past & present

I can’t help sharing the old photos I scanned over the holidays. They make me happy. This photo was taken 30 years ago. Isn’t my mom pretty?!

I’ve been a bit scatterbrained lately. I’ve still been trying to catch up on holiday work while simultaneously getting prepped to attend the Alt Design Summit in Utah next week. I am looking forward to the trip. I think it will be a fun conference.

What else have I been up to?

Well… I’ve been doing a lot of writing over at Ace Dept:

I am also hosting two Valentine swaps over on the ‘bot:

Come join us and receive some fun February mail!

Oooo!! I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Saturday (the new American one) and I actually liked it better than the book. They omitted many of the aspects of the book that I thought were silly/unbelievable/inconsistent. Plus, Daniel Craig’s attractive confidence made it more believable that every woman in the story wanted to sleep with him. I want to watch the Swedish version of the movie asap.

Ok, now I’m off to do our weekly run by the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and over to the Brooklyn Shake Shack… yum… shakes….

thoughts on building communities

Just over a week ago, I got back from a big, creative, business conference, and for the last two days I was “attending” a virtual business conference, listening to informative sessions via the phone…

My brain is reaching business info overload. Yet, despite reaching my saturation point, all of the advice, and tips, and info has me thinking about how I run my own business. I thought a few people may be interested in just what it is I do all day. And what I do is build communities. Mainly at Swap-bot, but now also at Ace Department.

I’ve written about my work on Swap-bot before here, but what does my day-to-day work look like?

  • Email – Lots of customer service email! Answering questions and fixing mixups and minor problems on the ‘bot is my main job. I also do plenty of more business-y emailing (like talking to design clients, lining up sponsorship and advertising on Swap-bot, setting up special blog posts, coordinating event logistics, etc) but customer service is the bulk of it. I don’t use automated or copy-and-paste responses. I type out each email individually. It means for more typos, but also more personalization. If you contact admin at Swap-bot, the owner of the site (me) will write you back. Maybe not quickly, but eventually. You can’t say that about many other websites. It may not be a perfect or incredibly efficient system, but I think it makes Swap-bot special… and I hope that it shows my dedication to the users who make Swap-bot the fun community that it is.
  • Blogging – I write 1-4 blog posts a day between here, the Swap-bot blog, and Ace. Blogging is one of my favorite activities, but it is definitely time consuming. I share crafty stuff on Swap-bot, business-y stuff on Ace, and everything else here. Blogging original, quality content that your users want to read is the best SEO tactic, no matter what any other social media consultants tell you.
  • Social Media – Twitter (rljart, SwapbotNews, and AceDept) and Facebook are the two daily biggies, but don’t forget Pinterest, Flickr, Goggle+, LinkedIn, and Tumblr. It may seem silly, but I actually spend a good amount of time writing and posting tweets. It is another way to communicate with our users and it actually results in hundreds of click-throughs per week.
  • Design – I take on a few freelance design jobs, but I am really trying to cut back. It sounds more impressive and romantic to say you are a graphic designer rather than a web administrator, but design is difficult and very time consuming. Plus, the money just isn’t there. Even a fairly high hourly rate doesn’t turn out to be very profitable and it pulls me away from working on my sites. I prefer to design cool things for Swap-bot and Ace, like postcards, business cards, buttons, and web graphics. (Just an FYI if you are looking to hire a web designer: real websites cost thousands of dollars. Do not trust someone who says they’ll do it for $200. Seriously.)
  • Miscellaneous – There is a lot of miscellaneous! Today I am packing up hundreds of little Swap-bot swag bags (seen above) that will be sent out to craft shows around the country to be included in their gift bags. Sometimes I do some crafting for swaps I am participating in. I take lots of trips to the post office. I look over every new Swap-bot account and weed out spammers and trolls. I read blogs and tweets looking for interesting things to share with my readers. I fiddle with this blog. I edit and upload photos. I manage the accounting and check over site stats and analytics. I visit the Ace and Swap-bot forums and join in on the discussions. I visit users’ blogs and leave comments. I listen to podcasts and instant message with colleagues. I take Crusher out for walks and finish up the laundry…

It isn’t very glamorous and it is a lot of unending work, but I enjoy it. I love working for myself and I believe I do more and better work on my own than I ever could for someone else. I am also very dedicated to facilitating supportive, creative communities. Even when the email gets overwhelming, that purpose drives me.

My uplifting thought for today: art + community = a better world.

exciting entrepreneur eBook

Earlier this year, I started an experiment. My friend Jessica and I were feeling a bit isolated running our small businesses from home and we thought it would be very helpful to have a place to gather with other entrepreneurs to socialize, network, get support, and ask questions. From this idea, Ace Department was born.

Today, I am excited to announce that we have published our first Ace eBook: 50 Steps from Wherever You Are to Owning Your Own Business. It is a step-by-step instruction manual that takes you from crystalizing your initial idea all the way through managing the day-to-day operations of a successful enterprise. We give you the steps, plus explain why they each matter and how to get there. All of the detailed, practical, clear instructions are based on our combined experience of launching multiple small business endeavors — both successful and less so — and they walk you through the process of laying the foundation for your dream business.

Learn more about the book and get your copy here.

back date

I am ridiculous and already had to backdate this entry for Thursday. Didn’t think The Diary Challenge would get hard on just the second day! ha!

I finished my pina colada cupcake this morning for breakfast. Hey, I was celebrating my sister-in-law, Amber’s, birthday, so it is allowed! Happy Birthday, Amber!

Today, I got a little too into writing this piece about daily deal sites for Ace. I am intrigued by the daily deal/flash site phenomenon. Many of the websites are super-successful startups, which is awesome, but I obviously subscribe to way too many because I am getting really tired of the constant “buy, buy, buy!” I am interested to see how the industry grows…

Swap-bot was busy today, too. There has been some duplicate account drama. We only allow one account per individual in order to avoid swap abandonment and sometimes I have to do some detective work to find duplicates. The Swap-bot members are a big help, but it still takes time to sort through some of the situations.

What made me happy today: My leftover cupcake, obvs – finishing a longer article for Ace and generating some conversation – getting to the bottom of a particularly strange account issue on the ‘bot – Travis picking up and preparing dinner – Words with Friends (I’m addicted right now).

What made me sad today: I am STILL sick! So tired of my sore throat – had to skip my bootcamp class because of being sick – anxiety over being behind on my Swap-bot admin email.

Question for tomorrow: What do I want to accomplish this weekend?

the diary challenge – kickoff!

So, today is the first day of June. It is my little brother’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Seth!) and it is also the official kick off of The Diary Challenge. I have been writing every day on my blog as part of the Challenge for about a week, but continuing it throughout the whole month of June is the ultimate goal. Want to join me? (Opal and Catarina are already on board.) If you want to challenge yourself to writing every day — whether it is on a paper journal, a blog, a old school diary with a little lock and key — all you have to do is write something every day. Easy.

Grab one of these badges or the code to show your participation on your site…

For the larger 200 pixel badge use this code:

<a href=""><img src="" title="The Diary Challenge" width="200" height="200" /></a>

For the smaller 125 pixel badge use this code:

<a href=""><img src="" title="The Diary Challenge" width="125" height="125" /></a>

So what is the point of The Diary Challenge. For me, I want to get in the habit of writing more often. I also want to dig a little deeper and write more introspectively. I want to address the following questions, some of which I borrowed from the Work Diary post on Ace:

How do I feel each day about my mood and productivity?

What am I good at and how can I use my skills to accomplish more with my online businesses?

What things are most important to me? What things make me most happy?

What are my personal and professional goals and long-term vision?

I’ll definitely still be writing about plenty of fun and silly stuff, but hopefully I’ll gain a little perspective on my work life and share some helpful insight into my daily process. What other questions should I be considering?

the diary challenge

My friend, Jessica, is brilliant. She won’t like me saying this, but she is a much better writer and big-picture thinker than I am. We are working on a new community site together called Ace Department. It is still in its beginning stages, but I really like where it is headed. We hope that it will grow to be a large, helpful, supportive, fun community for female entrepreneurs.

Anyway, today Jessica wrote a piece for our Ace Gazette blog (cute name, right?) about journal writing:

“The oldest productivity gurus in the book had it right: they kept diaries of their daily work and rest to provide context, satisfaction, and a sense of purpose for their next days. Recording their lives in writing gave them patience, helped them learn, and gave them the distance we often need from ourselves to grow. Whether you do it in notes to yourself or letters to someone else (like John Adams to Thomas Jefferson), getting your thoughts down on paper is eerily correlated with not only high intelligence but high achievement.”

The post got me thinking about this little personal blog of mine and the reasons why I keep it going. What are my goals for it? Why do I do it? What do I want to say?

This blog has always been my own personal space. I guess I’ve used it for record keeping and scrapbooking — It is a great resource when I am trying to figure out when we took certain trips or bought big items — but I would like it to be more. I would like it to be more helpful for me in both a personal and professional sense. And I want to be more honest. Not that I am dishonest, but I always try to keep this space positive and non-offensive… and I am no longer sure that is the best course of action.


In response to Jessica’s Work Diary Challenge, I am challenging myself to write here on “r.l.j. art”/”rachel & the city” everyday until the end of June.

I will write about personal, scrapbook-style stuff as usual, but I also plan to include more of my daily thoughts about my business life. I will write about my experiences working on and, and maybe even talk about some of my design projects. I will be honest and not always entirely positive. I will post something every day, no matter what!

Want to join me?

Post a link to your blog or website in the comments here, or over on the Work Diary post on Ace, so that I can follow along with your daily jottings. And invite your friends! Who couldn’t use a little more personal insight?


p.s. The diary you see above is one that I kept during my senior year of college. (Yep, about eight years ago. That entry is dated Valentine’s Day 2003.) It was more of a visual diary since I was working through my senior painting show. Like all diaries seem to, it now reads as immature and naive, but I love the record of my previous life!


  • Writing… about my dislike of spammy SEO for the Ace Gazette. (Also, we are hosting a live chat about living a life of entrepreneurism tomorrow, Wednesday, April 13th, from 7-8 pm EST. You must be an Ace member to join in and we’d love to have you, so come on over and sign up!)
  • Reading… this Vanity Fair piece about economic inequality in America: “The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”
  • Searching… for shoes to wear to a certain wedding in a few weeks.
  • Hosting… the second annual April Stash Bust swap on Swap-bot. Come join us and reduce your craft clutter by swapping some of your stash!

What have you been up to?