. Creative like this is dangerous to share within a business as it can lead to commercial decisions being made on the basis of taste rather than commercial sense. This ultimately may lead to your own commercial failure

- It isn’t free creative, the cost of producing this work will be recovered through the subsequent work you do, the agency will likely resent giving their work away for free and this dysfunction will undermine and ultimately destroy your commercial partnership. A failure in such a vital strategic relationship may lead to your own commercial failure 

- The quality of any creative produced will only reflect the amount of time the agency has spent on the pitch. In any successful agency this will not be a great amount of time, unless the agency is struggling to win work. This will lead to poor decision making as it is likely that you appoint a poor agency with lots of time to spend on your pitch over the strongest agency who was busy with fee paying work in the lead up to the pitch. Ultimately this will affect your competitiveness and may lead to your own commercial failure.

Want more information? Check out NoSpec!’s website.

By request, here is part 1 of the apps and programs that run my business.

Habit RPG
I. Use. This. Constantly. It’s my main to do list app and it has, no joke, changed my life.  While it can be a little glitchy at times, it’s a grassroots project that makes to do lists and the daily grind of becoming a better person fun.

Google Drive
This might seem obvious to some, but google drive is a lifeline.  Since they switched over to a dropbox style system we’ve been inseparable.  Never lose your files again.  Note: I do pay a fee for this so that I can have a ton of storage.

Spotify is my constant, standby music player.  It’s always on.  It lets you search for (in many cases) whole discographies by artists, make playlists, and start artist inspired radio stations.

I love new music.  Though I’m not a musician, I {heart} soundcloud for finding new music from working artists. Keeps my music rotations fresh.

Stayfocusd is a Chrome app that allows you to block websites after a certain amount of use.  Is a great tool in helping me keep my social media addiction in check


work big to small

A month and a half ago I challenged myself to write a course in 30 days.  I was not successful.  I’ve learned a ton the the process, worked out a lot of the tech of releasing a course, and the course is on track to launch in January, but I didn’t manage my process well and I couldn’t get it done on that timeline. Looking back, I realize that got so focused on details that I forgot my big picture.  Now I’m in the process of reworking my plan backward from a year for my business, and backward from a broad overview for my course.

It’s amazing how often you can know a truth in one part of your life, but then turn around and have to relearn the exact same truth in a different part of your life.

“Work from big to small.”

I have to remind my drawing students of this constantly.

While drawing, new students often get focused on and fascinated by details.  They stop drawing a human and start drawing fingers.  They don’t draw a face, they meticulously draw eyelashes.

But the thing is, if you focus too closely on any one part, you forget the rest.  You get that hand perfect but the arm is too long and the body is out of proportion.  Those eyelashes are stunning but the rest of the drawing remains only half finished.

In my experience, the way to draw well is to fight your instincts- start big and work your way backward to the details.  You start with gestures, shapes, and general proportions and slowly build in the specifics.

From the outside it can seem like masters of their craft skip the ‘overview’ work, but that’s only an illusion.  When you watch a highly skilled craftsman, they can have impressive work done in record time.  What you’re seeing is years of experiential knowledge speed them through the steps that would take the beginner much longer.

The key, no matter how advanced you are, is to never lose sight of your big picture.  Your dedication and process should always work from big to small, both in concept and action.

I’m relearning this lesson in the business space.  When you get too focused on any one detail without having laid the foundation evenly across your business, you end up standing on unbalanced ground, feeling overwhelmed, and not making progress.  Zoom out to the big picture and it’s easy to see what needs to be worked on for progress to be made.

Zoom out and think about your next year.  Thinking at a high level, what are the 3 biggest things that need to be improved? Now, write a list of 5 actions that you can take in the next month to start addressing these challenges.  Let me know what your thoughts in the comments, I love watching your progress.



This morning I was sitting across from my husband as we both aggressively drank our coffee and lazily worked on our respective projects. It’s interesting when you’ve known someone for large swaths of your life, they get to watch you go through your evolution in a way that no one else does.  In our case we’ve been together since I was 19, almost a decade now, so he’s truly been able to see me grow up.  He looked up at me with his lovely brown eyes, sipped his coffee, and commented that it’s been interesting to watch me learn (read: struggle) to own a company.

Get ready: This is a moment when I’m going to pull back the curtain and get a little vulnerable.  Owning a company challenges me personally with things I’ve struggled with my whole life: time management, follow through, focus, seeing and remembering details, etc.  There’s a reason I went to art school straight out of high school- I wanted to be immersed in what I was good at, not remind myself constantly about my problems with school and life.

Running this company, I can’t get away from my challenges and fears.  They’re waves that break over me all the time. As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I’m always having to keep track of so many things and, hands down, the biggest thing that impedes my company’s growth is myself. I’ve learned that I have to manage my motivation, headspace, and emotional landscape quite carefully to move forward in the way I want to and sometimes it feels as if I work day and night just to keep my head above water.

What does all this feel like? It’s fear.  I feel afraid.  Afraid that I’m not good enough, smart enough. Afraid that I’m going to let people down. Afraid that I”m an impostor who can’t keep this afloat.

Every now and then, usually in moments of late night desperation, I day dream about the alternative- a cushy office job.  I salivate over the security, being able to count on my next paycheck, and coming home to spend time with my family without that nagging feeling that I should be working.

But then my vision clears and I realized that I love what I do, even though it is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I remember that the grass isn’t greener on the other side (and most corporations would frown on the blue hair).

So, what was the one thing that has turned me from a frivolous millennial to a grown (bad)ass woman?  The experience of sensing my fear, and instead of running away from it, recalibrating my life to walk squarely toward it.  Walking toward my fear and my perceived weaknesses was what made me start this company and it’s the thing that keeps me here even in my hardest moments.

We’re all terrified. The first step to moving forward is accepting that as a constant and not letting it stop you from doing what you need to become your best self.

Know an entrepreneur who’s stuck? Forward this article to them.  They’re not alone.


It’s hard, when you’re in the middle of running a business, to remember to focus on growth and believe that investing in yourself is worth it.

That’s what I found myself repeatedly thinking today as I was sitting in the creativeLIVE studios for the first day of Melanie Duncan’s Unlock the Power of Pinterest workshop.

Last week I was out with a friend and was gushing about traveling out of San Francisco (my favorite place in the world!) to be a guinea pig for two back to back creativeLIVE events this week. Suddenly, he looked at me and said, “So… What do you think you’ll get out of that? Why is that worth it?” I was taken aback.  The question came on the heels of me enthusiastically running my mouth for several minutes about the things I’m looking forward to learning.  The conversation quickly recovered and moved on, but I was left with that question.  Even with all the things I’m learning here, why is it worth it to take a full week ‘off’ to come out and do this?

Ultimately, it’s worth it because I’m prioritizing development.  I’m remembering and acting out the importance of growth.  I don’t always do that.  In the busy haze of running a company I can get lost in the mundane minutia of working with clients and generally keeping things afloat.  However, when progress is your goal you have to make the investment of time, our most precious and limited resource.

So here’s to investment of time, money, and energy in oneself.  Cheers.


creative liveHey! We’re going to be on the internet-tv!

Catch Rachel on Unlocking the Power of Pintrest with Melanie Duncan

and Make Your Website Work for You with Kevin Duncan

From 9am – 4pm, Sept 4th – 9th

These classes are FREE to take while they’re live, so tune in!



“My dear, Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover. ~ Falsely yours” ― Charles Bukowski


Imagine: You hear about a company that sparks your interest, so naturally, you google them.  What if they don’t come up in the search results? What do you think about them? What if what you find that they have a website, but it’s an unimpressive ghost town obviously old, unorganized, and never updated.  Would you trust them with your credit card? Your email address? How does it effect your relationship to them and your likelihood to spend money with them?

If you said that a shitty online presence would be a valid reason not to trust a company then you’re not alone.  Based on this study from Search Engine Land’s Local Consumer Review Survey most people surveyed were just as likely to turn to the internet, as they were to ask for personal recommendations about local businesses.  According to an TRUSTe survey 88% of consumers will avoid doing business with companies that they don’t believe will protect their online privacy.

This paints a compelling picture.  Consumers are well educated in their options, have amazing resources to make educated decisions, and are consistently turning to the internet to help them make those decisions.  Consumers need to not only be able to find you, but know based on your online presence that they can trust you with their purchases and information.

If you have an inconsistent, infrequently updated, patchy online reputation then you’re a ghost.  Consumers value trust and you show up as translucent: they can see right through you.  If you’re not showing up in the marketplace as a solid modern business, how can you persuade customers that you’re their best option?

Who are you when people find you on the internet? Here are some quick tips for maintaining your online reputation:

  • BE CONSISTENT! Seriously.  Post regularly: whether that’s once a month or once a day.
  • Remember that your social media presence builds your brand’s reputation first and speaks to your products second.
  • Consciously and actively build a positive reputation by providing great customer experiences.
  • Build a recommendation system that fosters brand advocates, collects recommendations and media mentions, and lets you to harness the love, so to speak.
  • Remember that your social media mentions will effect your search results.
  • In the land of viral blog posts and social media, individual consumers have power. Don’t be quick to ignore anyone.