Working from Home Tips, Covid-19 Edition

March 10, 2020

It’s finally here! Not the end of the world, the other thing – full freedom to work from home. This might seem like a dream come true but once the honeymoon is over it’s still just work. Try your best to stay productive, avoid going stir-crazy and brag to your friends that still commute.

We organized these working from home tips into three categories:

women working

Communication (Big Deal When Remote)

Typing away at home all day might sound dreamy, but after a few days the isolation will sink in. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, it is critical to stay connected to your team, office or coworkers. Regular communication helps keep you connected to the tasks and work that need to get done. It might also keep you sane. More care needs to be taken when a team is not interacting in person every day – even if it’s purely social or not work related.


If you data/cell plan sucks get a free Google Voice Number. Free voicemail and US long distance, use your new number on your cell, have calls forwarded etc. Another good option we use at the office is Dialpad, which is a full featured VOIP type solution. It has a good app and runs on desktop as well.

Video Conferencing

One of our favorites is Zoom which will give you unlimited 1 on 1 meetings and free group meetings up to 40 minutes. It also seems a bit more friendly across international groups. Of course there’s Skype, Google, Uberconference (related to dialpad) and a million others you can search for on your own.


WhatsApp is surprisingly effective for group calls/chats/messaging. The data is encrypted, but it is owned by Facebook. Data will use wifi not your cell and there is phone and desktop apps. If you’re over 40 like me this might be a good chance to learn how to use this. Special bonus is how widely used it is outside the US if you ever get a vacation.


I can not give Slack enough praise. Regardless of the size of your team, this app can allow messaging, file sharing, calls and more. If you or your team have been thinking about using this and you’re stuck remote – take the time to integrate this into your organization. It will probably stick with you once the whole virus scare is over too. Free and paid versions.


The WeChat app gets criticized a bit for being foreign owned, but it really does it all. Worth considering if you’re already familiar or have people spread out across the globe – especially in China.


devices with chain

Security – (You should do this anyway)

We’ve all been meaning to do it for ever. Change up the same password we use across multiple accounts, back up our computer, protect our data etc. Now that you might be working from home, it’s time to do what you always knew you should – secure your digital sh*t. Here are some things to do instead of watch netflix or go to the bar:

Start using a VPN

Ever get paranoid entering passwords or logging into sites on the free coffee shop or airport wifi? Using VPN software can help protect all the data you send back and forth with encryption. If you’re not sure what a VPN is or kinda familiar but not sure – now might be the time to figure it out. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and in a nutshell helps make your internet connection more secure. There are some free ones and some low cost ones available. If you’re working at home on that wifi you share with all your roomates and neighbors it’s probably a good idea. Here’s a great Wirecutter article on top VPN’s

Password Managers (one of the best things I’ve done recently)

I have over 200 passwords (don’t ask) and counting. Two years ago I finally got irritated enough to commit to a password manager. It took awhile to get them all in there, but I wish I did it sooner. Now logging in on desktop or mobile to any site is literally as easy as clicking a button. Not to mention the joy of using super long ugly passwords that I never have to remember. There’s a few options out there but personally I’m down with LastPass which has a free option but the $3 monthly is totally worth it.

We all have more passwords than we can remember. Using the same one or similar ones is inevitably going to result in being compromised. You know this. A password manager makes it easy to assign and use unique secure passwords across devices. This way if one gets hacked or stolen, everything else is safe. It’s also way more convenient to use these when logging in on your phone or PC. The convenience is as nice as the security.

2 Factor Authentication

While this might seem annoying, you should consider it for your important stuff – especially banking or email. You’re probably familar with this from sites that ask to send you an email or text code in addition to your normal login but there are a number of others. If you really want to get secure with it, consider a things like Authenticator Apps (many for both PC and Mac) or a Yubikey.

Encrypt your laptop

This sounds obvious but if someone steals your laptop your screwed. Not only because you need to buy a new one, but because people will take your data. Basic login passwords are not the same as encryption FYI. I was surprised to see that my Windows 10 laptop had it on by default, and Mac’s have something called FileVault that sounds like it’s built in (not a mac user). Aside from these there are other ways and services out there. Check them out and sleep better at night.

Get your head IN the Cloud

Seriously, if you’re not using onedrive, Google drive, Dropbox or another cloud type storage solution you should. The whole idea that your laptop could explode, get stolen or both and you wouldn’t miss a beat is amazing. Start holding yourself accountable to saving everything in the cloud or syncing a folder with your desktop now and rest easy.


Don’t Lose Your Mind

It’s not all sitting around in your pajamas and snacking. There are some very real negatives to working at home that need to be addressed. After the honeymoon with working remotely is over (or before) make sure you don’t get bogged down mentally or professionally. Some more tips on that below.


Get Dressed like you’re going to work

I get that current hipster fashion makes is hard to tell bedtime, from the 80’s to professional attire, but getting dressed is important. Follow the same morning routine you normally would and think about staying productive for the long term. This will help make it feel like you are working (and prepare you for that surprise conference call).

Get your work space in order

We talked about some of the tools for working remotely in this post but not the physical space. If you’re situation is like mine (2 toddlers, a dog, a cat, 4th floor walk-up apartment), this seams near impossible. Working from the bed, couch or beanbag might seem great for a few days or a week, but it’s gonna get old. Try to setup and organize a dedicated space as if you were going to work there for the long term. And absolutely no television.

Take breaks or get outside

Even when I’m in the office I get up and move around our go outside throughout the day. This helps break up the day, get your eyes of the monitor and just generally keeps your body somewhat active. Don’t consider this as optional and try to make it a habit. Also, science says so.

No Television, Weed or Alcohol

Seriously, this will distract you. Try listening to video game music (somehow this increases productivity) or music without words if you can. Resist the urge to go co-work from your favorite bar or light up at 4pm. This gets real easy to do around 3-4pm but you will continually lose productive hours from your week.

Turn your phone off or keep it upside down

This might not be possible for all jobs, but it works really well at home or in the office. The amount of interruptions and lost time from that text or social alert will chip away at your day. Try to go phone free for a few hours at a time and you’ll get more done. The same with email if you can swing it.

Working from Home Tips Summary

If you can’t be bothered to read the steps above, the main thing is thinking long term. Treat this working from home thing seriously, take the time to get your station setup, focus on getting things done and take care of yourself along the way.

Sunny weather converts: Unbounce CTA Conference Recap

July 26, 2017

Web marketing + Vancouver + Summer – what’s not to like? For the second year in a row, we attended the Call To Action conference by Unbounce in Vancouver.

Let’s be real – when the CEO offers to go to a Conference in summer in Vancouver to see speakers like Rand Fishkin, April Dunford and Andy Cresotdina – you say Yes! Even when you have a pregnant girlfriend at home and house remodel in progress (yes, that’s true and yes I paid the price).

CTA 2017 Summary:

  • Top takeaways from my perspective
  • Vancouver rocks
  • 7 dozen oysters, 6 tacos, 3 days

Top takeaways from my perspective


Oli Gardner
Unbounce’s Co-founder Oli Gardner kicked off day one, touched on some good stuff and was a champion dealing with some sound/video issues. One thing that specifically impressed and resonated with me, both for its authenticity and sincerity, had little to do with web marketing tools or data. Oli mentioned the importance Unbounce places on making the event a safe space for all attendees, and that they had deliberately chosen an equal mix of male and female keynote speakers for the conference.

I’m a Californian who fell in love with a Berkeley girl and lives in New York City – so sometimes I tend to take these things more for granted than I should. That being said, the web marketing industry and tech in general has a long way to go when it comes to diversity and specifically gender equality (as Uber so blatantly showcased this year). Hearing from the co-founder that this was part of his company’s ethos should be a great lesson to all current and future companies – especially in digital marketing. It was also clear from the Unbounce staff and general vibe that this wasn’t just lip-service – it really was part of the company’s core culture. (I wrote this post before MozCon happened, which I did not attend, but I heard the same sentiments were expressed there and shout out to them as well!)

Speakers that rocked

To be honest, I didn’t catch all the speakers both days (see my excuses below on the distracting weather & oysters) so the shout outs below are taken from the presentations I did catch. After 15 years working in digital marketing I’ve learned you can’t be a pro at everything and sometimes you have to focus on what’s most important or effective in your own role at a marketing agency. Sometimes it’s also just hard to sit in an auditorium seat all day, even when awesome conversion optimization tips and web marketing jewels are raining from the sky.

April Dunford | @aprildunford
One of my favorite presentations. Some blunt talk on something myself and many marketers have run into head first in their careers – trying to successfully and effectively market something that is lame/boring/complicated. April gave some actionable tips and examples on how to step back and re-position or re-frame the context and turn crap into fertilizer. This presentation was delivered well but was also very real – we’ve all had challenging products to market and hit walls figuring out the best way to do it. At my marketing agency, it made me think back to some past clients (who will remain nameless) with products I really had no motivation to promote or just wished would go away as it was so difficult to find success. Next time I’ll think of April and try to approach this situation differently. More on April’s presentation thanks to Unbounce

Andy Crestodina | @crestodina
We’ve all heard of how big a deal content marketing is these days. I’m both personally interested in this and we’re focusing more on this as a service at VWM. Andy had a lot of actionable and smart tips on content and ranking that are relevant right now and you can take and run with. Part of what made this great was you could literally put some of the tips he suggested into place immediately, just from what he shared. If you can create quality content with value and then use some of the conversion optimization best practices to steer your audience where you want, you’re golden. More on Andy’s presentation thanks to Unbounce

Scott Stratten | @unmarketing
I’d never seen Scott speak before and probably one of the more entertaining and engaging speakers of the conference. The big takeaway for me here is that morals and behavior really matter online and too many companies gloss over this in the hyper-current celebrity viral crap-o-sphere side of marketing  (I made that description up). He had some good examples of both good and bad tactics and it was refreshing to know good still triumphs over bad and that there are moral and professional people out there who care enough to call out bulls#@t when they see it. Mostly. More on Scott’s Presentation thanks to Unbounce. Also, best not to use tactics that make Scott mad – it may cost you, literally!

Other stuff – the good, the bad and the bitchy micro-narrative

A unique welcome to the after party at Science World

Liked – Science World after party location, food/drink at the conference, location, company culture and vibe from employees, the amount of younger people,men-women ratio/international attendees.

Above may be the best slide of the conference from Oli’s deck

Less Liked – WiFi speed seemed over-burdened, seats in auditorium not greatest but splitting hairs here. Also, I’m sorry Vancouver but your local beer wasn’t as great as Montreal…someone had to say it.

Overall Impression – We already bought tickets for 2018 – speaks for itself.


Vancouver Rocks

What a great city! Apologies to Unbounce, but hosting a marketing conference on conversion optimization in a dark auditorium when there is sunny summertime weather begging you to get outside makes it hard to focus. Especially when you have been grinding away for months back in the New York office of a marketing agency with regular clients & projects. Fortunately, VWM has always realized the value in work-life balance and is one of many reasons I love working here (other marketing agencies take note: flexibility in balancing work/life is as valuable as pay rate for a lot of us marketing professionals).

Yes, I’ll admit it – disclosure #1

When my boss offered to blow off the pre-conference workshops on Sunday (sorry Unbounce), rent some bicycles and ride around Stanley Park – the answer was a hard YES. After all, the Vancouver weather was beautiful and this seemed like a good way to clear our head before sitting in a conference for two days. We also needed the exercise after a long travel day getting into town. This was a great way for me and the CEO to connect outside of the office and our regular lives. It gave us a chance to talk about our business, operations in general, future strategy and really tune in on some big picture things. Developing both a personal and professional relationship with my CEO makes it easier to come to work everyday. Even though most days are filled working hard for our clients, we still like to have fun at work sometimes. It makes the late night server troubleshooting or off-hours development timeline all worthwhile.

The route below had great bike lanes, coastal views and was a pretty mellow, flat ride. We spread it out over 4-5 hours with stops for beer and snacks on some rented bikes from Spokes Bicycle Rentals . Highly recommend if the weather is good and you’re visiting the Vancouver area.

(created with


7 dozen oysters, 6 tacos, 3 days

Yes, I’ll admit it – disclosure #2


Rodney’s Oyster House

Over the course of 3 days the two of us ended up eating 7 dozen oysters at Rodneys Oyster House and the staff there was awesome. It’s in Gastown and my personal favorites were the Royal Miyagi and Kusshi oysters. Shout out to the staff for the hospitality here as well and was a fun group of guys.


Gringo Tacos

Being from California I was a bit suspicious when I heard ‘Brisket Taco’ but turns out they are delicious, as well as the other tacos they have. Owner and staff were overly hospitable at this place and cozy back alley spot to go for ‘white trash Mexican’ style tacos – their words not mine, accurate and delicious. Gringo


For those of you unfamiliar, Unbounce is a landing page builder that makes it quick to build a good looking page, A/B test, monitor and all that good stuff. At Van West Media, we started using the platform a year or two ago for one specific client but have since worked it into out digital marketing service offerings. The experience has been positive so far and we like the tool.

How our Agency Uses Unbounce:

Yes, we are actually Unbounce customers and like their platform. I’ll elaborate a bit more on a future post about how we use the platform as it might be a bit different than most. Aside from the A/B Testing and design stuff, we make heavy use of the webhook/API to help our clients track and manage inbound URL parameters, attribute these leads to marketing campaigns, and qualify visitors based on how they answer a multiple choice form question. Every 24 hours, we automatically post a CSV file of client leads to their server, in a specif format their CRM needs and with specific codes/values that allow the client to differentiate between qualified and unqualified leads.

We use AWS and some custom programming to do this. We can track duplicate records across multi step forms, convert time code/zones, concatenate URL parameters and changes to pre-determined codes the client CRM uses and arranges all the data in certain headers and add some other values. Of course we love that the raw data is still stored by Unbounce and we use this when auditing to make sure nothing is missed. If the API or dev team from Unbounce is reading this – kudos to you and our developers are impressed with your web hook and we’d like to express some gratitude to your team instead of all those fancy frontend UX design types you have there:)

Here’s a link to the Unbounce CTA 2016 recap from the prior year for anyone who’s interested. We’re looking forward to next year!

Meet Our New Social Media Manager!

February 20, 2017

IMG_9105Van West Media is extremely excited to introduce our new Social Media Manager, Stephanie Cowan! Stephanie will focus on increasing visibility, engagement, leads, and sales for our clients using their social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn. These platforms are a great way for our clients to effectively reach specific audiences and Stephanie is a master at putting together a social media strategy and creating the appropriate copy and visuals to accomplish this.

Stephanie brings to Van West Media a keenly artistic eye, sharp wit, and unbridled enthusiasm and we wanted to give her the opportunity to introduce herself to all of you:

“I am really excited to be working here at Van West Media and have hit the ground running in the social media department. My biggest focus for the first month was revamping our own Instagram account.  I am super passionate about creating unique and thoughtful content that can strengthen our brand’s voice and visibility. I want each piece of content that goes live to give pause and have reason. It is my goal to make every single aspect of a post on social focused and goal oriented. That’s what is so special about social media. You can mold the big picture by obsessing about the nitty-gritty to create something unique, flawless, and memorable.

I have also spent a great deal of time meeting with many of Van West Media’s new and existing clients, learning about their various industries, and helping them curate and tailor their specific social media profiles. This includes understanding their corporate culture and identity as well as their vision and goals moving forward.

One of the reasons I was originally drawn to Van West Media was because of the vast differences and variety between the client base. Some digital marketing agencies focus on certain niche markets, but Van West Media has a wide-ranging and exciting client roster including law firms, financial firms, fashion brands, luxury travel destinations, non-profits, and more. This diverse clientele makes my job uniquely interesting and fulfilling and means that I get to constantly create new, varied, and exciting content.

If you have not yet taken a peek, I encourage you to visit our newly revamped Instagram account! Follow @vanwestmedia for a behind-the-scenes look at all of the great work we are doing here. I look forward to continuing to improve our client’s social media profiles and if you would like to discuss your own company’s social media strategies, please reach out to me so that I can help you.”

-Stephanie Cowan

CEO Spotlight: Van West Media’s Strategy for Success

January 24, 2017

Our CEO, Shad Mohammed, recently sat down to answer some questions about goal setting for 2017, what it’s like running a small business, and what to expect from Van West Media in the year ahead.

What is your primary goal for Van West Media this year?

“One of my main focuses for 2017 is to continue building from the inside out by focusing on investing in our team. When we focus on the growth of our employees and team members, we can increase our capabilities and improve the services that we provide to our clients. This year we took a trip as a team to the Unbounce Conference in Vancouver. This trip proved beneficial not only for all of the knowledge we acquired but also for the level of camaraderie and team building that the trip provided. Part of growing a business is deliberately making sure that Van West Media’s team members fully understand new technologies and capabilities as they come to market within the industry. Staying aware of the ever-changing evolution within digital media allows us to provide our clients with the most current and state-of-the-art capabilities to build their business.

It’s not easy to run a small business successfully. Who do you turn to for guidance?
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“In the past, I would get lost in small business minutia, but last year I began working with a business coach, John O’ Connor. There is no doubt that the work done with him over this past year is one of the key reasons that Van West Media had our most successful year ever. Every two weeks, John sits down with me and the team to talk strategy, goals and the most effective way to execute them. These sessions provide a great opportunity to discuss issues and thoughts among the team that may not otherwise come to light. Furthermore, they also help me to step back and see the company and operations in a new and differentiated way, allowing me to make important decisions and goal setting for the future. For any business owner or entrepreneur trying to grow their business, I would strongly recommend a business coach.

You are a big believer in goals. Looking at when the company started 5 years ago, would you say you have achieved your five-year goals?

“Five years ago, my dream was to create a passionate team of talented people who would work tirelessly to provide the best possible solutions to our clients. Five years later, I realize that Van West Media has succeeded beyond all my expectations. To have an office full of team members who love coming to work and love creating content that helps our clients is all I could ask for. The office culture within Van West is one of its greatest strengths. Some of our employees have been with me from the beginning. To see them grow as the company grows has been an incredible experience. To stop now and reflect on what we have built together is quite sentimental and joyous. Because of their dedication to work and immense talent, we have built a strong reputation for reliability and delivery of service. Clients continually return for re-launch after re-launch of their websites and to look for better ways that we can help them improve their brand. Overall, I am extremely proud to have created a client centric, employee focused company like Van West Media.”

What should we look for in the coming months from Van West Media?

“We are excited to be launching some of our biggest projects to date in the next several months. This on top of some major recent launches including SSRGA, FLOS, and Pyramid America. We will also continue to build our social media team, as social has become a game-changer for many of our clients in terms of driving visibility and customer engagement. We look forward to a wonderful and prosperous year where we achieve our goals while bringing our passion, experience, and expertise to each and every one of our clients so that their business can continue to grow with ours.”

Setting Goals VWM Style:

Setting goals at the start of a new year is a wonderful way to benchmark progression within a business. At Van West, we believe that the more specific you are when setting goals, the easier it is to achieve them. That’s why every team member breaks down an overall goal into smaller ones that can be reached in 3-month increments. This process helps keep our team on track and allows our progress as both individuals and a company to be measured. Has your company set goals for 2017 yet?

“Bring Back Bacalao” Campaign

March 17, 2015

Bacalao left Van West Media.

Our office lost the whirlwind of absurd humor, and our prospective customers are catastrophically missing out on the cold caller whose barrage of non-sequiturs made them want to be removed from the the do-not-call lists from now on, just to get him to call back again and introduce himself under some new made up name. (“My name is Bob Ayala, and my company is Van West Media… – oh, I’m sorry, did I just call the same number? I’m so disappointed!”)

We want the man back. Come back, Bacalao – even if for one day a week! We miss you.

For those of our readers who didn’t have the privilege to hear Bacalao doing his shtick on the phone, here’s a few “Best of Bacalao” excerpts, lovingly saved by our lead designer, Julie (be warned, the aphorisms quoted below are irreverent and, uh, not necessarily politically correct – but in the context of our interracial, international office, they are twice as funny):

*  *  *

“You know, Vanilla Ice is Albanian.”
“He’s Albanian?”
“Yeah I think so. I always keep track of Albanians. They’re the scariest people on planet Earth.”

*  *  *

“One man’s goat is another man’s sheep.”

*  *  *

“I was in Detroit, but it was okay, because I had my Timberlands on. They were like ‘Hey you’re white, but you have Timberlands.’”

*  *  *

“Sorry, I’m suffering from post-falafel syndrome. Very hallucinogenic.”

*  *  *

“Paris? I like Paris. It’s like the Bronx; nobody speaks English.”

*  *  *

“No, we’re not based in India. But I can get you an Indian on the phone right now if you want.”

*  *  *

“We’re named after the golf course, Van Cortlandt Park. Oh yeah, the golf course is nice, lots of Canadian geese. They move pretty quickly…in the afternoons.”

*  *  *

“If I could choose, I wouldn’t have a computer. I have the nicest handwriting, but now, who cares?”

*  *  *

“Ah yes, I am in charge of all the marketing things…………………….I think.”

*  *  *

“My boss, he likes the word ‘boutique.’ And I like it as well.”

*  *  *