This week’s guest is Margaret Rode. Margaret started her career in advertising, but later realised it wasn’t aligning with her values. She started Websites for Good to work with small businesses, individuals, and non-profits who are trying to create something good in the world. From getting yelled at by Steve Jobs in her early 20s, Margaret now spends her time trying to find the balance between having great taste in the finer things in life and helping to improve the world in a sustainable way. She lives in the mountains west of Denver, Colorado with her husband, dog and massive vegetable garden.
What you will learn in this episode:
• The story of how Margaret went from corporate America to teaching gardening and building websites
• Margaret’s passion projects
• How Margaret works with clients
• Unusual strategies to get unstuck
• How Margaret keeps herself on track
• Her favourite creative tools and resources
Margaret’s story from corporate America to self-employed creative
Margaret began working in tech in her 20s, and one of her first jobs was in the marketing department at Apple Computer, which was the proverbial boiling frog as she was working in the same building as Steve Jobs during his angry days. After bumping around in corporate America for a couple of decades, from big organization to big organization, she finally decided to take a deep breath and go out on her own. The last job she had was for a network of advertising agencies where they did take the approach of ‘how can we get people to buy this thing that they don’t need with the money they don’t have’ and that really wore on Margaret. It was her ethics that drove her to start her business creating company websites for people doing good. It began with a website for some children’s book author friends and soon after that project she gave notice to her company and started doing her own thing fulltime. Margaret got hooked on the idea of taking her techy and marketing skills and use them for good, to further and advance good work being done in the world. That was in 1998, and she didn’t do any marketing of herself until 2008 because her whole business was based on referral and word of mouth.
Margaret’s Passion Projects
Margaret has always had a garden and liked to get dirty and grow things therapeutically. Immersing herself in the natural world is a kind of balance to the time she spends staring at a screen in her professional life. In the town where she lives it’s difficult to grow a garden because of the elevation and unpredictable weather, so Margaret began 2 community garden, where she also teaches workshops about food and food growing. It’s a forum for her to help people to get back in touch with their food, fresh air and sunshine. She also has a blog called The Green Hedonist which is about her determination to find the balance between having a luscious life—good taste in food, wine, travel and film—that is also environmentally sensitive and sustainable. Finding the place where the two lives overlap is a personal cause for Margaret.
How Margaret works with clients
When Margaret gets a new client, the process always starts with a conversation with the client about who they’re trying to reach. People think websites are about themselves, like an online brochure, but in truth the best ones are about the people who you are trying to help. The ideas all sprout from the avatar of the person they’re talking to, where they want to be and by when, and it just flows once you have that perspective. Margaret uses mood and visions boards and usually prefers doing it the old-school way on actual paper. She uses giant 1 metre sticky notes on the wall and often the clients get involved too.
Although Margaret is happy to work with people with big budgets who just want to hand over cash for a fancy website, she’s selective about the type of clients she works with. She also has a hybrid option called the 90 Minute Website, which starts with an self-paced e-course and culminates in a 90-minute session where together Margaret and the client get the website live. This is a great and very affordable option for many because often the people doing good in the world have very small budgets, and Margaret wants to work with them but also empower them to manage their website themselves over time. The beautiful thing about websites is that you can position yourself in a way so that you attract the people you want to attract and you repel the people that you don’t want to have anything to do with. It saves time and frees us up to focus on the things we really want to be doing.
A few of the websites Websites for Good has created
Strategies to get unstuck
Although Margaret does use the standard stuff like doing something completely different to jolt the mind out of stuckness, she finds the solutions vary because there are different faces of stuckness. Going for a walk and seeing a film are two common strategies that work for her, but she has a few other more unusual approaches too.
Her “1-2-3 routine” involves some kind of easy exercise like walking, then a very hot shower, followed by a medicinal does of something like caffeine, alcohol or protein. Protein is very stimulating for brain chemistry and therefore helps with creativity. In the 30-45 minute window following that 1-2-3 routine, Margaret says she has had some of the very best creative breakthroughs in her life. She will always have pens and pencils and her computer at hand to capture whatever gets jolted loose, because the effect wears off after an hour or so.
Margaret finds her stuckness if often associated with what she’s been consuming, and although everyone’s body is different she finds a lot of people don’t pay enough attention to that. If you’ve had a big, heavy meal or spent several days eating poorly, often times your brain is suffering and simply can’t do the job it normally does. Your body chemistry is an important part of setting yourself up for creativity.
For the past month Margaret has also developed a new early morning routine called Picnic Shelter Writing. She goes to seek out a new picnic shelter, brings a thermos of tea and sits with her journal or mobile phone, talking into EverNote and capturing whatever is flowing through her head at the time. It serves multiple purposes; not only is she out in nature, getting fresh air and sunshine, giving the dog a walk, but she gets some writing done and comes back to the office completely refreshed and able to have a brilliant creative. Margaret intended it to be a 30 day challenge but she is enjoying it so much so she doesn’t think she’ll stop.
How Margaret keeps herself on track
Margaret says she has an extremely cantankerous inner child, so she has had to find ways to keep herself on track and use time tools that don’t feel strangling or intimidating, otherwise the inner child will run off and play with the dog instead. She usually starts with the date she needs to have a project completed by and work backwards from there, breaking projects into bit-sized pieces.
When a creative project is difficult, our mind looks for the point of least tension and it will try to escape into something that’s not as hard, so social media is very appealing for that. It can be like drug addiction, because there’s something that your mind is suffering and wants to escape it. When feeling blocked and tormenting itself, the mind will do anything to stop feeling bad about itself because it can’t make things flow the way it wants them to flow. So Margaret uses apps like Self Control and setting bite-sized tasks to manage herself and keep herself on track.
Margaret’s favourite creative tools and resources
Evernote is her go-to app for capturing ideas. In terms of scheduling, Margaret resisted calendars and reminder systems for a long time because it reminder her too much of the treadmill she used to be on in her corporate life. She uses Google Calendar, phone apps like To-Do Reminder and Focus Booster. She also uses Self Control to limit her social media use.
Ultimately she loves pencil and paper, including the giant sticky notes, because there is something satisfying about finishing a task and being able to tick things off or scribble them out.
In terms of books, Margaret prefers the tried and true creativity folks that she explored in decades past, but these days finds that reading about creativity is actually a distraction from being creative!
She was also inspired by Tom Monahan, a mentor from her corporate life