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.