What is a Flat Lay and How to Style One

What is a flat lay? I hear this all the time and up until a few months ago it was me asking the Internet. Here’s the quick answer: it’s a photograph shot from above, flat.

What is a flat lay and how to style one for Instagram

Although this term is kind of sort of new (the earliest reference I can find is 2015) the style is not. It just went by different names.

Other names for flat lay

  • Flatlay (OK, that’s just a different spelling)
  • Collage
  • Bird’s-eye view
  • Top shot
  • God’s-eye view
  • Knolling (from the 80s, and the original flat lay)

If you’re styling your photo using a light background, natural light, and shooting it from above…then you already know what a flay lay photo is. You just didn’t have the vocabulary.

So. That was easy. Now what?

What is a flat lay? It's when you take a photo from above, parallel to the styled objects you're shooting. It's a great way to do #bookstagrams and showcase your products in an interesting and engaging light. Try different props, backgrounds, and textures to tell a story and involve your audience.

Now you have to figure out what you’re going to take photos of. When figuring out what you want to showcase you also need to think about why. Why are you showing this to your audience? What makes it special? Why do you want them to see it? Whatever product or prop you land on, this becomes your “hero” or the focus of your composition.

But let’s break the flat lay down a bit using a personal example

I love taking flay lay photos of books and movies because it makes them so much more interesting. The book or movie is the hero—none of the props should take attention away from the hero!—and everything else adds to the story.

If you look at the above examples, you can see I’ve achieved the storytelling angle better in some than others using props, background, and composition. The more flat lays you do, the better you get at them (trust me). I shot these over a period of months using different techniques, camera angles, and lighting.

What is a flat lay? The simple answer is a photo taken from above. It used to be called knolling or bird's-eye view (borrowing from magazines and movies). Now it's used on Instagram and blgos to showcase products in an organized, clean, and engaging way. Showing knitting as a flat lay is a popular way to make your products stand out from the rest.

I also wanted to include my knitting flat lays so you can see a more minimalist approach. I shot these all on the same day using similar props and the same background. I did this because I wanted a consistent look on my Instagram feed while showcasing my hand knit products.

Here are a few tips for styling and shooting flat lays

Use a light background. In most cases, a piece of cardboard or a sheet will work great. A flat surface is ideal.

Try and style your flat lay. This can be difficult if you’re not artistic or confident with what looks good. Here are a few questions to ask as you style: Is my hero product the focus? Do I like this composition? What will make this more interesting? What will my audience like? Take a few shots and then re-style your flat lay and take a few more shots. The more you tweak the better you’ll get at it.

If possible, use natural lighting. After MUCH trial and error I found a window in my house that lets in a consistent amount of natural light from day to day. I created a nice little setup with a card table by the window so I can take advantage of the great light.

Try to be parallel to your flat lay when shooting. This is where things get interesting. You’ll need to be above the shot in order to get it right. Try a stool, chair, step ladder, or whatever you need to get in the correct position. I use a combination of a chair and a tripod but I’m always trying to get my shots more parallel.

Remember to take lots of photos and to move your flat lay composition around a bit so when you get to the photo editing you have a few options. This may take a while at first but you will get better, I promise! If I can figure it out…then you’ll be just fine.

What is a flat lay? It is when you take a photo from above, parallel to the styled objects you are shooting. It is a great way to showcase your products in an interesting and engaging light. Try different props, backgrounds, and textures to tell a story and involve your audience.


More social media tricks and tips

Check out these posts on the blogging prompt “light”

How to Create a Social Media Portfolio

Portfolios. In general I understand them—a collection of your work assembled to demonstrate your experience and expertise in an area. But I’ve struggled with social media and figuring out how to create a social media portfolio. Because although it’s my work it’s not for me. Most of my social media experience is creating content and strategies for other people or brands. It’s like ghostwriting. It’s ghostsocialing. (I sure hope that’s a hashtag.) My mission is to figure out how to present my social media portfolio in a way that demonstrates my experience and expertise but doesn’t break client confidentiality.

How to Create a Social Media Portfolio

As I searched the Internet I didn’t find a lot. Most how-to create a portfolio advice is for writing clips, marketing, or how to display your personal social media stats. All of this is good and useful, but off topic. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because it’s a tricky balance. So I started asking writing friends how they add ghostwriting credits to their portfolio. Short answer, they don’t. They leave it out and just refer to “ghostwriting services” or “x amount of books/blogs ghostwritten for x amount of clients.” Vague but what else can you do?

But I want to do more for my social media portfolio.

The golden rule when you create a social media portfolio: show don’t tell

You know you need to do it in your writing but it also is important in your portfolios. But how do you show (or even create a social media portfolio) when your clients don’t love the idea of admitting they don’t run their own accounts? Or what if you did strategy work with a client, how do you display that? And what if you worked with a client at one point and their feed looked amazing but now they manage their own and it isn’t so awesome? How do you show that?

Here are my best three ideas for building an awesome social media portfolio

First, showcase the services you offer

The best social media portfolio’s I’ve seen break the services down into bite-sized pieces.
Create a social media portfolio by starting with your services and expertise.

Here are a few tips for creating this section of your social media portfolio.

  • Images are your friend. Find generic stock images representing the services you offer and the types of clients you serve
  • Highlight the services you offer
  • Make it interesting

You can expand on and explain the services you offer, or not. It depends on your target client and what will speak to him/her.

Second, list your clients

Gulp.

I know, we’ve been talking about the situation where you can’t name your clients or you aren’t sure how to talk about them. We’ll just do our best here.

Remember how you listed your services a few minutes ago? These are now our categories for organizing our clients. So, in my case it’s Consulting, Social Media, Blogging, and Platform Strategy. Divide your clients into categories (they can be in more than one) and make them look pretty.

If you can’t name your client then describe them. You can list them as a Wellness Company in Vancouver, BC for example. If you can’t show their logo or brand then find a nice stock image that represents the type of business they are. Now list how you worked with them according to your categories. Bing, bang, boom.

When you create a social media portfolio you can't always showcase your clients. If you can't, find an image representing their brand/business and describe how you served them.

Here are a few tips for creating this section of your social media portfolio.

  • Describe the types of clients you’ve worked with and the types of services you provided
  • Include links to client websites if you can
  • Include client testimonials where you can

In my mock-up example I haven’t expanded to this point but you can see how more is more here. However, if you can’t say more due to client confidentiality then a beautiful image and a short description of the work you did will suffice.

Third, make sure your personal social media profiles are optimized

I’m listing this third but your social media profiles are the first and best part of your social media portfolio. You don’t need them optimized to create a social media portfolio, but this is where many of your future clients will find you for the first time. You want to make a positive, memorable impression here. Wherever they find you.

I’ve outlined how to optimize your social media profiles before but here are the highlights.

  • Choose a professional/standout profile picture and cover photo
  • Make it easy for people to know who you are/what you do
  • Link to your website
  • Include keywords about your services
  • Be clear on your location/contact info

A few other things to consider when you create a social media portfolio

  • Think about what you want to be hired for. Is it social media management? What about content creation, content curation, platform development, strategy, etc. Curate your portfolio to display that—you don’t need to list EVERY client or every freelance job you’ve ever performed (I mean, you can, but put some thought into it)
  • Things to cover: who you are (about), your mission, what you do, and who you serve (aka who you want to work with)
  • Is there an area you’d like more work in? Highlight this throughout your services, experience, expertise, and even which clients you mention

Portfolios. In general I understand them—a collection of your work assembled to demonstrate your experience and expertise in an area. But I've struggled with social media and figuring out how to create a social media portfolio. Because although it's <em>my</em> work it's not <em>for</em> me. Most of my social media experience is creating content and strategies for other people or brands. It's like ghostwriting. It's ghostsocialing. (I sure hope that's a hashtag.) My mission is to figure out how to present my social media portfolio in a way that demonstrates my experience and expertise but doesn't break client confidentiality.

Setting Social Media Goals: How to Do it and What to Track

Here’s the thing. We need social media goals because we need to know our time is worth spending on social media. How can you figure this out? By reaching goals that move your business ahead. How do you reach those goals? First you need to set them. Today we’re talking about social media goal setting—how to set social media goals and what to pay attention to.

Setting Social Media Goals

The first step: When setting social media goals, you need to be realistic

Goal setting. You’re going to need goals. Let’s agree they’re integral to this process. However, while it’s fun dreaming and thinking big, the work of it is figuring out how to reach your goals. The best way to set goals you’ll actually work to achieve is following the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting model. It’s quick, straightforward, and keeps you focused on action. If you’ve taken my free five-day marketing challenge you’ve gone through this process with me and I hope you’re still working towards them! Start with setting S.M.A.R.T. social media goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive.

The second step: Audit your current social media efforts

This is important to make sure your goals are based in reality and to ensure your profiles are on brand. You can audit your social media presence in any number of ways but I recommend creating a spreadsheet and collecting the following information.

  • Platform name
  • Whether or not your profile is on brand (Yes or No)
  • Whether or not your password is saved in a central place (like a password safe; Yes or No)
  • How many friends/followers your profile has
  • What your target/ideal number of friends/followers is

This is a simple document but it helps you stay organized. I also recommend looking at your follower number versus your follower goals and measuring them against the S.M.A.R.T. goals system. Are they achievable and relevant? Will they help you reach your social media goals? If not, adjust them as necessary. Need more? Here are five tips for optimizing your social media profiles.

As part of your audit also look through your posts from the past couple weeks. Ask if your posts are on brand, interesting to your ideal customer/reader, and personable. If not, there are a few more social media goals to add to your list.

The third step: Create a social media strategy

You knew I’d go there

You know what you want, you know where you’re going, now you need to figure out how you’re getting there. That’s all a strategy is. It’s a plan to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Don’t freak out! It’s not hard and it’s not restrictive. Having a strategy breaks down these huge, intimidating goals and makes them reachable. Go for it!

And don’t worry if you’re lost, I’ve done the heavy lifting—here’s how to create a social media strategy in five steps. You’re welcome.

The fourth step: Measure your impact by paying attention to the right metrics

When you’re setting social media goals it is easy to become obsessed with metrics and check them five times a day (or more). But this is not good for your mental health. You can’t ignore metrics but you also don’t need to focus on them every day. Check your metrics every week, month, quarter, or whenever makes sense to you and pay attention to the ones that will move the needle towards your social media goals. I can’t tell you the exact metrics you should watch but I will caution against vanity metrics that make you feel good but don’t mean anything. Once you start measuring you’ll understand what I mean.

Here are some suggestions of metrics to watch (also known as key performance indicators).

  • Follower growth
  • Frequency (how much are you posting?)
  • Content type (what are you posting?)
  • Engagement/Reach
  • Link clicks
  • Social media referrals (on your website)
  • Email signups

Setting social media goals helps you control how much time you spend on social media and keeps you focused on why you’re there. It can help you get to know your audience better, determine the type of content you produce, and see what’s working. By setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, doing a social media audit, creating a social media strategy, and measuring your platform growth you will find building your brand on social media not only makes sense but is fun and worth your valuable time.

Here's the thing. We need social media goals because we need to know our time is worth spending on social media. How can you figure this out? By reaching goals that move your business ahead. How do you reach those goals? First you need to set them. Today we're talking about social media goal setting—how to set social media goals and what to pay attention to.

Do you have more tips for setting social media goals? Please share!

How to Add Captions to Facebook Videos

Subtitles. Words. Closed captions. How do people add captions to Facebook videos?

How to add captions to Facebook videos

I wondered the same thing, is adding captions to Facebook videos some sort of magic I wasn’t privy to, or perhaps a paid feature for rich people? Well, it turns out there’s one easy way to add captions and I’m here to blow your mind. Maybe.

Do I need to make an argument for adding captions? You scroll through Facebook with your phone/computer on silent like I do, right? So even though “everything’s all about video” people still need a hook to draw them in. I believe the hook is captions. Tell people what they’re watching. Don’t make them work too hard.

How to add captions to Facebook videos

  1. If you’re on a page, click in the “write something” box and then on the camera icon like you’re going to add a new post (because you are). If you’re on a personal profile click on the Photo/Video link in the “what’s on your mind?” box. You’ll find this at the top of your timeline or news feed
  2. Upload your video, add your description and screenshot and then click post
  3. Once the video is ready to view, hover over the video and click the three dots in the top right-hand corner, then click on Edit Post
  4. Your default view is on the first tab, Basic. Navigate to the second tab, Captions
  5. Here you’ll see two choices: Upload SRT File or Generate. Let’s choose Generate
  6. Here’s where things get magical. You’ll see Facebook auto-populate your captions and now all you need to do is tweak them (their voice recognition is good, but it’s fallible)
  7. Once you’re happy with the captions, click Save to Video and you’re done! You have just added captions to Facebook videos you genius you!

If you’re wondering about the SRT File option, this is a SubRip file you have to set up ahead of time in Notepad or TextEdit. You’ll need to understand the formatting and know your caption time spans so if you aren’t following this sentence just stick with the Facebook-generated captions, alright?

Top tip: I schedule video posts for my clients and was dismayed when this didn’t work. When your post is scheduled you can’t generate captions to Facebook videos but you can still upload a SRT file. So don’t worry if you can’t generate captions—just create a reminder to add them once your video posts/publishes on Facebook.

Subtitles. Words. Closed captions. How do people add captions to Facebook videos? I wondered the same thing, is adding captions to Facebook videos some sort of magic I wasn't privy to, or perhaps a paid feature for rich people? Well, it turns out there's one easy way to add captions and I'm here to blow your mind. Maybe.

How to Avoid Social Media Overwhelm

Overload. Burnout. Addiction. Whatever you call it, social media overwhelm is real and reduces our capacity to connect…ironically.

How to Avoid Social Media Overwhelm

I heard a stat the other day saying we look at our phones an average of 150 times per day. I don’t know if it’s true but when I’m deep-down honest with myself I wonder how many times I look at my phone. A lot. And why? Much of the time I’m not doing anything. Opening apps, refreshing feeds, seeing if that was my phone that buzzed.

And that’s just checking what other people are posting. What about posting itself? How much time do I spend thinking about social media? If I’m deep-down honest…more than 150 times per day. Thinking about strategy, researching tactics, and testing tools can be a full-time job if you let it.

So what can be done about social media overwhelm?

Oh, lots. First of all, you can take the extreme approach by avoiding it, banning it from your life, removing apps from your phone, or doing a social media detox. All those things are fine—but extreme. If you’re trying to grow your platform going off social media, although good for your mental health, doesn’t help you grow. What if there was a way to have the best of both worlds? Limit the time you spend on social media/in the digital world but be present when you’re there?

Yes, I’m trying to paint a picture of you being intentionally social rather than mindlessly scrolling. Not a crazy thing! I think you can do it!

Free Printable | 5 Tips for Optimizing Your Social Media Profiles

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Here are my top five tips for avoiding social media overwhelm

  1. Create a strategy
  2. I do this for a living so of course I’ll recommend building a social media marketing strategy. This isn’t hard but you do need to spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of social media. Why are you there? What are your goals? Who do you want to connect with? Figure these things out and everything gets easier from here. (Want some help? Here’s my Five Step Social Media Strategy for Writers.)

  3. Create a posting schedule
  4. Your posting schedule (also known as a content calendar or social focus) is a lifesaver. Instead of showing up going “I need to post today but I don’t know what to dooooooo,” you say “OK, so my focus today is encouragement so what do I have that’s encouraging? On one of the accounts I manage I created a basic posting schedule to help me come up with content but to also remain consistent. Mondays: Contests or opportunities, Tuesdays: General knowledge, Wednesdays: Ask a question, Thursdays: Contests or opportunities, Fridays: Article share. See? There’s a posting schedule, just like that. (If you want to go deeper, here’s my article on how to create a content calendar.)

  5. Choose your focus (ahead of time)
  6. You can’t be everywhere. So which network will you focus on? There is a lot of advice out there for which networks have the biggest payoff but you will need to decide for yourself what works. A couple questions to consider when choosing your social networks: Where are you most comfortable online? Where are your clients/readers most comfortable online? (You can go deeper on choosing your social networks here.)

  7. Get help
  8. Whoa. But we writers are solitary creatures! Yes, but we also tend to get in our heads and spiral. When you’re feeling social media overwhelm creep up, get help. This could be by speaking with a mentor or colleague, taking a course/learning a new skill, or hiring someone. The point is, get help. (Here’s a great story about a time I was asked for help and we ended up re-launching JenniMarie’s photography business.)

  9. Use scheduling tools
  10. Use them like they’re going out of style. USE TOOLS! They not only help you organize your social life, but if set up right, they allow you to focus on what you need to and filter out the rest. The right scheduling tools will keep social media overwhelm at bay and help you reach your social and business goals. (Here are my 15 best apps for freelance writers, including my favourite social media scheduling tools.)

    OK! That wasn’t so hard was it? Now get out there and be social!

    I heard a stat the other day saying we look at our phones an average of 150 times per day. I don't know if it's true but when I'm deep-down honest with myself I wonder how many times I look at my phone. A lot. And why? Much of the time I'm not doing anything. Opening apps, refreshing feeds, seeing if that was my phone that buzzed. And that's just checking what other people are posting. What about posting itself? How much time do I spend thinking about social media? If I'm deep-down honest...more than 150 times per day. Thinking about strategy, researching tactics, and testing tools can be a full-time job if you let it. So what can be done about social media overwhelm? Here are my top five tips for avoiding social media overwhelm.