Category Archives: Tips

Surviving with pre-planning, help and a little luck

Sometimes it’s like the stars align and it all works out. It rarely happens without pre-planning on my part, but I have to acknowledge that there is an element of good fortune that must come along for it to work out without a hitch.

Exhibiting at the 2011 BNI Corporate Showcase last week was fraught with last minute clients, supplier snags and topped off with a fried motherboard on my beloved MacBook Pro… but enter the cosmos to give a hand and somehow I came out on top thanks to some help and pre-planning. Here’s how I did it.

I blocked time in advance

Back in November I knew this show would likely bring last minute clients, I booked only the bare minimum of work for the 2 weeks prior to the event in anticipation for the rush and when it hit I was ready. I ended up having 8 print deadlines within 5 days, only 2 had been booked the month before. All jobs were sent out on time.

Factor for Snags

I’m slightly crazy with this one. I always factor cushion time into every print deadline to offset potential snags – when display mounts were shipped regular instead of over night the problem was addressed and the delivery made in time for the show with just an hour to spare.

I had a Goal:
It kept me focused when mayhem hit

With only 5 minutes of final changes to make on my own trade show handouts, my computer died. With just 16 hours before the show, my own materials yet to send to the digital printer – I simply had to suck it up and reassess what had to be done. My goal helped ground me, prioritize my tasks and get focused.

I went out that night and picked up the show items and back up handouts I’d planned to get the following day and with that taken care of I was able to  put my computer 1st on my priority list the next morning.

I had a Wing Man  🙂

I would have been sunk if it hadn’t been for my sales guy. Stuck at the Apple Store waiting for my computer to be fixed a mere 2 hours before the show, I was able to call him and arrange for him to pick up the late mounts and boards. He arrived to the show in time to deliver them to the clients and help me unload my own car and exhibit with time to spare.

I tell clients to always have a second person to help them man their booth, this week I learned they are also invaluable when trouble hits and you need help.

Lessons Learned

#1 Back up your computer. I kept putting this off – I’ll do it next week, tomorrow, etc.. I was VERY lucky my files were okay – needless to say as I sit here now – my computer is backing up.

#2 Do the best you can and learn to breath. Somethings are just out of your control, you do the best you can and learn to live with the outcome.

Special Thanks:
To the Square One Apple Store: They are absolutely fantastic. They honored my just barely expired Apple Care warranty and saved me $1500.00! They were fast helpful and very sympathetic. I am very glad I am a MAC owner.

C.I.M Solutions, Sean Jennings: For trouble shooting my computer way to early in the morning and getting me set up with my new Back-up system!


What do you want to get out of a trade show? Being Specific.

A trade show floor can be busy, crowded and create a sense of overload. How do you decipher what exhibits are important and who you need to talk to? Before exhibiting or attending a trade show, it’s important to ask yourself what your goals are. Your goals may change from season to season, but the core reason is always the same – business development.

To get real return on your time spent here are a few common goals and objectives companies use when exhibiting and attending shows.


When designing exhibits for clients I always start with the question, “what are your trade show goals?” It’s important to know what you want and design to attract the results you are looking for. Some sample goals may be:

  • Promote or launch a new brand or product
  • Selling Inventory
  • Establishing a defined number of prospects
  • Booking a certain amount of meetings
  • Doing market research
  • Building a database of contacts
  • Finding investors
  • Building visibility with industry leaders
  • Conducting market research

Once you know what your goals are, you can make sure that whatever you say, show or handout is geared to achieving your objectives. It also makes measuring the success of a show that much easier.


Walking a show can be a strategic way to build your business. Having a clear outline of goals can help you prioritize what shows are must to attend and can be a great way to stay focused on the trade show floor. Attendees can in a very short amount of time find a great deal of information and contacts that would other wise take a great deal of legwork. Some common goals are:

  • Booking  meetings with suppliers/distributors/companies
  • Speaking with a  predefined list of industry leaders
  • Signing up for specific mailing lists and industry information
  • Keeping current: seeing new technologies and innovations in your industry
  • Researching recruiting prospects
  • Social networking: connecting and building your social profile/visibility withing your existing industry network.

What kind of goals do you have when attending trade shows? How do you measure the return and success? Feel free to share.

Does your brand need a prescription?

I’m often asked how I diagnose identities and brand health before I begin work with a client. Getting a quick impression isn’t as complex as some may think, there are a few key indicators to looks for.

Identity Health

This is the easy one. An identity is really just about the mechanics. Do you have the right pieces and do you use them consistently? If you’d like a basic idea of where you are at here’s what you can do:

  1. Put together a folder that contains a sample of documents that in some way touch your clients. Ex: invoices, letterhead, envelopes, brochures, business cards, promotional flyers, catalogues, promo/sales kits, product sheets, etcetera. Anything that when seen by a client or target audience connects them to you.
  2. Spread out the contents of your folder and check for the following:
  • Is your logo the same on all the material? Shadowed on one and not on another, one is outlined another isn’t, or even two different logos from different eras.
  • Do you use the same font in your formatting? Ex. same fonts for headers, same for body text in all the documents.
  • Are your colours consistent? Certain colours are hard to reproduce, but if your blue looks green in one sample but purple in the other, it’s a hint that you don’t have established colours.
  • Do you use your colours consistently? Ex. Your colours are used in graphs, headers all coloured the same, consistent graphics or lines in company colours, etcetera.
  • Do your images match? This is harder to assess, but essentially you want them to look like they belong together. They can be tied together by colours, backgrouds, or subject matter. You want to avoid the cut and pasted look.

Brand Health

Brand is the impression an audience makes of you, so this is a little trickier to assess. What you want to do first is sit down and answer:

  • Who is my target audience? Who do I want to attract?
    (Note: People often make the mistake of being to general here. Be specific, the more specific the better. I for example look for growing companies around the 3-5 million dollar range that are family owned of have an admin person doing the marketing flyer that they find stressful. The admin person is usually valued therefore they are motivated to find support for them, while they have the money to pay my rates and see it as worth the value if it will give them a more professional appearance.)
  • What do I promise to deliver? Tie in the emotional component in here as well. My flyer says ” We help you Stand Out at the show.” What does your service or product provide?
  • How am I different from my competitors?

If you don’t have the ready answers for these questions, there’s a good chance that your brand message and target isn’t strong. I recommend solidifying the answers, it will give you direction on how to move forward.

If you have the questions answered, spread out your materials once again (particularly sales materials) and ask yourself:

  1. Would my materials attract my target audience, does it belong in the same arena they play in?
  2. Am I communicating what I promise to offer? Is it included?
  3. Am I presenting my unique selling features, benefits and differentiators in my materials?

This is by no means the full picture, a brand analysis goes further and includes all kinds of demographics and industry research. But on the visual end, a quick glance through this list should give you a pretty good indication of your brand health and if you should be looking at aligning your current business materials.

Being brand aware as things pick up…

When things get slow many of us take the time to reflect on why, a good company then takes that down time to fine-tune or even revamp some of their offerings to gain a competitive edge. At the start of this year I did exactly this, and now as things really kick into gear I have a few lessons about brand safeguarding that I’ve learned and would like to impart.

Beware of quick responses

I love it when my phone rings, however, sometimes  a caller is asking for something I don’t have ready material for. As a designer it’s hard to reign myself in and not fire up my artsy software and revamp an existing document to respond. If brand is an impression the audience has of me and my business, then I need to first consider:

  • What am I promising to deliver?
  • Does this fit into my target business and audience?
  • Am I presenting this differently than my competitors?
  • Once designed: Does it target who RBKartworks wants as a client? Does it look like us and consistent with our other material?

Every piece of  material sent out is part of a company brand.

Each invoice, quote, email, assessment, report, or presentation carries with it an impression of me and my company. It doesn’t matter how small or large the piece, if it is leaving something behind it is important. As a small business owner I strive to build a consistent brand (being a designer this is doubly important) by making sure my  identity system (logo, colours, fonts, design) is applied to each of them. The resulting professional look is worth the investment.

Names and Spelling Count

This year I lost an excellent chance at good business because I made this error. Spelling errors in names or any of the above material, even minor, carry an impression. I don’t want my brand message diluted with the resulting small doubts so : lesson learned.

Acknowledge who the target client is

In the quest for business, it’s fair to say this can sometimes fall lower on the priority when taking on jobs to meet the bills, but shoehorning someone in to make the bills can cost me more time and energy than the job was worth. Building my portfolio with my niche market is far more productive and focused, and when the opportunity to work exception “passion” jobs come up, I have more energy to take them on.

Taking Breathers at checkpoints

Caught up in the mechanics of my business’ day to day activity, I can start to lose perspective on goals. Stopping to take a deep breath, sit back and assess the situation before continuing is key to maintaining some focus and objectivity.

Saving valuable energy

I do what I do best in my business and I enlist help from other professionals for the rest. I admit, this one can be hard one when you are used to counting the coins in the bank, but it comes down to simple math. If I save myself 5 hours a week doing stuff a book-keeper can do in 2 for half my cost, how much is that time worth to me? The answer in my case was “A whole lot!” Hired professionals can help a business run smoothly and appear more professional (brand), so in growth I am expanding my support team.

Enjoy the business

I love what I do, and consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to do it everyday. My business is growing and it’s a good thing, I’ll take the stress of growth over the stress of no business any day!

What key lessons have you taken out of your growth mode? Feel free to share.

Additional Resource: For start-ups and small business here is a good article on Brand Building Tips found at ConceptCurry

Kids Playing IPhone App Games Understand Basic Branding

The idea came to me while playing “We Rule” (an unfortunately addictive free platform game on my IPhone.)

First a short description of the game  before I circle back to the crux of the message (and no I’m not getting payed for this 🙂  ) We Rule is very similar to the Facebook game Farmville. In this game you are given a plot of land with a basic fort and the ability to buy farm patches to harvest. You sell the crops to earn money, then buy different businesses and more land to grow your kingdom. The social aspect of the game allows you to add friends and then begin placing orders and taking orders from them and their businesses.  Very entrepreneurial, so it isn’t hard to guess how I got hooked.

Account Icons = Brand

So how does that tie into branding? Well, you have an icon on your account that appears next to your kingdom and also in every kingdom where you place an order. If you don’t upload your own, a generic one that thousands of players are using is shown instead. The branding reference occurred to me while explaining to a friend that she should upload a custom icon instead of using the generic ones provided: I realized I do more business with people I know (and it doesn’t matter if they are kids,) seeing their face or icon over and over again builds loyalty. Each time I see their icon pop up on a delivered order I feel the need to go to their kingdom and reciprocate with an order of my own. It’s genius in its simplicity really.

Business Tie-in

Branding for business is really no different. You want the same image projected everywhere you go and left behind everywhere you’ve been. With repetition companies, suppliers and clients should see you as a reliable person who comes through based on your actions; and seeing your face or icon over and over again really helps with the retention. It keeps you at the front of the list when they need to place that next order.

Staying Top of Mind

The big question is, if you aren’t consistent in how you appear and your icon or image keeps changing, how do you prevent yourself from falling off someones radar by accident? We are all busy people these things happen, so make it easy on everyone in your network by being consistent in your brand applications to avoid this. Keep your icon down to 1 version, photos and images consistent, stick with a limited and repeated colour scheme. That combined with a professional approach that inspires trust, you are sure to make a lasting impression that keeps you top of mind.

Colours, colours, colours…Who cares? Every Business should!

Company Colours. It is an under-utilized tool in day-to-day business communication. There are so many applications for them yet many people never consider their full potential.

Background or graphic object colours for presentations, graphs and charts in excel, even highlighting text in emails and word documents; these are all ways a business can use their colours to further their brand and create consistently. It’s a small thing that makes a very big difference.

Part of any good company logo and/or Identity system is providing colour formulas, both print and web. Many company’s make their colour formulas available to staff, but for those who don’t have these it’s a missed opportunity.

Establishing your colours and having the formulas (CMYK and RGB) to enter into simple office applications is a great way to further your brand in a simple and cost effective way. Here are some sample applications:

  1. Words
    Whether in a document or an email, highlight important words, messages, or links with your company colours to give impact. With repetition your material will become easily recognizable.
  2. Graphs
    If you need to insert a graph into a presentation or company report, take the time to manually choose the colours to customize this graphic to reflect the company.  On it’s own it doesn’t seem like such, but when inserted into another document with the same colours this looks sharp.
  3. Graphics/Diagrams
    As a rule I avoid clip art at all costs, but if you are creating your own simple shapes, arrows, or more complex diagrams to illustrate a model incorporate the colours into the design for a seamless professional look.
  4. Pictures
    When picking images to use in a presentation or other company communication (like a blog or newsletter) try to choose images that echo or have a predominant company colour. Ex: Your colour is blue, try picking a picture where that main person in the photo is wearing blue.
  5. Presentations
    If you are going to have a bar above or below each slide, make it a company colour. The same rule applies for frames around images, titles and rule lines for emphasis.  Using the 4 points above in conjunction with these key points will give any presentation a visual wow factor.

Have you been applying your colours for your business or brand? I’d like to know.

If you have some more ideas to add to the list please don’t hold them like a miser, share and share alike!