We hope that this holiday season brings much joy to you and your loved ones.
I've said it before and it's time for a reminder: It is professional suicide to use poor quality images on your printed materials and online.
By "poor quality" I mean doing what I've seen many creatives do (really truly): They stand in front of the image they want to capture with their cell phone, in bad light, with shadows, off to one side, out of focus, and snap a picture. Ack!!!
It IS totally okay to do that if your art is to take photos with a cell phone or you need on-the-fly snapshots for your blog. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about images of your work, your art, your products, and you.
Since you sell stuff (you're in business) it's all about presenting yourself the best way possible. I want you to use images that are clear, crisp, and beautiful.
Think of it this way: Would you want your images displayed at a gallery with no lighting, where they hang your work far below or far above eye level, where they make everyone stand to the side, and view the work from behind dirty tinted glass? Well, that's what you're making them do when you use poor quality images.
Visually promoting your business starts with great images.
I'm not saying spend a fortune, just spend enough to get a great image. You can do it yourself IF you know what you're doing (you have the skills of a professional photographer), or you can save the time and angst and have a photographer (or a scanning service) do it.
Oh, BTW, that IS real art in the image, done by our daughter Dani over 25 years ago. Sorry Dani. I made your wonderful art look bad. Just remember that you're helping other creative people do better. So, thanks!
Do these two things and your marketing efforts will be much (much) more effective:
- People ask me all the time, "What the best marketing strategy?"
While there are many good marketing techniques and strategies, the best are the ones that you will do, regularly, over time.
There are so many ways to market your products and services. The reality is that if you can't or won't do it, it won't work. So, start with what you know you think you can do, consistently, over time. Then add other things for a balanced approach to your marketing.
- People also ask me "How do I know if the marketing strategies I choose will work for me?"
The answer is that you don't know, nobody does, at least in the beginning. Once you do your research and make an educated guess you need to set some criteria for success (what will happen if it works and when)*. Then you run with it and monitor it. If it doesn't meet your criteria for success it's not working and you STOP. Do NOT keep pouring time and money into something that isn't working.
*Do be realistic about your "criteria for success." Going from $100/month to $20,000/month in two months is probably not realistic. On the other hand, a more realistic goal might be increasing your newsletter signups and sales 10% within six months.
I took a marketing workshop years ago and the VP of Marketing for Disneyland told us how they make decisions about their marketing: Their strategy is to put their heads together and make their best educated guess. They don't actually know what will work. They set criteria for success. In other words, they decide what has to happen to show that it's working. They set a reasonable time frame to give the marketing a chance to work (for example, number of tickets sold in three months). Then they run with it. If it doesn't meet their criteria for success, they STOP, even if they have poured tons of money into it. If it does work, they "milk the heck out of it."
Remember the original Electric Light Parade? It was a two-week filler for another parade that wasn't ready. People went wild for it and it ran for ten years. I recently saw a news article that they've updated it for a new parade. Love it.
Last year one of the kids was staying with us for a while and he surprised us by reorganizing the kitchen cabinets and pantry. That was so nice of him!
One problem though: He's over six feet tall. I'm five feet tall on a good day, Harry is 5'6". You can see where I'm going with this.
It all looked great, but unfortunately he designed for what would be good for him and what he thought we should have, instead of looking at it through our eyes and considering what would work for us.
I did try his redesign for a few days but got tired of standing on chairs and digging through to the back of the cabinets to find the items I use most often.
It's a super common mistake and one I see made every single day as I move through life. Our clients do it all the time and we remind them: Look at what you're creating from your customer's perspective. Don't give them what you think they should have, give them what they want. Don't know what they want? Ask.
It doesn't matter whether you're designing your website, sending email blasts, doing a direct mail campaign, or setting up an exhibit at a show or event. Stop and "change your eyes" as I call it. Get several points of view.
Think about your customers/clients/collectors and who they are. THEIR perspective is critical for your success. Make it as easy as you can for them to do business with you.
An example: I recently did a website audit for a client who set up his website himself. He has the skills, and I was happy to help him fine-tune it. Did he make that most common mistake? He sure did. He took all of his products and categorized them by date because it's important to HIM to know what was published in what year. But would that help his customers find what they're looking for? Not in the least. In fact, it would make it harder for them, and more confusing.
"See" what I mean? Pun intended.
I am frequently asked, "What do you use for [bookkeeping, graphic design, documents, organization, websites...]?" I forget that we spend a ton of time finding and customizing software and online systems for our clients and ourselves, and that you might be interested in our solutions for your own business. So, here it is for y`all, I hope it's helpful.
Of course, around here we're ALL about the customization to make life simpler and more efficient for us and our clients. These are great solutions for just about everyone who needs to run their own small business, they can be customized for a better fit, and there are many other solutions out there too. Let me know if you have questions about any of this.
Bookkeeping - Xero.com
We recently switched from MYOB to Xero.com. I LOVE it. It's saving me several hours per month in time, and my bookkeeping stress level has gone waaay down. They have a variety of monthly plans and is well worth the monthly fee.
We looked at Freshbooks, Quickbooks, MYOB and others and did free trials of several to see how they would function for us. Xero can do everything we need, and it's easy to understand and set up. I can keep track of multiple bank accounts; generate estimates and then convert them to invoices; track inventory and client/business expenses; automatically reconcile the bank accounts; generate cash flow and other reports; enter bills to be paid; track time and attendance for employees and pay them; prepare W2s and 1099s, and export them all to tax software. They even have mobile apps for when I'm on the run and need to enter something.
Organization and To-Do Lists - Evernote:
I replaced Basecamp with Evernote a couple of years ago. I did love Basecamp, but at $50/month it was too much of an expense just to keep track of clients and their to-do lists, and share notes/images/files. Evernote is a gem, it's secure, very low cost, and it does everything I need.
I keep client to-do lists and project info in Evernote. Each client (and our company) has a Notebook, and each notebook contains notes and info for projects and to-do lists. Evernote syncs across computers which is very handy. I can update and edit the info from any devices we use for business (and we use seven) and immediately see it on the other devices.
You can also clip from anywhere on the web and share and discuss. With paid plans (that's what we have) you can also access notes when you're offline, save emails to Evernote, search in Office docs and attachments, annotate attached PDFs, digitize business cards, turn notes into presentations, and add a passcode lock on mobile apps.
Email - Mac Mail or Outlook:
We use Mac's, and Apple's mail software that comes with their computers. Our clients on PC's use Microsoft's Outlook mostly. Both are great. If you're like us and have multiple email accounts, know that whether you are on a Mac or a PC all your email can all feed into your Inbox. That's very convenient.
I like things to sync across devices, so mostly we use IMAP email accounts, even for Gmail (different than POP3). POP3 email accounts are the most common, but they don't sync. When we purchase email accounts, we always buy IMAP, they will function as POP3 and can be changed at any time.
We buy domain names at Godaddy and get email accounts from them as well (firstname.lastname@example.org) - very low cost and great support. We have Gmail accounts also, and as I mentioned, they all come into our email software, so we don't have to go looking for email in more than one place.
Websites - Squarespace:
Our website has been a Squarespace website for years and years. Awesome company, we use them to create very customized websites for most of our clients. Some of our clients have Wordpress sites, and we work on those too. However, for ease of use, super support, responsive and mobile-friendly templates, extensive customization capabilities, integrated and supported modules, and much more, Squarespace is our go-to company.
Many of our clients want to learn to maintain their websites on their own, and Squarespace is great for this capability. We tutor them and help them along the way, and they maintain control over their content and save a ton of money updating it themselves.
For domain names and email accounts, Godaddy is wonderful and they have very low cost website templates as well.
For PDF files, we use Adobe Acrobat Pro via an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, so we can get and use all their software for $50/month. For us, it's a good deal because we use so much of the software.
Image Wrangling and Graphic Design - Adobe Creative Cloud:
Again, for us it's cost-effective to have a subscription to all the Adobe software: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, Dreamweaver, Muse, Acrobat, Bridge, and many more.
For quick image resizing to use on websites and for tutoring clients I use free Skitch. It's really easy and fast for grabbing and annotating screen shots from the web, sharing them in Evernote, and lots more. Works on mobile devices too.
For powerful image wrangling without a membership or $$ commitment, Photoshop Elements has many of the same features as Photoshop at a fraction of the cost.
But before you buy, check the software on your computer. You may have something you can use, like iPhoto. I don't think you should spend money when you already have software that will do the job. When you grow out of it later, great, move on up to something else.
Oh, it's also very helpful (and a big time saver) to have your phone camera sync your snapshots with your computer and other mobile devices. Google your device ("Image sync on Android" for example) for more info. Apple's Photos software on our iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and iMacs keeps all our images sync'd on all devices. Nice.
Backups - Two is Better Than One:
We learned the hard way to have more than one backup system. A few years ago the backup drive crashed, taking with it a lot of files that were not on any computer (any more). Lesson learned. Now we have two backup systems: External hard drives with Time Machine on the Macs is backup number one. Check your PC as Windows may ask you if you want to use your new external drive for backup. Backup system number two is online secure, encrypted cloud storage via Mozy which backs up all computers to one safe place that can be accessed from just about anywhere. It's come in very handy when we're traveling and a client has an emergency and we need to access their files.
Okay, that's enough for one article. There IS more, but these are the basics. Again, contact us if you need some help with any of this.