Thursday, May 28, 2009

Can you really afford to hire an amateur?

If you think it is expensive to hire a professional, imagine the REAL cost of hiring an amateur?

As Kermit would say – “It is not easy being green”, it is very similar for design firms – “it is not easy being in the business”. One of the difficulties is that in some aspects the cost-of-entry appears low. If you say that I have a computer, some graphic programs, templates, and html editors, I am a designer. I guess this is somewhat true.

The fallacy is where or when do you start considering the cost-of-entry when it comes to creative talent and visual communications skills. So often this is both an art and a science. The past 10 years have seen too many false or instant solutions.

“I have Word so I must be a writer” or
“I got Publisher with my computer – I am now a graphic layout person” or
“I can use PhotoShop – I am a graphics designer” or
“I got Homepage or can use one of the free web template services – I am a web designer” or
“I bought the book built my own website – of course I can build yours”

You must be kidding me!
. . . and it is hard to fight this lack of logic or knowledge until it is too late – “My collateral/web site is not helping my organization to grow” Well what do you expect.

This whole scenario really becomes disastrous when applied to your website. Remember websites are not just electronic yellow pages anymore. They are the first place one goes to find out about you and be introduced to your products/services. I do not care what you are offering this is still true. Your first impression will make or break you – don’t care if you are selling products, introducing your Church services, or running for political office.
For your web site you MUST consider three domains:

Look/design “ugliness does not sell”. Your web site better be building up your brand and not weakening it

Functionality – does it provide the services, correctly processed, that are aids to your viewers?

Marketing – how are people going to get to your site and more importantly how are you going to distribute your site outward.

Many may disagree with me, but your visual communications are so important that in some cases doing nothing may actually be better than publishing/posting something that weakens your brand image.

So for you designers or people that work with designers – you get what you pay for. Crap is still crap!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In or On the Business - Part II

I am continuing my blog from last week addressing the issue of working-on-the-business versus working-in-the-business. This sequel is somewhat late in that I had my oldest son and his 8 kids visiting me from Chicago so I non-blogged over the past holiday.

6. Concept Policy – You need to know what is the general policy when it comes to how many different concepts you promise a client. Some promise only one. Here at the studio, we usually gear for three concepts.

7. What are your normal schedules – Develop generic schedules for the various basic products you offer (web, brochure, logo designs, flash presentation, etc.) These should of course be modified for specific projects but they will provide the client some idea of elapsed time for the project.

8. Do you charge for rush jobs or projects that are clearly required in time frames less that your typical schedules for product/service.

9. Do you hold regular staff meetings – Of course if you are a one-person show this may not apply. But even if there are only two staff members you should have regular staff meetings. The last thing you need is to work in a vacuum. But never underestimate the power of group thought.
10. Who estimates – there should be clearly defined procedure on how and who prepares your estimates. To assist you in this area is to develop average project costs similar to the generic schedules that you develop in #7.

11. Hardware and Software – know what hardware and software your firm or studio utilizes It can add value in the eyes of your client.

12. Work Samples – make sure you collect your work samples in a central location. Everyone will know where the work is ad also to re-use design elements. This central repository is also important in creating your portfolios.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In or On the Business

So often we as designers spend all of our creative energy working “in the business” that is doing the actual creative work for a client. To be able to survive and continue offering design services, we must also realize that many cases we have a parallel set of functions – making sure our design firm/studio is profitable. If not the doors will close and so will our avenue to be creative.

This deals with “working on the business”. This is important for a one person design firm to the large studios. So I thought I would spend some time with this and the next blog going over graphic design “on-the-business” suggestions.

1. Just like any other business, the graphic design business must have goals. These will permit you to measure your progress and provide opportunities to celebrate when you reach such goals. Sales and Revenue goals are two of these very important goals. Set a goal for your upcoming year. This should include reviewing what your revenue was last year so you can set meaningful goals that can be reached with a stretch.

2. Who are your firm’s clients? You should know who you want to sell to and who is buying. If you have been following my blogs you should know that answer of “every and any one” is unacceptable. Avoiding the wrong clients is just as important as going after the correct client.
At the studio we measure a potential client/engagement by 4 criteria. If the prospect as only two or less, it is a very high risk situation to accept the project. These (in no order of importance) are:
  • Good credit (did not say lots of money). They need to be able to pay their bills when milestones are reached and not post-pone acceptance to meet their cash flow crunches.
  • Understanding of Design - or at least an appreciation of the importance of design and the process and creativity behind effective designs. Also stay away from anyone who says I do not have time to provide input but I will know it when I see it. Run away from such a prospect as fast as you can.
  • Not a dying industry – every industry has its cycles. Stay away from those industries that at the present are in a down-turn. You do not want to be pulled down with them. Such clients will also just be looking for price and not the most cost-effective, message-effective, and brand-effective solutions.
  • More than one engagement – It takes time to build relationships with clients. You want to be able to harvest the investment in such relationship building.
3. Marketing and advertising – Design firms must also advertise and market. You need to invest in your own collateral. So often we just create such collateral for our clients and forget about our own internal needs. This is often called the “physician heal thyself) syndrome.

4. Are designs available for out-of-the-studio meetings? Many times, especially for more complicated projects, the creative design team must be available to meet and discuss/brainstorm/present with/to the client.

5. How professional are your proposals. For small projects, a quote is sufficient. But as the project becomes larger and more complicated, pull blown proposals are required including addressing the three aspects of a project (specifications, budgets, and schedules).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Our Philosophy Wall

We had moved into our new studio location this past December. As with all moves, it takes a while to get everything in place. This week I have been preparing to re-constitute our philosophy wall. It is various saying, various sources, various sizes of saying that convey our “philosophy” of design and its proper place in the creative process. I thought I would share some of these with you:

“Budgets only restrict how much you can spend, not how much design you can get.”

“When color is at its richest – form is at its fullest.”

“Today it is form over function – How it looks is more important than how it works.”

“Crap is crap.”

“Tell me the facts and I will learn. Tell me the truth and I will believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

“Design is a necessity not a decoration.”

“INSANITY: Repeatedly performing the same process – hoping for a different result.”

“If the identity of your brand is not well defined, you may have visibility but no personality.”

“There is no curve as beautiful as a rising sales graph.”

“The objective of a name is to stand out and distance itself from any formulaic or trendy expressions that could diminish the impact of the brand.”

“Design is more inspiration and imagination than logic and analysis.”

“Design is all about personalization and customization.”

“One single idea – especially if it involves a great brand concept – can change a company’s entire future.”

“Ugliness does not sell”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ring the Bell

I was in “deep design thought” yesterday when all of a sudden The Bell rang out and everyone at the studio starting clapping and yelling. So much for keeping my current thought pattern. It may sound like I was upset – No just the opposite. You see that whenever we win a new task or engagement, we ring The Bell - Happiest sound around!

So you may think I am complaining - No way. We have learned at the studio that for success you need to celebrate success. Every time you reach a milestone, or win a contract – celebrate it. Ring a bell, have a party, make a speech, have a company party – whatever - but celebrate.
The secret to celebrating success is to break down your goals and objectives into small measurable milestones. Recently we just completed a rich media presentation. Of course we had a “client presentation” party but we also had smaller celebrations whenever we completed a scene.

Are we party animals at the studio? No but we have learned the all-important function of defining what is success, measuring our progress, and celebrating reaching the finish line (on time, within spec, within budget, and high quality). So make sure your organization learns to Ring the Bell.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Finish Line

Welcome to blog#31 of our series on New Media Marketing. I wanted to present a summary of the last 30 blogs and the various aspects of New Media Marketing. I thought the best way was to share with you an announcement that we crafted for one of our clients who just announced there advertising campaign for the upcoming year. The content has been modified, where appropriate, so as to provide some unanimity for the client.

“Last year we embarked on the continuous journey of making our company stronger and better. The reason we were even able to start such a journey was we were building on an already strong foundation of quality, design, and service.

Our first step was to launch a stronger and updated brand. One that through consistent usage, will grow our perceived quality, name recognition, and customer loyalty.

This past year we have been concentrating on new and improved methods of customer communications and effective sales and marketing. We started this segment of our journey with a statement that was made at one of our planning sessions with our creative design firm: ‘Customers are still buying but they are buying differently.’ This statement becomes even more powerful given our present economic environment.

We also agreed upon four givens:
  • It still takes on average seven contacts to make a sale
  • Conventional approaches of direct mail and phone campaigns are becoming more costly and time consuming with in many cases response lead times being too long
  • It is important to control costs and yet successful organizations do not cut marketing and sales activities during economic down times.
  • And probably the most telling – over 72% of consumers now communicate electronically
We thus have started implementing a new approach to our sales and customer communications. It is called New Media Marketing – using today’s technology and communications channels. The result is more communications, in a more timely fashion, with lower costs, in a manner of electronic communications that we all are moving toward in our everyday lives.

So what is New Media Marketing? Would be more then happy to discuss in more detail the hows, whats, whens, and where but you will get a good picture by giving some examples of what we are implementing to bring more prospects into our community of buyers using today’s technology.

  1. More then ever, the web site becomes critical. We are completely overhauling our present web site to bring it from what is known as Web 1.0 (information only) to today’s Web 2.0. Today’s consumers look for and expect not only information but also collaboration and personalization. Our new look will be more simple, cleaner, and easier to navigate with the ability for viewers to ‘tap’ into other channels of communications and discussion. Also our brand will be more dominant. The web is one of if not the most important vehicle for branding in today’s business environment.
  2. You will start seeing on all of our electronic communications (web, email, electronic newsletters, etc) what we call “opt-in” capabilities. We are starting to constantly offer and request that our future and present community of buyers choose to provide their name and email. With these two pieces of information, we can proactively – electronically market without becoming spammers.
  3. In the very near future, we will be introducing our blog. We are still working on a name and look, but this will provide another networking channel where we will be able to provide information and opinions on various topics. Our blogs will encourage readers to make comments that we will respond to. We will be blogging at least twice a week. Blogs are critical to providing collaboration capabilities and also providing timely and up-to-date communications. From our blogs, viewers will also be able to link to our new web site.
  4. We will be re-launching our newsletter. But it will now take the form of a html(nice looking) email. These are known as ezines –electronic magazines. When fully implemented, we will be publishing once a month. Articles will have links to our blogs and web site for additional information.
  5. We will be expanding our email campaigns. We will not be abandoning totally direct mail, but a well designed, visual email piece is much more cost effective. It is how people now communicate and with email you get feedback within 48 hours not weeks.
  6. Like it or not, one of the fastest growing and impactful communications channels are the Social Media Channels. Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIN, Twitter, etc. are becoming dominant forces in not only personal networking but also business networking. You will be seeing not only our company but each staff member, establishing presence in these Social Media Channels with always a think back to our web site. As a side note we have found out that these Social Media channels are one of the major methods that the googles of the world determine where your site appears on a web search.
  7. We will then move on to podcasts (both audio and video) so that we can provide communications on a longer term bases.

This sounds like a full plate and it is. But we are very excited. It is something that we all need to do to stay competitive. You see the secret is that every time someone clicks on our web site or clicks on our blog and from there clicks to our web site or clicks to open an email or clicks to read our ezine and from there our blog, etc - each one of those clicks is one of the 7 needed to move a prospect or keep a current client in our buying community. “

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tracking Results

One of the most important aspects of NMM is the ability and the discipline of tracking results. You need to know what is working and what is not. Here are some recommendations for tracking results. Such tracking should occur for three distinct considerations:
  • Content
  • Relevance
  • Impact
Content: This is directed toward the “audience”. What you need to determine is who is talking about you. What are people saying about you and your industry. Metrics that can be used:
  • Blog posts
  • Recommendations
  • Tweets and similar Widget Views
Some tools to use:
  • BlogPuse
  • Google Alert
  • Cymfony
  • Techrigy
  • Blog-search
  • Technorati
  • Net Promoter
Relevance: This measures the value of opinions and conversations, interest levels in your messages, content and intensity of blog posts. Metrics:
  • Time on Site
  • Bounce Rate
  • Pass Alongs
  • Comment to Post Ratio
  • Podcasts Listens and Views
  • Recommendations
  • Tweets
Some tools:
  • Google Analytics
  • Web Analytics
  • Omniture
  • Web Trends
  • DoubleClick
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Feedburner
  • BlogPulse
  • Cymfony
  • Techrigy
  • Blog-search
  • Technorati
Impact: To whom is your NMM campaign appealing, how involved is your audience, number of times desired outcome occurs. Metrics:
  • Referrers
  • Demographics
  • Time on Site
  • Bounce Rate
  • Conversions
  • Reviews
  • Recommendations
  • Tweets
  • Tools:
  • Web Analytics
  • Google Analytics
  • Omniture
  • Web Trends
  • Double Clicks
  • Repeat Customers
  • Reviews and ratings
  • Net Promoter
  • Platform

E-PR and Mobile Marketing

New Media Marketing impacts the full range of marketing and sales. Traditionally, PR dealt with reaching the media, usually through press releases. This would connect the PR professionals and their client with reporters and newswire services. New Media Marketing permits one to distribute releases directly to the customers. Done properly this can greatly increase the impact and effectiveness of your PR function. Note: This requires that you create news releases that are not loaded down with technical jargon but rather can be easily understood by your clients and potential clients. Some recommendations to develop ePR strategies are:

Keep in mind SEO – Enhance your URL by including in your electronic PR release the same key words and phrases you use for your web site SEO. Including images, videos or audio to your releases will make them more attention grabbing. Also use Social Media tags so that they can also be circulated through the various Social Media Channels. Also a carefully crafted headline and sub-headlines, using your key word phrases, is also important.

A second consideration when using NMM vehicles is the whole concept of mobile media. More and more of your potential readers will be using mobile instruments to receive, read, and respond to your electronic communications. The following are some of the differences you will need to take into consideration:
  • The size of the preview screen goes from 13-21inches to 2-4inches.
  • Content rendering hardware and software vary in how they render your data.
  • In many cases, mobile units are used to categorize messages for delete or save for further review and action via phone or computer.
Recommendations for mobile readers:
  • Reformat text – always offer a text only option to html formats. Also remember most mobile viewing screens will show smaller lines and fewer number of lines. Do not create long paragraphs or sentences.
  • Unlike other media formats, for mobile communications use short URLs for tracking purposes.
  • Be Brief – Small file sizes, smaller paragraphs and sentences.
  • Include a mobile option on your opt-in forms
  • Test before using

Monday, May 4, 2009

But there are so many:

Social Media channels have become such a force in the way we communicate with each other, that the number of different channels available is extensive. I thought that I would provide a list of Social Media Resources. This list was obtained from the book of Dave Evans, Social Media Marketing. I tested each one to determine if they are still available. Things change so quickly that several of the links provided in his book are no longer up.

Industry Blogs:
AdRants -
BoingBoing -
Chruch of the Customer -
Customer eXperience Crossroads -
Social Media Today -

Social Media Platforms
Bazaarvoice -
BzzAgent -
Jive -
Lithium -
Mikons - -
Pluck -
ProductPulse -
RockYou - -
Slide -

Social Networks and Services
AdGabber -
Bebo -
Brightkite - -
Digg -
Dodgeball -
Flickr -
Eventful -
Facebook -
FriendFeed -
Friendster - -
Kyte TV - -
LinkedIn -
Livejournal - -
Metacafe -
Minggl -
MySpace -
Orkut -
Personal Life Media -
Photobucket - -
Plaxo -
Plurk -
Pownce -
Seesmic -
SocialThing -
Sonico -
Stickam -
Stumble Upon -
Tumblr -
Twitter -
Upcoming -
YouTube -

Friday, May 1, 2009

Social Media as Business Networks

With respect to Social Media as business networking, the following are the major social media business networking sites:

AdGabber (
LinkedIn (
Plaxo (
Spock (
Jigsaw (

Unlike MySpace, Facebook, and other personal Social Media sites, the above sites are set up to be business-oriented. It should be noted that one can use Facebook for business solutions. Visit to learn how to incorporate Facebook into your marketing program.

The following are some examples on using Social Media for business applications:
  • Develop focused target list by using search capabilities of LinkedIn
  • Use contact tools in Jigsaw
  • Use Facebook to build a group around a new product or service you want to launch. This is a good way of beta testing and getting feedback.
So how do I start:
  • Select a professional network
  • Create a presence on that network
  • Invite a few colleagues to join
  • Ask colleagues what networks they belong to and join them.
Always remember, when it comes to Social Media, active participation is a requirement.

As you become more active in Social Media networks always remember that they are a means to an end not an end in themselves. You should always be guided by the following:
  • Developing a presence to extend your brand
  • Reaching out to potential employees
  • Gathering feed back about your products and services
  • Building a sales prospect profile
Please share with us other Social Media business networks that you use and how you use them.