Tag Archives: rbkartworks

Outsourcing Your Design Headache

“I hate doing flyers. I’d like to have an idea for a product flyer and a few days later have a sample for me to approve.
That would be great…Is that possible?”

Yes it is.
For many companies the answer is outsourcing.

I got into this business because I love what I do. Many entrepreneurs do the same, the trouble is we can’t be good at everything and the things we aren’t strong at drain our time and energy.

Creatives like me hire book-keepers because they can do the books three times faster, it’s right the first time and we are free to work on billable work. Outsourcing work to a graphic designer is no different.

You know your business

You know your market and likely have a sales manager or business development person who comes up with great ideas to go after those sales. The gap in growing sales with materials is often design.

Here’s some benefits of outsourcing design:

1. Saving time and money

A good designer creates templates that are used and evolve as your business grows. Templates allow for consistency and quality while keeping your costs predicable and manageable. Turn arounds are faster and with a schedule done in advance, approval schedules are more predicable. All of this without the commitment of hiring a full time designer.

2. Building your brand

With time and repetition your audience gets to know you and your look. They spend less time trying to figure out who is sending them information and more time paying attention to the product sale you want to tell them about. With each new edition they recognize you more. Quality and consistency builds trust and loyalty, a foundation to growing a business and sales.

3. Expand sales initiative

You and your team have the ideas, a graphic designer creates the materials to support it and get it done. Your team works on developing outlines for things like product sheets and catalogs while the design work is done. Your staff now have the time to get the sales you’ve hired them to get.

Outsourcing Communications

There’s so much more to business communications: Marketing, web site design, writing, media relations and photography are just a few categories. There is an abundance of independents out there hungry for your business and wanting to help companies grow.

If you are considering hiring a communications professional I highly recommend checking out the Halton Peel Communications Association, I’m privileged to regularly meet with this group of professionals. Check out the membership directory or post your request.

Of course, should you ever need a consultation for graphic design work, I’d be happy to talk to you 🙂

 

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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.

Exhibitors

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.

Attendees

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.

Being My Own Client.

I am a graphic designer. I am also a business owner. I view these two as very separate things. I find it hard to be creative when my head is full of business, so this necessary segregation of time has worked well – until now.

This quarter, I developed a trade show product line.

It all started with the idea that it’s easier to refer a product than an often intangible service such as graphic design. So I set out to design a line of products that is fool proof. Business-self kicked into gear. I set up meetings with other independents to provide additional services, I sourced out supplies, exhibits, and printing, then proceeded to arrange it all into tidy frameworks for clients.

Worlds Colliding

It wasn’t until one of my suppliers offered to send me sample images for my flyer that my worlds collided. Wow, I still needed to design all the marketing material…I still had to write all the marketing material! I froze. My brain had a cramp when faced with doing design for myself, I was stumped. I began to truly sympathize with the clients I so often help. They have the ideas, they know their business, they just don’t quite know how to make it look the way they want. Now it was my turn.

Treating myself like a client

A wise friend and mentor told me on day 2 of this brain freeze “Renee you have to treat yourself like a client. Start that fancy time counter software you have and bill yourself for the time spent.” It may sound odd, but that mind shift worked wonders. It was something my design-self understood. Time and accountability.

I give clients deadlines for content submission, provide them with rough layouts for initial direction concepts, and work with their print deadline. I did this for myself. I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing, but the truth is it was hard. When I hit snags I called the reinforcements, business people I knew and trusted to give me objective opinions.

Communicating my message

During each first interview with a client I ask a set of questions aimed to help me get a handle on where they are heading, so I ask myself the same questions:

  1. Who are you? I am the organized artist (personal brand)
  2. Who is your target? Larger small companies in growth mode, family owned or with a primary decision making partner
  3. What is your unique selling proposition or promise?  I’m an independent designer with branding experience, who has an extensive communication network and is able to provide organized outsourced support with creative solutions to these companies.

My flyer took the shape of a miniature file folder complete with tab that said Trade Show Planning. The inside read – You know your business. We know how to brand your exhibit for impact. Three frameworks were showcased in their own boxes, descriptions kept short and simple. I included enough information to outline the solutions without overwhelming with details.

Ongoing lessons

Last week I officially launched the line, this month I’ll be rolling it out in full. It has so far been a very rewarding and challenging experience. I continue to learn:

  • Project development is an ongoing process
  • Keeping track of time spent holds you accountable to results
  • Being true to yourself and your company makes for an authentic and unique brand
  • Staying focused on a specific target audience prevents your message from getting diluted.
  • When you need an answer simply ask the question, somehow the solution presents itself.

Have you had to do your own marketing? I’d like to hear about your challenges and how you got past them.

I‘d like to take this opportunity to thank my networking chapter and extended network of business friends who have supported me these last three months. I won’t name you, you know who you are. Your time and support was so very much appreciated.