Friday, July 2, 2010

Ads Vs. Brochures Online

I make it a habit to check out the listings on Craig's List at least a couple of times each week. Even though I've been doing this for about a year, I'm still amazed at the amount of print shops or graphic designers posting the equivalent of a brochure online. This is not a good idea for four reasons:

1. Smaller is better. I do agree with the philosophy of a visual on Craig's List. This removes all doubt of what services your company provides. However, be realistic; if the potential client wanted to see your entire portfolio or line-listing of services, they would have clicked through the ad to your website. Most people are impatient by nature, and will merely skim the rest of the ad or not scroll down at all, equating a large waste of space.

2. The ad doesn't really go anywhere. Put yourself in the customer's shoes: if the customer decided to buy your service and they click through the ad, the last thing they want to see is your "about me" page. The ad should click through to an action, or in the case of the client, to an order page. When it comes to online activity, assuming the sale isn't always a bad idea.

3. KEEP IT SIMPLE. I see ads that have a lot of text on them, all competing for the same amount of attention. All this gains the designer is frustration on the part of the client. If you're advertising a hot price on business cards, chances are pretty good the customer doesn't care about the new quad-fold brochure you're selling; the customer just wants to see (and order) what brought the client to their site: the advertisement for business cards.

4. Size does matter. Keep the ad to no more than 350px x 400px (this is my personal preference). One rule I try to keep in mind, but isn't always possible to do, is to advertise in the size you are selling. For example, if you're advertising bookmarks, make your ad approx. the size of a bookmark. This will give potential customers a visual idea of the size of the product while they read about your special price. It's better to put out several ads about different products than only one ad (usually too long) talking about all your products.

Visual advertising does work, even on Craig's List. Just try not to overdo it.

Happy designing!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

#Blog30: Thanks For The Memories

I started this 30-Day Blog Challenge (by Jeanette Cates) not fully understanding what I was about to undertake, but deciding I would have a good time trying to figure it out, in I jumped.

I've never looked back since.

I've gained much more than the ability to either plan my blogging ahead or think on the fly. I've made friendships I wouldn't have been able to make otherwise. I've gained wonderful, insightful knowledge into your work and your business. I wouldn't say I know everything about you, but I definitely have a better handle on your business than when I first started.

Lastly, I've learned it's about the communication, and having something worthwhile to share with other people - my experiences in graphic design, mentoring, and networking. I've also learned patience as well as when to ask for help. I've tried to be a resource for my industry, and I hope you found my posts as interesting as I've found yours.

The next step is obviously another 30-Day Blog Challenge! I'm hoping Jeanette will start a new challenge. If not and you have one going, I'd like to check it out! The best part I learned is being consistent with this type of marketing, and I'd like to work on another challenge to help shore up my consistency (creates accountability).

Will you join me in another 30-Day Blog Challenge?

Cheers, and thank you, everyone :)

A Mentee's Journey: Introductions

I met with my mentor for over nearly two hours Tuesday morning at Next Coffee! It was a great meeting, I must say. Already I've learned a few things, a couple that I will pass along this post.

I'll start out by saying that Pat is already proving to be an excellent mentor. I know it's only one meeting, but he tends to mentor by introspection and deep listening. Toss in a hearty helping of humor, and honestly, we've learned much already!

We started off by introducing ourselves and gave each other a "reader's digest" version of how we came to be at this point in our lives. His background is rather remarkable and extensive, and I'm honored he shared this with me. I shared with him my background, my family, and how I came to be a graphic designer.

My homework for next week is to figure out my passion: if I could do something, even if I never got paid for it, what would it be? I think that's a good question we should all answer, at least once a year.

I learned something very interesting that I won't go into a ton of detail about just yet. Clue: most business owners know they need a sound and viable business plan AND a marketing plan. How many of you knew you also should be using a communications plan? Sounds intriguing! I'll tell you more as I learn more, but I'm researching this already. Basics: it's used to help with existing client retention!

Another tidbit I learned, though many of you already know this. Each day I need to write down my objective. Along with this, I must list the tasks that align with my objective and get them done. It's a little different from the ordinary to-do list. Well, it is from my viewpoint, anyway.

Definition: OBT = Objectives Based Thinking.

See you next week!


Samples First, Please

I recently read part of a Tweet coming through my TweetDeck that had to do with pay rates and "seeing a sample". Curious, I followed the link back to the author, Matt Harrelson, asking this: "How do you negotiate graphic design rates when potential employers want you to do a sample first?"

I'm not intending to slam Craig's List, but my observation of the majority of people posting or answering on Craig's List are looking for the lowest price possible, period. Knowing you're walking into that arena, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the end user wants to see samples first. This is a large no-no for a couple of reasons.

First, because people are only willing to pay the lowest possible price for that service or product, their perception of the value of that product is tied to the value of the dollars in their pocket. This decreases the value you, as a designer, bring to the table. I completely understand not wanting to turn away work, and I myself landed my first paying client from a Craig's List post. Having said that, state your prices up front but remove "you" from the discussion: "This service will cost $xx", rather than "I charge $xx for this service". Don't personalize cost.

Second, if someone isn't happy with the style of work you've posted on your portfolio, don't offer to do a sample of what it is they're looking for. It is possible they're looking for a different style and you may be able to accommodate. Under no circumstances should a designer, be it seasoned or new, do a sample for the client to look at. In Mr. Harrelson's case, he was asked to do a photo retouch sample to see if the client liked it before paying for it. agreeing doing this, you're giving away free work, and that also devalues the industry and your skill set.

I compare this tactic to some of the contest sites that are highly visible. They want everyone and anyone to send in a sample or two of the project in the contest, but only one winner is awarded, and all the work is kept by the contest originator. This scenario is no different; if someone asks you to "do a sample", they're really telling you they want it done for free. Politely decline and move on.

Happy designing!


When Should You Update Your Printed Material?

Business cards, like other forms of print collateral, tell a certain story about your business. Let's face it -- it's all about presence. The thickness of the card, the typography, whether or not you use a clipart, glossy or nay -- all are important and are vital to the success of a business print material.

Today I called on a new client needing business cards, a referral from a friend and good client. This new client informed me he was down to his last twenty business cards and needed to print, but he started re-thinking the look of his cards when he saw my friend's. Long story short: I took her folded, white-and-just-black-text-except-for-the-logo business card and turned it into a portfolio, showcasing her stores' services. This new client told me he didn't know you could have a photo with a business card. Furthermore, his card hadn't been updated in about ten years.

Sounds like an exaggeration? It's not. I see plain business material all the time. Sometimes it's for the profession (i.e., a financial planner, for example), sometimes it's the taste of the customer. More often than not, it's the customer not realizing that plain may send a different message -- a message that they don't care about the image their company portrays.

Obviously this is not the case at all! I talk to many business owners each month, and all are so passionate about their own business, it is worn like a shroud as they walk in the room. They are so proud they can't wait to tell everyone -- but not being pushy, of course. They do care about their business and how people perceive it. This is why designers should make it their mission to explore all new possibilities with their clients; to ensure that, at the end of the meeting, their clients are very satisfied with their chosen design. If the client isn't happy, the designer didn't do their basic job: listening.

Now it's your turn! Think back to your very first business card. What would you have changed about it? Are you happy with the design of your current card? If not, why not?

(I may continue this as a series, stay tuned!)

Happy designing!


Print Collateral Dead? Never!

These days business owners need a leg up for just about any occasion. Be it business cards, letterhead (with the matching envelope), fliers for delivery or newspaper insertion (hey, some people are still reading the newspaper!), brochures, postcards, thank-you cards (yours or uploading a design to Send Out Cards), v-cards, backgrounds -- business owners have to do what it takes to stay in touch with their clients and brand their business.

Print collateral is very integral to the success of a business, though the types of print collateral available vary according to the needs of the business owner. For example, one business owner I work with helps businesses incorporate and saves their assets. Sometimes he has to create affiliate businesses, so he keeps this information I create digital. Another business owner I work with uses thank-you cards, business cards and brochures. Personally, I like the combination of business cards, fliers and brochures.

Why are these items so important? Networkers visit mixers and chamber events in search of business. They are prospecting for contacts to follow-up with later. It's a little tough to follow-up with someone you've just met if they don't have a business card. Same goes for those professions that use letterhead; the contact won't wait until your stationary gets back from the print shop. These are all tools of our trades. Are you using your tools well? Do you have your tools with you at all times, even for a quick grocery store run?

Now it's your turn! Have you ever been out someplace, met someone and struck up conversation, only to discover (much to your horror) you didn't bring your business cards with you?

Happy designing!


Your Back Should Be Naked

Business cards tell a certain story about your business. Let's face it -- it's all about presence. The thickness of the card, the typography, whether or not you use a clipart, glossy or nay -- all are important and are vital to the success of a business card.

One aspect people sometimes forget about is the back of the business card. You can usually tell if someone had their cards printed at VistaPrint (forgetting to take off the logo on the back before ordering), but in some cases -- and I'm just as guilty -- the back has text, or text and photo, all over it! Worse yet, there may be a UV coating to protect the ink (yep, guilty as charged!). This causes many networkers distress, which I'll explain.

Networkers are very habitual, almost to the point of insanity. Many like to make notes on the back of a business card. These notes can include but are not limited to: day and time they met you, where they met you, what the function was, the name of your children, your favorite color/food/pet, and so forth. In a few countries, you must not write on the back of a business card, for fear of penalty of death! However, in the good 'ol U.S. of A., networkers like to, and mostly likely will, write on the back of a business card.

Here's a hint: one networker I met a few weeks ago had a system for their business cards. If this networker met you and you basically shook his hand with your business card, he would put it in one pocket with no notes. In the other pocket were the business cards of those who had given him their card only BECAUSE HE ASKED THEM FOR IT. These cards had several notes scrawled on the back. When I asked him why the difference, he told me the pocket with cards and no notes reminded him these cards were thoughtlessly pushed in his direction, like spam, and treated them accordingly; the other cards he came by through making a connection and conversation, and these were people he genuinely wanted to stay in touch with.

Keep your back naked -- you never know when it'll be needed! As for me, time to go undress my back (of my business card - gotcha!).

Happy designing!


Glossy Vs. Not: A Business Card's Tale

Business cards tell a certain story about your business. Let's face it -- it's all about presence. The thickness of the card, the typography, whether or not you use a clipart, glossy or nay -- all are important and are vital to the success of a business card.

Take glossy, for example. A lot of business owners don't include a glossy finish to their cards because of cost. What they don't realize, unfortunately, is there are a couple of ways to getting a glossy look without the varnish.

The first type is a glossy finish. I'm not being a smarty-alec; that's what the finish is called. The paper stock is treated with a glossy finish, so once printed, there is a small shine to the cards without a lot of extra cost. The stock does cost a little more than a matte bond stock, but it's worth the extra pennies.

The next type is an aqueous finish. This type of glossy is a water-base, so you'll have a little more shine than the glossy paper stock, but not as thick or costly as the next step. Before opting for this finish, check with your print shop to make sure they offer it.

The next type is a UV coating. This is a little thicker, akin to a varnish, but colorless and odorless. Usually this type of finish is recommended if the business cards spend a lot of time out in the sun to protect the four-color printing. The biggest reason most business owners opt for this type guessed it....PRESENCE. They want their card to appear rich, feel rich, look rich. This option gives the impression the business owner really pays attention to their image, lending credence to the belief the business owner will give same attention to your needs, too.

It's all about what choice appeals to you the most. Again, before settling on a glossy (or not) option, check with your print shop to make sure they offer what you're looking for. NEVER ASSUME all print shops are the same. But, I'll save that for another topic.

Now it's your turn! What type of finish do you have on your current business cards? What did you like about it? Will you reorder with that finish in mind again?

Happy designing!


Specialist Are Special!

I had a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday that bothered me a bit. She is a virtual assistant, administrative support. She has been working with a barter client on some mail merging, and this client has asked if she can export text from Adobe InDesign to Microsoft Word.

This astounded both of us! Normally a virtual assistant doesn't work in software such as Adobe InDesign; rather, this is a software a graphic designer would work in. My friend did go the extra mile and download a trial version of the software but it did not have the export functionality she needed from a full version of the program. My friend was not about to purchase a full version for only one client and once a month, 5-minutes' worth of use. I was able to give her a couple of options to suggest to her client, and their relationship has progressed nicely.

A specialist works with certain tools within their trade. If you aren't sure what those tools are, ask. Please don't assume you know what tools the specialist works with. It's always better to check than to make a very silly -- and costly -- assumption.

Happy designing!


Monday, June 28, 2010

And The Capital of That Font Is....

The use of capital letters in social media, IMing, and texting should be reserved for times when extreme emotion (i.e., anger) is felt. It has been widely accepted in IMing platforms as a form of yelling, but I have also seen it used for emphasis in the social media.

Using capital letters sparingly in print media adds a more professional touch. Like using underlining in HTML coding, all-caps letters can be a good addition for emphasis, but only if there is no other way to call attention to that text or if it has to be all-caps (i.e., headline or call-to-action, such as "TODAY"). Using larger text in a different color is a good alternative, particularly if used in lowercase. Using a different member of the same font family is also accepted and professional. Sometimes you can mix serif and sans-serif by using one for emphasis and the other for your body text, but this depends on which two fonts are used.

One reason to not use capital letters all the time throughout your print media is the difficulty of readability; simply put, using capital letters can make it more difficult to read what was written. Another reason is the font or typeface itself. If you are using Brush (a calligraphic-type font) in all-caps throughout your print media (let's say a postcard), the shapes of the letters in this particular typeface make it impossible to clearly read the contents. Keep it simple so your marketing material looks great in print!

Happy designing!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shopper or Serious?

Every business gets shopped, period. It's human nature to want to look around for the best deal possible. The last thing any person wants to hear is, "so-and so got this great deal on this product over at this place!" It seems to resonate more when it's a friend telling them.

For most home-based business owners new in their business, it's hard to tell a customer vs. a shopper when someone is asking you questions because they're "only shopping". A business owner hates to surrender a lot of information just to see the customer go down the street to the competition. On the other hand, without enough information, the customer is likely to walk down the street anyway.

So, how do you turn a shopper into a serious customer?

Ask questions. Remember, the customer is asking this information for a reason. They have the need, but do they have the need for what you have? THe client wants to know what's in it for them -- the WIIFM factor. Once you know what benefit your product/service can give them you're one step closer to making the sale.

Be sincere. Customers can always, ALWAYS tell when someone is really trying to learn more about them and what they need vs. just being their "best buddy" to close a sale. I'm sure there's some magic timeframe a salesperson isn't supposed to go over, but really, when you're trying to make a new customer, this time frame may not matter at all. Just be yourself, and be honest.

Price match if possible. This won't work in every situation, or else you won't have any profit margin, but you can use this discreetly. If a customer tells you they can get "x" product cheaper online or at the competitors, ask them some questions: is shipping included in the price; if it's being treated as a closeout; is it limited in quantity or color; or offer expiring very soon.

Discount repeat business. By offering a discount on repeating business, you let the customer know you may not offer such for a first-time customer, but if they like your products or service, becoming a repeat customer with someone they know for a discount may sound more attractive.

Ask for their business. If all else fails, a more direct route is to just ask the customer, "What do I have to do to get your business?" It may come across as a little desperate, but they may just tell you what they need to know to gain the business.


Friday, June 25, 2010

A Mentee's Journey: Getting Ready

I met with my mentor briefly last night at a large networking mixer for ASBA and BNI. Bottom line, we have set our weekly schedule! I'm very excited to be part of this amazing program, and I feel very lucky to have a great mentoring team. I do have only one direct mentor (Pat Harter of Provision Team Consulting), but I can ask the mentoring team virtually any question, and have the ability to have their expertise in their fields guide me through this path.

My first actual mentoring meeting is this coming Tuesday morning. I'm bringing my "business plan", if I can call it that, and see how it can be improved; even a marketing plan can't really be implemented without a solid business plan. I'm also bringing in my new workbook from ASBA, goals I hope to accomplish over the next four months, pencil and paper, and an open mind. I'll point out here I'm going to have weekly homework as a point of accountability for what I want to achieve. I'm told I'll be working harder than I have before, so I hope I'm up to the task.

I looking forward to learning quite a bit from my first session with Pat! I'll chime in next Tuesday after my session - stay tuned.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Scripts: Not For Wimps

Most people don't realize a script font, such as Brush, Edwardian Script, or Snell, are considered serif fonts. Careful considering must be given when using these fonts together with other serif fonts, such as Times New Roman or Bodoni.

If you choose a script typeface for your main headline, I would offset this by using a sans-serif, such as Arial, in the body. You then could use the script typeface for sub-headlines or for special CTA's (call to action's), such as "Sale Today!" Pay strict attention to the size of these typefaces. Visually, the body may not be any larger than the headline, but type-size-wise the body may actually be as much as 20 points larger, depending on which script font you choose. Also, DO NOT use the script typeface throughout your document! Go ahead, laugh - but unfortunately I've seen it. It looks very unprofessional and makes your document very difficult to read all the way through.

Avoid using most script typefaces in reverse (black or dark-colored background with light or white text) unless it's thick and bold. The Brush font is a good example of a thick, bold script typeface. An example of a typeface not to use in reverse is Scriptina. It is very elegant but it can be very difficult to read. Another strike: if you use Adobe Distiller to create a .pdf file of your document, Scriptina does not embed, and that can cause issues with your commercial printer.

Finally, remember to not use an outline, or stroke, on your chosen script font. Most script fonts have thick and thin points, just like a serif typeface. The thin points create visual problems if you outline your text. Say you use Scriptina and put an outline around the text. You've just elminated more readability with the font by decreasing the amount of white space used to create the font. The thin parts look thinner, to the point of near-non-existence, increasing the difficulty of reading.

Use script fonts sparingly, without an outline around the text. I like using them to create elegant invitations; sometimes used as a headline for a grand opening of a beauty salon; occasionally, acting as a signature.

Happy designing!


A Mentee's Journey: Getting Started

Much like a sports professional looking to stay on top of his or her game, I decided to enroll in a mentoring program. Today I met with my new mentor, Pat Harter. His role is that of a teacher, while mine is that of a student. He will make suggestions based on what I would like to improve, and I will give him a weekly update as to my progress. I like the accountability factor to help guide me in a good direction; mostly, though, I like the idea of being able to learn new ideas for growing my business.

I've decided to blog about my journey over the next four months to help me stay on track with my goals. My hope is that those considering such a journey themselves might read and gain some value from my experience.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Document Design 101: Text Boxes #2

When working with Adobe InDesign, you can manipulate the text boxes to virtually any shape needed. Suppose you have a strange shape to wrap text around; you can either put a text wrap around the form, or you can add points to the text box and, using the Direct Select tool, shape it to fit around the form.

As stated previously, make sure to keep some space between the edges of the text box and the text, especially if you've decided to put an outline around the text box. The reader's eyes tend to stop when they reach the end of a sentence, and the outline of the box can simulate the end of a sentence as much as a period.

Lastly, if you plan to use a background color for the text block, keep in mind that not all colors play well together. For example, if you decide to use a blue background, do not use red for the text. This will cause a visual distortion, making the text very hard for the eye to focus or read. Instead, choose a lighter color, such as yellow or white. Black backgrounds with white text are very effective when used to call attention to certain pieces of information, such as a call to action or a coupon with an expiration date.

Happy designing!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Business Card Basics

Your business card is the receptionist of your business. After face-to-face networking, your business card is the key reminder of your new meeting. How then should your receptionist best represent your business?

Keep it simple. The design doesn't have to be boring, but if a potential customer has to look for your e-mail or phone number because it is too artsy-fartsy or too complicated, you probably have lost a customer. If you have too many competing elements or drop shadows on your text, it may cause your card to look too busy, thereby losing the message.

Keep it simple. Text should be no smaller than 8pt, and I recommend your company name (assuming there is no logo) should be no larger than 18pt. No drop shadows; keep in mind, if your company is advertising in a newspaper or needs to send a copy of the card over via fax, special effects won't pick up well through a fax or a flatbed scanner.

Keep it simple. No more than three different typefaces. Use color to point out the important pieces, such as your name and phone number. If you use your photo along with another (i.e., a realtor), you might ask your designer to watermark or fade one side of the other photo so your mug shot gets primary importance; better still, if you want to use your mug shot, leave any other photo out.

Keep it simple. Black is a color not many businesses can carry well; it also tends to carry a negative message, so try not using this color for your background unless it's the only color that works. If you decide to use black for your background color, be careful when selecting a secondary color to use (other than white). Try using a percentage of that color; remember, black will push lighter colors forward, making them more noticeable.

Keep it simple. Try not printing on the back side unless it is absolutely necessary. In many networking circles, it is nearly required to use the back side of a business card to write down where you met your contact, if you decide to offer a special price, scheduling a day/time for a meeting -- the list goes on.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Branding: Does My Logo Work?

This is a question most business owners should ask themselves. Unless it's something point-blank like Joe's Hardware Store, your business name and logo may mean something entirely different to someone else. If it's at least relevant you might not think twice about it.

Does my logo work?

Recently I had a sit-down interviews with a couple of business mentors, and they both agreed I should consider changing my company name and logo entirely. Why? Sight unseen, they had not met me yet nor seen my business card, and their first impression of my company was that of an optometry business.

I had to stop and think for a moment. Optometry? How did they come to that conclusion? The only thing I could think of was they had focused on the middle word in my company name instead of taking in the entire name. There's no right or wrong in that type of assumption, but it was interesting, and honestly, a little frightening to hear.

Does my logo work?

It started me wondering if everyone else held a similar viewpoint. After consulting a few friends outside my profession, I concluded:

1. People sometimes perceive names of companies and their logos differently from the actual business owner's viewpoint;

2. The only way to change this perception is to continually educate people what my company is all about.

The reason the mentors asked me to consider changing my business name and logo is because they felt it would take a lot more marketing than had been done up to this point. But would it be better to undergo a complete name, a complete identity change and re-educate the public about my company?

Does my logo work?

I'm going to find out. Stay tuned.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Document Design 101: Image Manipulation No-No

I just read this article, and quite honestly, the stoopidity (yes, I mispelled this on purpose) absolutely amazes me. Just when I thought I had seen everything in my industry, I read this article about a magazine called Outside taking extreme liberty with Lance Armstrong and photoshopping text onto his T-shirt. Here's the article link:|aim|dl9|link3|

The stoopid part comes into play when the magazine's editors try to defend their actions: "'s not Armstrong's real T-shirt." ... "...[magazine] doesn't typically consult cover subjects on all editorial decisions..."

This is the worst case of non-professionalism I have seen in my twelve years as a graphic artist. Granted, editors have the final say in how their magazine is represented, what articles to showcase, and final editorial edits/changes. That is a far cry from actually photoshopping something that isn't there onto someone's shirt and not telling them. I can see maybe doing this as a school project, but in this situation, Mr. Armstrong should have been asked for and [magazine] should have obtained his written permission first. It is not okay just because "it's not his shirt"; it is not okay because they deliberately TAMPERED with Mr. Armstrong's BRANDED IMAGE, period.

In a day and age when print advertising is suffering enough damage, there is now a rouge magazine basically giving viewers and potential models the impression, "hey, thanks for your advertisement / thanks for posing for our cover, but we've decided to change it up a bit and we can do that because we can. Thanks for playing our game!" Definitely NOT professional, and not a magazine I would recommend anyone paying any attention to now and in future issues.


OP-ED, Lisa Raymond, Deseyner's Eye Creations.

Document Design 101: Text Boxes

Designing a document for print sounds pretty easy: you put some text together on a page, add a photo or some clipart, slip in a small call-out box and - whammo! Instant document design.

It can be this easy, but there's a few simple steps to remember. I'll explore these over the next couple of days. Today I'm going to talk about that call-out box in my example.

A call-out box is nothing more than a box shaded 20% with black text. Sometimes it is designed with a dark background and white text. The basic function is to call attention to specific information. A good example of this are the little boxes newspapers sometimes use when describing a new movie review: the box may contain information about the name of the movie, rating given by the movie industry, main cast of characters and a short synopsis. This information is treated in this manner so the viewer can easily find it. The call-out box can also be a light-shaded box following the long margin of a document with text inside. The size of the box doesn't matter, but the visual appeal does.

In order to make this box visually effective, you have to leave some space between the edgs of the box and the edges of the text box. This can be done by either by increasing the paragraph margins by one-eighth of an inch on all four sides, or by adding some inset spacing to the text box on all four sides. The number isn't hard and fast; you can add or subtract space to make it visually appealing, but do add some space. If the text butts up against the sides of the call-out box, the viewer's eyes tend to stop reading. Adding space allows for continuity and flow, and helps the text look great in print.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

What's Your Social Media Plan?

When I first started my journey with social media, I really wasn't sure how I wanted to use it and what I wanted to do with it. The more I actually interacted with people, I saw a value in following experts in my industry to gain insight from their knowledge and experience. I watched who they interacted with, and I saw value from reading their posts and questions. From all this I have a short marketing plan (finally!): to use the social media to increase my knowledge while educating the viewers about my company.

Sounds simple? It's not, really. Using social media is not much different from face-to-face networking or client interaction> The only key element missing is the physical human interaction; meaning, being able to see the person's reaction to your elevator speech, the head nods of comprehension, and even a dog-lopped head turn of "huh?" when they're not exactly following the same logic.

This may turn into a series of explorations, but for now I'll ask a question: when you started your journey in social media, did you develop your marketing plan before or after you began using SM? Please feel free to type a quick note - I look forward to learning from you!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reverse Your Serifs

A reverse use of type is a white or light-colored typeface against either a black or dark-colored background. Typically I don't use a serif typeface in reverse unless it's very bold and doesn't have a lot of thin parts to it. It may be just a personal preference of mine, but what I've noticed in my experience is typefaces like Times New Roman and Bodoni have very thin parts to their style. This makes it very difficult to use in reverse because the thin parts tend to become "swallowed" by the background, making them harder to see, therefore harder to read.

If you really have to use that serif typeface in reverse, try to use a typeface that, when used bold, still has a good thickness in the serifs and connecting points. Some of the serif typefaces I would recommend using are: Gloucester MT Extra Condensed, Bernard MT Condensed, Bodoni MT Black, Cooper Black, and Rockwell Extra Bold. You may be able to find these for a free download; if not, they can usually be found on for a reasonable price.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prospecting On Craig's List?

I've seen a number of posts coming from oDesk, eFreelancer, Craig's List, etc., all looking for similarly creative people. It made me stop and wonder how effective this might be for prospecting.

Most sites like these are looking for the cheapest price to get the work done. From the posts I read, I can see why a number of new freelancers would get the impression graphic design can be done cheaply - the audience asking for the work expects the design done cheaply, but not looking cheaply. Tall order.

If you decide to prospect these clients, go into this realizing that you're being shopped, and if you're not on the cheap side you'll likely not end up with the job. In most cases this is a good thing, since this can be a sign of a client that will need a LOT of hand-holding, have a lot of revisions, or not pay your invoice. Just as they are careful with their shopping, be very careful prospecting this way. Try to read a little between the lines, if you can. If you have any doubts, see if you can send them a question or two. Bottom line: this type of relationship can be difficult to maintain because of preconceived ideas on both sides. Take the leadership/teacher role and communicate what you understand - both you and the potential client will have a clearer picture, hopefully harmoniously.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Now You See It...Or Do You?

When creating a design, be it for print or web, it's natural to try and fit an entire image so viewers don't miss a beat. Same goes for text when used as an image. You don't want people guessing at what you mean, so you show the entire image, maybe as a watermark. It's done tastefully, so why doesn't it work?

Sometimes good design calls for part of the image to remain hidden. It's okay when someone has to stop and stare, trying to put the pieces together. In the case of a word, the mind will usually auto-finish the word, so nothing is left behind. Take a photo of a house and a flyer. You can advertise the entire house and list your text beneath, or you can watermark the house and lay text over the top. You also can have the photo fill about 2/3 of the space on top, and list your text to the blank side. It's true that part of the house will be hidden, but depending on what is being advertised, it's either the main thought or a graphic element. The difference is the intent.

What's Your Passion?

I had a coffee meeting with a new friend/colleague today. Just sitting across from him, his passion for his work permeated the bakery. It was definitely catching and hard to watch him try and contain himself (which, by the way, he did miserably!). All the way back to my office, after tucking my boys in bed, I found my thoughts wandering back to his enthusiasm, logically trying to figure out how he stayed so motivated.

It comes back to doing what you love, which is evident of my new friend. He found his peace, so to speak, and in doing so discovered what he really loved doing best! Think about it: how would it feel to wake up every day and know, absolutely KNOW you are right where you WANT to be, not where you need to be, and loving that place!

I'm living my passion - I love design! I've been a designer since 1998 and I still enjoy how each project is as different as its client, how each day comes and I can learn a new process to apply to your project that solves your problem. I'm still learning, but I like to think I don't just make things look nicer; I solve a visual communication problem.

I'd like to hear from you what your passion really is, and are you living that passion or just doing what you're good at? If you're not living your passion yet, why not?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What's In A Printed Ad?

You've decided to buy a newspaper or magazine ad to help advertise your business. You probably know the size of the ad, but do you know whether or not the newspaper or magazine will allow you to submit your own advertisement, or is designing the ad part of the ad purchase agreement? If you can submit your own ad, do you know what resolution is required? Do you know if the newspaper or magazine prefers a certain file format, and what that format is or how to create it? Do you know if you can submit an RGB (three-color) photo and still run the ad? If not, can your designer convert the photo from RGB to CMYK (four-color) without forgetting to adjust the black level? Does the newspaper or magazine have the fonts you want to use? Can you make a .pdf that will embed your fonts? Does the newspaper or magazine prefer you submit the ad through e-mail or FTP?

Your contact at the newspaper or magazine will have these answers, and hopefully I've asked some questions you haven't thought of. A professional graphic designer or production designer will either know these answers or know who to contact to get them. Also, by working directly with the designer, you ensure the ad will look exactly the way you want and begin a professional relationship that will help keep you looking great in print.

Primary Colors, But Are They Right?

It's not real secret that color ads attract more attention than black and white ads. The secret, however, is in how you use that color to your advantage.

We've all seen political ads with orange text on green backgrounds, or red and blue. What most people do see is what I wish their ad designers saw: visual distortion. Visual distortion occurs when two colors are placed one on top of the other and hurts the viewer's eyes to look at it. I used political ads as my example because they are, in some cases, excellent examples of what not to do. If you decide to use blue text on top of a red background, or vice-versa, you'll need to put some space in between the colors. One way to do this is putting a white outline around the text. Another way is to "box off" the text into a white box, which will also draw attention to those words (like a call to action). Sometimes changing the hue of the colors will work, but some color hues don't like to play nicely, so use this option with great care. Remember: if it hurts your eyes, your viewer's eyes won't like it, either.

How do you spell "write"?

Have you ever created a print job for a client, sent it to your print shop, then picked it up only to have the client find a typo? Unfortunately, this senario happens more often than you might think. About three months ago I was perusing my favorite magazine when I came across an advertisement for a new online company; the ad looked great – except for two glaring typos. Earlier this spring I was visiting the vendor booths at our local Womens Expo, and an advertisement at a landscaper’s booth had a large typo – unfortunately after over 10K copies had been printed.

Always have another pair of eyes look your work over, preferably someone that is outside your company. You should still use the spell-checker option, but don't trust the program or your own eyes to see everything. Having another pair of eyes unfamiliar with your work can save you time, money, and embarrassment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What's "white space"?

The purpose of any printed marketing piece should be to convey a positive message about your company or business. The message conveyed should continue the conversation, or at least, raise a question or two. One way for a business owner to start this process is to realize that white space is ok!

White space is the area around your printed marketing piece that is not taken up by typography or images. It isn't just "white", either; if your background is blue, the empty spacing is called "white space". Sometimes the impact of this space, when properly used, can make as big an impact as the loudest car sales sign. Remember the first billboards for

It isn't necessary to fill up every space on your flyer, brochure, or business card with text and images. Give your marketing piece some breathing room. Your audience will thank you for it; so will your business card.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Freelance Does Not Equal Free

I wrote a blog post on Feb. 6th entitled, "What Is Your Value Worth?". This post was inspired by friends and colleagues of different industries having trouble educating their clients on their value and not just "my cost". Their chorus echoed a comment chord: our services are worth more than a dollar amount. What I heard were the following issues:

1. I'm lower than my competition and still getting beaten down on my price.
2. The client said they could get the same services for much less, so I compromised in order to save a sale.
3. I have to give an immediate quote without knowing the full scope of the project; if I don't the client leaves.
4. When I educated my client on the difference between myself and the competition, they didn't understand why I charged more.
5. I didn't charge enough because I was afraid the client wouldn't pay for it.
6. The client doesn't want to pay for the changes to his/her project, saying "what I'm being paid should cover it."
7. The client sends me a list of changes and expects miracles in one hour but is only willing to pay for 1/4 of that hour's fee.

To summarize, some professionals feel because they're freelancers, the word "FREE" is now the biggest part of that word and all the client seems focused on. Since when does "freelance" equal "free"?

I've followed many experts for the past twenty-one months, both in and out of my industry, and I've come to understand a few things:

a) It's my fault, and not always in a negative way. Think about it: if the client doesn't understand my fee structure and breakdown, if the client doesn't have a clear idea of what I am doing for their project, if the client doesn't visualize the difference between the quality I bring to the table vs. the lower cost of my competition, it IS my fault.

b) Understanding the above point gives me empowerment, or control, and makes it easier to move forward and re-educate the client.

There will always be clients that go around "tire-kicking", shopping for the best "value" they can find. What they're really doing is looking for the lowest possible price. Remember, you may know more than anyone else in your industry, but your client may not; worse yet, they may come to the table with preconceived ideas of what your business is really about. When you talk to your client, educate them of your experience and background. If you provide a more personalized service, say so. If there is a service you don't provide, let the client know so they don't assume you can provide it.

The important note is to understand business today is not just about how much something costs, but understanding the value of that product or service and deciding whether or not to trust the source - you. Whether or not the client decides to buy your product or service largely depends on the perceived value of that product or service.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Twitter Etiquette 101-Part 3

I'm continuing my series on Twitter Etiquette based on my own experiences and observations while becoming more familiar with my TweetDeck. I've also been introduced to CoTweet, which I'll discuss in a future post.

I enjoy how my TweetDeck updates me about my Tweeps and Tribes in real time; once people I follow consistently post a tweet, I can view it nearly immediately. What I am also getting in real time are the mentions and DMs, or direct messages.

My understanding of the use of a DM is for a private message and not merely a "hello". In my opinion, this is not the avenue to use when selling your services, either, unless you are giving sensitive information, such as a cell phone number or e-mail address.

Scheduling a DM should not be necessary unless someone is sending the same message out about "checking our site for free stuff" or "buy my book here". Lately I've seen messages along this line, and so have several of my colleagues. Adding to this problem is the fact we all have our Twitter set to let us know via cell phone text message when a new DM comes in. Imagine how frustrating it is when it's the same message of "buy this" or "get this now".

Please remember: Twitter is a social media, so be social! Don't try to sell your wares all the time. Instead, engage in interesting conversation, or better yet - follow an interest close to your heart. And, PLEASE, don't send a DM just to sell something; that will leave your followers unengaged and possibly un-following you in a hurry.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Twitter Etiquette 101, part two

I just published a post against the use of profanity on Twitter; this recommendation applies to any social media and was not intended to single out Twitter.

In using my TweetDeck (which is a great application, by the way!), I've noticed something else that bothers me as much as the use of profanity on the social media that it bears notice here.

As previously noted, I watch for people tweeting about "graphic design" so I can see their interests, problems, concerns, and hopefully be of some help with their projects. As much as the use of profanity makes zero sense to me, I do not understand some of the avatars and Twitter names I see as I follow "graphic design". Much more care should be given not only to the avatar you choose to represent you, but your name as well. If, down the road, you wish to display your work and blog/FB/Tweet about it, please keep these two points in mind:

1. Your Twitter name should be representative of the type of work you do. Having a fun or sarcastic Twitter name is fine, but for a more professional appearance either use a business name or your own name.

2. Your Twitter avatar should also be a reflection of the type of work you do. Sometimes it's easy to match an image to the Twitter name you've chosen, but the image should not be so embarrassing you wouldn't want your parents, supervisor, or in-laws to see it.

By and large social media will help small business owners and students get a good foothold on doors of opportunity. At the door of your chosen social media is your receptionist: your Facebook fan page, your Twitter name and avatar, and countless others. How do you want your receptionist to best represent you?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Twitter Etiquette 101

I've been playing around with my TweetDeck, learning how to utilize the technique of making groups of people I want to religiously follow as well as phrases in the graphic design industry to see what people are tweeting about. For the latter, I settled on the phrase "graphic design" to see if anyone needed help with a project and to see what people said referencing this phrase.

Unfortunately, what I'm seeing a lot of are students and other graphic design "professionals" using Twitter to sound off about how they feel about either graduation, just starting school, or whatever project they are currently working on. It's unfortunate because a lot of profanity is being used, sometimes excessively, always unnecessarily.

As much as we don't want people typing in all caps (yelling), remember to keep the profanity out of the messages. You never know when your next potential employer may be reading what you're writing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Are Design Contests Worth The Risk?

I've been a graphic designer now a little more than twelve years and have spent nearly two years in my own graphic design business. I follow various experts of my industry to learn more about what it means to be a graphic designer for either print or web, what is good and bad graphic design, and how I may continue to improve my skills and knowledge. In the past two weeks I've read numerous pro and con posts about design contests from various sources, including those I regularly follow. This post is my recap on what I've read and understood.

First, my overall assessment of graphic design, be it for the web or print: it is a vehicle for communication by which the trained professional studies the design problem, researches various ideas and draws several conclusions that communicate the new idea effectively in both color and black/white solutions.

Now here's my recap:

I can see where design contests do have a place within the design industry. It's a good opportunity for up and coming designers to have their work showcased and critiqued, and if chosen, awarded. It's also a good stopping point to view work done by others and to see how many levels they have taken their own investigation.

Some of these sites I've visited have several postings by the same artist; some tweaked a little, some a different color, and once in a while, a grayscale or black/white comp thrown in to show the new design will work in both color and black/white mediums. Sometimes this is done for students in art schools to give them an opportunity to show off their talent and gain a little notoriety. Contests run through an art school I have no problem with and did participate in such myself when I was enrolled.

Unfortunately for many new artists, this is where the good points stop.

I see many tweets daily from web sites posting contests or job postings (even if the word "contest" isn't specifically used, it's still a contest) in which the prospective entrant must post at least one solution/comp within the specified time frame in order to be considered for the "award" (winnings). I took a final look at one such posting this afternoon with new eyes, and here's my breakdown:

"I (the poster may or may not state their name or company name) need a logo designed for this new project (states project). If interested you must post at least one sample ("I don't want to see previous work" - I actually read this!) to be entered. The budget for this project is $xx, or low (I saw one as low as $20!) At the end of the time frame I'll announce the designer to receive the award (winnings). In return your work will be posted for all the world to see but you will probably not receive one penny for the work you have provided. Thank you."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the summary is true: you are giving up work for free, also known as speculative work, highly frowned upon within the professional industry. Please read the AIGA's stance on this issue at

Along with this idea comes another random thought: who owns the artwork now? Once you have entered one of these contests, you surrender the right to own that piece you created; if you were not the winner, you also didn't get paid for what you created. You may be able to use it in your portfolio, but use with great care and label it accordingly. You might set up a specific page on your web site that showcases these pieces separately from work you were actually contracted to create and received due payment.

Want more to think about? Let's say you want to advertise such a contest yourself. How do you know the piece turned in by a designer is one they have actually designed? Too often a designer may be in a rush and may "borrow" or "use" an idea from the internet or other source. As a contest poster, you must be very careful that the work you choose to be the winner was indeed not stolen. One such was to try and avoid this is to do as much research on the contestant as is humanly possible. If they have a website, view their work and see if it's similar in style to the contest piece. You may also want to try and Google for the logo and see if something similar turns up. This can be time-consuming so tread carefully. After reading this post, if anyone has any other methods for determining fraudulent use of art I will be glad to post separately from this article.

In conclusion: I agree with the experts I follow. Design contests are not a good method for getting your work seen, and there's too much risk in not getting paid for your efforts. If you design a piece, you should be paid accordingly for it. Period.

My thanks to Chris Spooner (@chrisspooner), David Airey (@davidairey and @logodesignlove), Jacob Cass (@justcreative), and Preston D. Lee (@prestondlee and @designblender) for their informative, well-thought out articles and examples that will continue to guide me through my journey.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Basics of Business Card Design recap

I read this post from Brett Davis on's site. Here is the link before I continue:

OK, now that you've had a chance to read it, let me share a few thoughts:

First, I agree completely with what Brett states on this posting. Never should you turn your business card into your brochure and clutter it with so much text its effectiveness is greatly lessened. You should set up your business cards with a bleed, if there is one, and definitely limit the number of fonts you use. Remember, it's not about showing off, it's about effective communication. That being said, I'd like to add a few points of my own to Brett's:

1. When you're setting up your business card template, remember three key points: First, check with the print shop for the margin bleed. Brett is correct that in the majority of instances the 1/8" bleed will be fine, but I have a printer I send work to fairly regularly that needs a 1/4" bleed - that was quite a surprise. Second, remember the majority of print shops do not like working with Microsoft anything. If you do not have industry-standard software (or at least one with a file format the print shop is comfortable working with) you are most likely looking at a reset of your work. Third, if you have to work with Microsoft, please save the file as a .pdf with fonts embedded, or have a professional help you do this. Microsoft Word does not always embed the fonts, and Microsoft Publisher's default mode is RGB -- great for the web, lousy for printing.

2. When using color, be very careful about the color choices made. If it hurts your eyes to look at it, chances are very good it will hurt the intended audience's eyes as well, sending a negative marketing image. Use color to highlight points on your card, such as your company name, phone number and e-mail address.

3. Know where your file will be printed and what options are offered for your printing job. A year ago a friend of mine bought her business card design from me, thanked me, and told me she would get it printed herself. A week later she told me she didn't understand everything being asked (the difference between matte, glossy and UV coating, for example). It took her and her husband about 1/2 to go through the printer's questions, whereas someone familiar with the industry would have spent maybe five minutes. Oh, and the printer? She took the job to OfficeMax, who in turn outsourced the project to another print shop, so she ended up paying more in the end.

4. When using fonts, make sure to limit the use of cursive fonts or thin fonts, such as Monotype Corsiva, Times or Century Gothic. What I usually do is use a sans-serif font for the body if I've used a serif for the company name, or vice-versa. If I do use a cursive font for the company name, I still use a sans-serif for the body. If you do use a cursive font, make sure it is legible; a too-fancy font might look impressive, but if the viewer can't read it you've lost a potential customer.

Along with everything Brett said, I would lastly state if you can't figure out how to give the print shop the files they need to print your project, or if you simply do not have time to set up your template and design your project, call a professional designer. It may cost a bit up front, but will save you time, money, and headaches in the long run.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Can't I Design It Myself?

(Part 4 in a four-part series)

In concluding this series, I've been exploring the most often-asked questions posed to graphic designers from all walks of life. Questions are meant to trigger constructive thoughts, engaging the brain in problem-solving activities until the solution or solutions are reached. What I did in this four-part series is some further introspection by analyzing the four points most often asked by clients when this question is posed: 1) easy to do; 2) saving time; 3) saving money; and 4) I'm the business owner.

Today I'll look at #4, "I'm the business owner."

The business owner knows more about their business than anyone else. He or she works to know the desired target markets, identifies the potential customers within the target markets, decides what products or services to sell, sets the pricing, resolves customer questions/issues, and closes the sales. For most business owners, their days are filled thinking about their business in some aspect and reviewing methodologies for improving and growing their business.

In part two of this series I discussed the many hats a business owner wears. Because a business owner is many things to the life of a business, it is very difficult to be proficient at all aspects of running a successful business. To make things more confusing, the marketing aspect must be taken into consideration and a method must be decided upon. If using mostly a print medium, the collateral material should look as consistent as possible. If combining print medium with networking, branding becomes more critical because your potential customers are getting information about your business much sooner than they would if traditional mailing practices were used. If using only social media and the internet, branding must have a high focus because the potential market is much larger but receiving your information faster than using networking.

Business owners must be able to convey their message quickly, concisely, and carefully. They must be good at project managing, delegation, and follow-up to ensure their valuable time is being used wisely for the business. Outsourcing critical components allows the business owner to focus more fully on the aspects surrounding their industry and respond quickly to market changes or customer complaints. By surrounding the business with a quality team, the business is more efficient, more profitable, and more successful.

My Networking Journey

(part one in a continuing series)

I've been working my business for the last 19 months, and I've learned a lot about networking and the difference between referrals and leads. I don't know everything yet about referral network marketing, but I like to call myself a life-learner, and a life-learner never stops learning something new. In this series I'll pretty much bare my soul and outline my journey from the start. No finish yet, it has yet to be played out!

Once I made the decision to hang my sign and launch my business, my journey with networking began with research. I went to and looked up networking to see how it was currently defined. I then used and to find networking groups in my area. Sounds pretty easy, right?

The research was the easy part! My search led me to groups within my zip code, within the city of Phoenix, and also led me to the organization BNI. From this point it's a matter of trying out groups you think you might fit in well with, ones that may share a common interest of yours (i.e. heart disease, autism, etc.), or ones that are lead generators. Believe me, it was a long list to weed through.

My research also led me to Dave Sherman and The Business Journal of Phoenix. Through a seminar Dave held in conjunction with TBJ, I learned how to use certain pages of TBJ to my advantage and help build my business. He also talked about networking groups as a general topic, so I decided to ask him more about it after the seminar. He told me there's no good way to determine if a group is a good one to join or not unless you go check it out. That's a hard one to swallow. No one in business likes to waste time, and some of these functions may indeed become a leech for time. The key? Remembering I was only visiting, and a visit is not the same as a commitment. Besides, I was still handing out my business cards, still getting the word out, and that was important to me as well.

I found my Westside Creatives group through This group is very important for my business growth from a knowledge base standpoint. Because this group has individuals all working in different areas within my industry, I can stay on top of trends and concerns while learning what specialties my colleages enjoy tackling. This was a huge plus for my early business days! This valuable experience taught me networking doesn't always have to be about business. Also, the more I visited and networked with other people, I realized networking in general isn't about getting more business -- it's learning about people and the organizations you're aligned with and best I can help them. In short, it's about building and maintaining relationships.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Can't I Design It Myself?

(Part 3 in a four-part series)

In continuing this series I'll explore the most often-asked question posed to graphic designers from all walks of life. It is also, in many cases, the most rewarding question ever asked of me. What I have done in this four-part series is offered some further introspection on this riddle by analyzing the four points most often asked by clients when this question is posed: 1) easy to do; 2) saving time; 3) saving money; and 4) I'm the business owner.

Today I'll look at #3, saving money.

Who doesn't want to save money these days? There's nothing wrong with saving a few dollars, especially when it comes to the bottom line of your financial statement. A business is profitable by having more income than outgoing bills. These days a business owner has to determine how to market his or her business with as reasonable a cost as can be expected within their marketshare. The big question business owners are considering these days is, "how much is this going to cost?" Some are answering with, "Why can't I design it myself? I'll save money by not outsourcing."

Marketing a business has never been cheap. In order to get people to realize your business is up and running, that takes advertising. The mediums as well as the costs of advertising can vary from print to internet to networking, but the bottom line is you have to get the word out. When you have a newspaper ad designed and published, that's marketing to many people within a certain space for a specified cost; this cost is based on the amount of readership the newspaper holds as well as the size of the ad, and whether the ad is black and white, spot color, or a full-color ad. Take landscaping and a simple flyer as an example: when a landscaper has a flyer created and printed, he or she has the potential to have that flyer seen by at least thirty people (figure approximately two people per household and mulitply that by approximately fifteen homes within two blocks of the current customer). The potential exposure, along with the marketing budget of the customer, has to be taken into consideration when pricing graphic design.

Also, the design itself must be reflective of the cost. If you're looking for a new business card, you may not pay as much for a simple typesetting design as you might for a photo and typesetting. Obviously what a graphic designer desires for income figures in, but overhead must also be figured in: paper, ink, and electricity, for starters.

The printing itself also must be thought about and shopped based on what type of artwork vs. what the print shop's specialty is. Most graphic designers have at least one print shop they work with regularly, thus being familiar with their printing process and file requirements. The graphic designer works with the print shop to recommend different finishing touches, such as rounded corners, die cuts, or glossy on 16pt. stock rather than UV coating. Then, depending on the medium, how it will be used and potential exposure, the graphic designer can make recommendations on how the artwork should look and what type of artwork, if any, to use. Equally important is whether or not the chosen print shop will print your project in-house or have it outsourced.

Lastly, all marketing material should look consistent (not necessarily exact). This is the beginning of branding for a company. Consistency is critical because a customer can come from anyone at any time. If you use a particular piece of artwork or color on your business card, it should translate well to stationary, postcards, bookmarks, flyers, and a web site. What this means for your business and to your potential customer is brand name recognition -- being able to recognize your company's name on sight, thus distinguishing your business from your competition.

Now that you have an inside view as to what can be involved process-wise, one very important point must be recognized: YOUR TIME. As we discovered in the previous two sections, graphic design isn't as easy as it looks and can be a bit intense on time depending on the project. Your time is probably THE most important asset to your company; unwisely spent, and it could cost your company. Hiring an outside design source is good project-managing and allows the business owner to concentrate his or her time with current or potential customers and close that sale.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Can't I design it myself?"

(Part 2 in a four-part series)

Continuing with this series, I'll explore the most often-asked questions from almost every client posed to graphic designers. Questions are meant to trigger constructive thoughts, engaging the brain in problem-solvng activities until the solution or solutions are reached. I'll present some further introspection on the riddle "Can't I design it myself?" by analyzing the four points most often asked by clients when this question is posed: 1) easy to do; 2) saving time; 3) saving money; and 4) I'm the business owner.

Today I'll look at #2, saving time.

Business owners and solepreneurs have to be as good at multi-tasking as their corporate counterparts. If you're not playing the role of business owner, marketing executive, networker, salesman, accountant, bill collector, and financier, count yourself lucky! Until they can afford to hire some extra help, most business owners wear many hats and work long hours to make their businesses a success. Because of this diversity, a business owner may find it very difficult to create, let alone maintain, their marketing material. Part of my consultation with a client is advocating the benefits of using an outside designer to help with their projects.

One objection I hear occasionally is, "Can't I design it myself? I can save time by doing it myself, right?" Not always. If you own your own business or are freelancing within your industry, compare your hats to the ones described above. How many are you currently wearing? Now think about the amount of time spent wearing each hat. How many hours each week do you spend wearing each hat? Do you have enough time to spend creating and maintaining your own marketing material?

Let's look at a business card. Seems pretty simple - just a small space, right? Yet that small space is oh, so deceiving! I have seen many examples of text jammed into that space in an effort to tell the viewer the story about a particular business, or the wrong font used in reverse, or dark colored text on a dark colored background. It's perfectly okay to be proud of your creation, your "receptionist", if you will, who can help open a dialogue between your business and a potential customer. But how effective is this message?

Saving time won't be a benefit if your message gets lost from a flyer thrown together or a business card too full of information. Saving time is one of the benefits a professional brings to the table. A professional considers all parts of your message, the colors you do and don't want to use, the style you're looking for, and puts it together to make marketing your business easier and effective. It may take a professional about an hour - ok, maybe two hours - to create your business card or flyer, but in that time, how many clients can you schedule appointments with?

The true benefit of saving a business owner time, is by giving that business owner back that time for his business.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Can't I design it myself?"

(Part 1 in a four-part series)

In this series I'll explore the most often-asked question posed to graphic designers from all walks of life. It is also, in many cases, the most rewarding question ever asked of me. Questions are meant to trigger constructive thoughts, engaging the brain in problem-solvng activities until the solution or solutions are reached. What I will do in this four-part series is some further introspection on this riddle by analyzing the four points most often asked by clients when this question is posed: 1) easy to do; 2) saving time; 3) saving money; and 4) I'm the business owner.

Today I'll look at #1, being easy to do.

When I'm consulting with a client, I sometimes sketch out an idea I may have from our conversation while working out details of the project. As the client and I move toward the discussion of budget and timeframe, he or she may ponder aloud, "Can't I design it myself? I watched you kinda draw out the idea, looks pretty simple and easy to do."

It does look pretty simple, I'll admit. Draw a few curly lines, add some decoration - maybe a leaf or two, maybe a flower - then add some text and splash some color, and - VOILA! Instant art, right? Wrong. The party's just getting started.

Designing a marketing piece can look pretty simple, but it really is more than just a little clipart and type. It's knowing where to put all the elements on the paper so the marketing piece really stands out. It's understanding dark lettering shouldn't be put against a dark background. It's learning that using a cursive font in all caps really looks unprofessional.

Now, you're probably thinking, "Oh, I'd never do that! You don't really see stuff like that, do you?" Well, only at least a couple of times a day. The problem with most software, templates and online printing services like Vistaprint is it gives people the impression they can do in a day what it takes most graphic designers to learn both in and out of school. This can be frustrating for both the client and the designer for several reasons: first, the client has already invested his or her time and money into the project and it doesn't look as professional as they'd envisioned; second, because of this investment, the client may not be willing to turn the project over and spend more tme and money; third, nobody knows the company better than the owner, so the client shoulders the responsibility of getting their marketing pieces done.

The investment of time and money can be difficult to work through because it is tangible. I try to ask the client how much of each he or she has already invested in the project so I have an idea of what kind of maneuvering room I can work with. I tell the client I've worked on projects similar to the one I'm consulting on and show them samples. By offering to work with their existing budget and showing samples of similar work, I hope to gain the client's trust that I can get their project done, on time. The best part is the third objection: the fact the client is also the business owner. He or she is absolutely right - nobody knows their business better than the business owner! That means I have the opportunity to work with the expert of the business! How cool is that? The owner shares his or her vision with me, and I get to bring it to life!

Professionals in any industry spend inordinate amounts of time being trained in their craft and improving the skills on a regular basis. This may include schooling, seminars, and online training along with practical application. A professional graphic designer spends time learning color theory, placement of elements (images, type, and color), pouring through other advertisements to keep creative juices flowing, and continually practices these theories with each piece designed. A professional graphic designer may be pricier than the template you just purchased, but a professional has the eye that will make your marketing piece stand out from the competition, giving your clients a lasting first impression.

Want a great meal? Go to the Old Spagetti Factory!

Yesterday was Saturday, February 27th. My daughter asked me to take her down to our Old Spaghetti Factory parking lot so she could take part in a photo shoot for the local band Hello Hollywood. While waiting for her to return I decided to pop in for lunch. I don't usually blog about my dining experiences, but this restaurant is consistent enough in excellence that I had to post about it!

My server was Cameron. He was polite, charming, professional, funny, and (best of all), happy to be here today! Seriously, when your server is in a great mood, it just tends to make the whole dining experience that much more pleasurable. I only had to wait a few minutes to be seated (but sometimes, when dining alone, it's easier to find a table for one than for several), and I asked for some water with lemon before ordering. Cameron returned with some water and took my order, and even mentioned to me my salad was included with my lunch - something I didn't know, but I'm glad he told me! I then proceeded to just draw in my sketchbook while waiting for my lunch.

The salad wasn't anything special, just a side salad with a balsamic vinagarette dressing. The bread wasn't anything special, but it was warm and the butter spreadable, with a choice between regular or garlic. It was the fact they were served in an atmostphere that was warm and inviting, rich with conversation but areas exempted for privacy. My favorite part was the entree. It wasn't anything super-special, just spaghetti with a mushroom-marinara. It was, however, served with zeal! I heard my waiter, Cameron, say this to several of his customers, so I knew he meant it when he came to my table too: "Yay, food!" It was this little bit of excitement about his work that made my meal special.

By the time dessert came (also with the meal) I was very relaxed and enjoying myself. Cameron was reluctant to rush me out, then came a "Murphy's Law" moment: their electronic cash register went down, so no one could cash out! I laughed and told him, "No problem," and soon as it was back up and running he took my card. I had such a good time, I was reluctant to leave!

For those who have never experienced the atmosphere and food, and for those who may have been away too long, The Old Spaghetti Factory is waiting eagerly to greet you.

The Old Spaghetti Factory
1418 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ, 85004
(602) 257-0380

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What is your value worth?

The recession is tough on everyone right now. It doesn't matter if you've kept your job (but thank your lucky stars!) or had to reinvent yourself; this recession has absolutely touched nearly everyone in America, if not, the world. Most businesses are trying to keep customers happy without losing their take-home profit; most consumers are trying to get as much for as little cost as possible.
So how do you answer the all-too-often-posed statement: "That's too expensive."? Usually I hear this statement coupled with, "I can get it over here for a lot less!" or something similar. I also found out I'm not alone; in the past few weeks since the new year, I have had the pleasure of listening to my colleagues complain that a customer beat their price down, and in order to retain the client, they felt they had to compromise.
I asked my colleagues, and now I ask you: What is YOUR service worth? Most people don't realize when you ask someone to cut back on their commission, they are asking you to cut back your take-home pay. If the situation were reversed, these consumers would be furious at being asked to reduce their take-home pay. So why, then, do they have no guilt whatsoever in asking us to do this very thing?  I told my colleagues to stand firm with their prices. I reminded them (and myself) they have to make a living and can't do it if they are constantly reducing their hourly rate. Several of us surmised that, when asked to "defend" our prices, we find we do the exact opposite - we reduce them to avoid conflict.
Educating Our Clients
This isn't much different than a plumber helping a client find the water shut-off valve over the phone. In order for our clients to be smarter about their choices, we must educate them about our industries. Now, I don't mean you pull out the school desk and give your client a true/false test about your business! But, you do want them to understand you're not gouging them; rather, you are getting what your time is worth and its perceived value based on past client's information and a current price model for your industry.  The trouble is, most clients want your service! Hands down, they trust you and want to buy your service – period. So why does this process then become about as painful as a root canal?
Time IS Money
Consumers really do not understand that your time not only must be accounted for, but receive payment for contracting your expertise. Absolutely your clients can get lower pricing elsewhere! Aren't we also shopping for the best deals in town? Yet the last time I can remember arguing with someone over their price was about fifteen years ago.
Here are a few thoughts I learned from my colleagues and readings this week: 
1. Educate your clients. When a client questions your price, remind him/her of the benefits your service brings: a) saving time, b) saving stress, c) saving money by not having to do it more than once, d) the increase to their business by utilizing professional services, freeing up their time to run their business.
2. Talk about "the cost". In other words, take the words, "my price", or "my cost" out of the picture entirely. The client can then "see" the numbers rather than what you will make.
3. It's a haggler's market. Many professionals realize they have to take whatever jobs come alone to keep their businesses going during this recession. That does not mean, however, business owners have to sacrifice their own welfare at the same time. For example, if taking a client means you end up trading the cost of materials with the client and not getting your hourly rate, you are sacrificing what you know your value is worth. When you make this sacrifice, you devalue your industry, making it harder for others in your industry to make their hourly rate also. 
4. What's my target market? Remember your marketing plan (don't say 'what marketing plan'!) and ask yourself, "Is this client within my target market?" If not, rather than take on the client, see if a colleague may benefit more from a referral.
5. Is this client worth it? This goes back to not getting your hourly rate. If the client is trying to cut your cost now, are they going to nit-pick everything you do and complain about every nail or keystroke you make? Some clients may be more high-maintenance than others. Certainly they deserve the services you provide as much as anyone else, but at what price for your business? Will that price be worth whatever sacrifice you make in order to retain this client?
6. Is perception a true indicator? This is a last reminder about educating the client. Business owners, being captains of their particular industries, have to price-check against what their competition does on a regular basis. This helps us arrive at our hourly rate for the perceived value of our services. Clients also price-check, but they may not always see the "big picture" when it comes to the value your service will bring them. Remind the client the benefits of using your service, to include saving them time and frustration - and they'll be glad they called you.